How the court assesses housing needs

The primary issue in many financial remedy cases following divorce is the needs of the parties. And foremost amongst those are their housing needs.

But how does the court go about assessing a party’s housing needs?

Well, there is no strict formula, but an example of the court’s approach occurred in a recent case in the West London Family Court.

The case concerned a wife’s financial remedies application. The parties were married in Turin in 2006, and have one child, born in 2010. The wife, who has lived and worked in England since 2004, has dual Italian and British nationality, as does the child. The husband is an Italian national.

The parties separated in 2016, since when the wife and child have lived in rented accommodation in Brentford, London.

Following the separation there were various court proceedings, in both England and Italy, the details of which need not be repeated here. Suffice to say that divorce proceedings were issued in this country and the wife issued her financial remedies application within those proceedings.

The primary issue for the court to decide was the wife’s housing needs.

The wife argued that she required a fund of £1.25m to meet her housing needs, which would enable her to purchase a 3-bedroom terraced house in the Chiswick area of London. She claimed that she needed 3 bedrooms on the basis that her parents would visit on an occasional basis, and that the property should be in Chiswick, as that was where the child went to school.

The husband, on the other hand, argued that the wife would live in Italy, where she would only require around £350,000 for housing. In the alternative he argued that appropriate housing could be obtained in this country for about £450 – 500,000. He argued that the wife and child could live in a two-bedroomed flat similar to the property in which they were living, that there was no need for a three-bedroomed property, and that there was no need to move to the more expensive area of Chiswick, as it was not far from Brentford and in any event it had been the wife’s choice to send the child to school in Chiswick.

The judge decided:

1. That the wife’s future lay in London, not Italy, as the husband argued.

2. That the wife did not need anything more than a two-bedroomed property – it would not be appropriate to dip into other resources merely to house family members on occasional visits.

3. That it was appropriate for the wife and child to remain in Brentford, where they had lived for the previous seven years. The child’s school had been selected whilst living in Brentford, its maintenance had been entirely possible from Brentford, and the distance travelled is short.

But that did not necessarily mean that the judge agreed with the husband’s assessment that the wife needed £450 – 500,000 to meet her housing needs. As he pointed out, the search is for a fair outcome, not a coin toss between the options identified by the parties.

And the judge assessed that the wife needed £650,000 to rehouse herself, plus another £50,000 to cover the costs of purchase and furnishings. He therefore awarded the wife a lump sum of £700,000.

You can read the full judgment in the case here.

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