WHITE v WHITE

When a committed marriage runs its course, and the two parties responsible have amassed an estate of significant worth, should the ‘Duxbury paradox‘ find just approval, or will the virtue of equality prevail?

After spending over three decades together as husband and wife, business partners and parents, the cross-appellants not only invested exorbitant amounts of money into a ‘clean break’ divorce, they also wound up fighting over percentages and losing sight of the objective first presented to the courts.

Having contributed roughly equal amounts of time and capital into a successful farming business, it was felt by the wife that she needed to end the marriage and strike out alone in a similar field.

While on paper the division of assets appeared straightforward, there were anomalies in the form of individual benefit to inheritance by the husband through valuable farming estate, and his decision to continue operating the business as opposed to liquidation.

During the original hearing, the judgment passed disproportionately in favour of the husband, leaving the wife with less than one-fifth of the estate value; which was calculated  through the application of the Duxbury fund principle, as first described in Duxbury v Duxbury.

This antiquated approach to the approximation of financial assets is based upon the idea that in order to establish the requisite level of income for the wife in a divorce, the phrase ‘the longer the marriage and hence older the wife, the less the capital sum required for a ‘Duxbury Fund’ will suffice‘.

Following an unsurprisingly swift challenge, the Court of Appeal sensibly reconsidered the previous judgment, and increased her award to two-fifths of the estate on grounds of equality, and the principle that the increase in award had now provided sufficient funds (£1.5m) for the wife to start her new venture and have enough to live on without stress or discomfort.

Similarly, the remaining estate was healthy enough for the husband to continue working; albeit with short-term financial help from his extended family, while the court also reminded the parties that:

“[E]quality should be departed from only if, and to the extent that, there is good reasons for doing so.”