Wife entitled to keep ‘non-matrimonial’ assets

The concept of ‘matrimonial property’ can be of great importance when considering the division of assets between husband and wife on divorce. But what exactly is ‘matrimonial property’, and how does this affect the division?

In simple terms, ‘matrimonial property’ is property that came into being in the course of the marriage, due to the joint efforts of the spouses. Accordingly, property owned by either spouse before the marriage is usually ‘non-matrimonial’, as is property acquired after the parties separated, or property acquired other than by the efforts of the spouses, such as gifts or inheritances.

The importance of the concept of matrimonial property comes from the basic idea that marriage is a joint venture, and therefore on divorce each spouse should be entitled to an equal share assets acquired during the marriage as a result of their joint efforts (whether those efforts involved actually acquiring the asset, or enabling the other party to do so, for example by looking after the home and bringing up the family).

But it should be noted that there is no absolute rule saying that on every divorce each party should get half of the matrimonial property, and keep any non-matrimonial property they own. The court has a discretion to divide ALL property as it sees fit, having regard to the circumstances of the case. Thus, for example, a party may be awarded more than half of the matrimonial property and, if the matrimonial property is insufficient to meet their financial needs, then they may even be awarded non-matrimonial property belonging to the other party.

The operation of the concept of matrimonial property was demonstrated by a recent Family Court case.

In the case there were assets totalling £54 million in value. These included a £5 million inheritance that the wife received, and £9 million in trusts established by the wife’s family.

On the face of it both the inheritance and the trust money was non-matrimonial, but the husband argued that because he had managed the trust money for some 16 years, that had the effect of ‘matrimonialising’ it. Accordingly, he said, he was entitled to a half share.

The judge did not agree. The trust money had not acquired a matrimonial character, either in whole or in part, as a result of the husband’s activities as investment manager.

The judge therefore held that only £40 million of the assets were matrimonial, and, there being no reason to depart from equality, each party was therefore awarded half of that sum.

The discussion of matrimonial property above is just a very brief introduction to what can be a complex subject. For more details, you should consult an expert family lawyer. We can find you an expert lawyer that works with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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