A former finance director who says she “sacrificed” her career has returned to court seeking a larger share of her husband’s fortune.
Julia Hammans was working at a high end London department store, earning a similar salary to her accountant husband, when she fell pregnant and gave up her career for full time motherhood.
Her husband Nicholas went on to become a partner at multinational accountancy and professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. His earnings sometimes exceeded £800,000 per year. According to Mrs Hammans, her former husband is now worth approximately £11 million.
After two children and 21 years of marriage, the couple separated. During the subsequent divorce hearings, now-retired family court judge Mr Justice Coleridge estimated that she would need around £80,000 a year to live on, but said she could generate this herself through interest on her savings and by selling her share in the former matrimonial home and moving into smaller accommodation. The judge also reduced a lump sum payment she had sought from her husband from £2.6 million to just £400,000.
But Mrs Hammans was unhappy with the settlement and launched an appeal, arguing that she should that she should receive an additional £2.2 million in order to stay in the former matrimonial home.
Her counsel claimed in court that her “investment” and “sacrifice” had helped her husband’s career and that she deserved compensation for this. He told the judge:
“There ought to be an acknowledgement of what she has given up, but there has not been. Lip service is being paid to it, and she has to sell her house. Husband and wife are left in radically different positions by this judgement and that cannot be right.”
Patrick Chamberlayne QC also claimed that:
“It clearly is discriminatory that wives have to jump through these hurdles in order to qualify for a fair outcome. This wife proved she had given up a well paid lucrative career – that is enough.”
By contrast, Mr Hammans’ counsel insisted that she had been treated fairly and argued that selling the luxurious property would not lead to a significant drop in her standards of living.
Sitting at the Court of Appeal this week, Lord Justice Moore-Bick asked:
“When deciding what is fair, is it inappropriate to look at the consequences of giving up one’s career?”
The Court of Appeal reserved its ruling for a later date.
As another would-have-been high-flying woman takes her divorce settlement to the Court of Appeal, no doubt there will be many husbands and wives pondering the “what ifs” of their own lives. Mrs Hammans is seeking an enhanced settlement to compensate her for having missed out on many rungs of the career ladder to raise a family and look after the home, thus enabling her husband to attain the lofty heights of his career with all the financial rewards it reaped. Compensation in such scenarios is not a new concept but it is intended for those exceptional careers where an opportunity to command a high income has been lost through the passage of time and a decision to put the career to one side to look after the family. The flip side, no doubt, for the other spouse who continued along their career path, as you will no doubt hear them cry, is that they shouldered the stress, the long hours, the lost time with their children and even ended up sacrificing their marriages for their careers. Very few people come out of a divorce feeling that they have won.
The compensation argument is not restricted to wives. We are supposedly in an era of gender equality. I think, however, that you would have to look very hard to find a case in which a husband brought this kind of claim to a court room. We will await the decision of the Lord Justices with interest but I cannot help but wonder whether the decision will yet again be based around the particular facts of this case and thus continue to leave ample ground for arguments and counter-arguments. What is really needed is a review of the statutory guidelines in place at the present time and also more clarification on the way in which it is applied, as was recommended by the Law Commission.
Photo of the Royal Courts of Justice by kaysgeog under a Creative Commons licence