The former wife of a millionaire has been told by a family court judge that she has no right “to be supported for life” following her divorce.
Tracey Wright and her husband, a racehorse surgeon, got a divorce in 2008, having been married for 11 years. Mr Wright was initially ordered to pay £75,000 per year in maintenance and school fees for the couples’ two children. Additionally, the couple were ordered to sell the £1.3 million family home, with the proceeds from the sale being split between them.
The husband objected to indefinite payments, even after his retirement so, last year, he applied to have them reduced. In his application, he said that his former wife had made “no effort whatsoever to seek work”, so he should not be expected to continue paying her so much.
Judge Lynn Roberts heard his initial application and agreed that the £33,200 per year in maintenance should eventually stop. She ordered that the amount Mrs Wright receives should be gradually reduced in the years leading up to her ex-husband’s retirement. The judge said that “a working mother at this stage of [the children’s] lives may well provide them with a good role model”.
Mrs Wright appealed the decision, her application to the Clurt of Appeal for permission to appeal was dismissed by Lord Justice Pitchford, who told her it was “imperative” that she find a job, just like “vast numbers of other women with children”.
It’s not surprising that a case reported in such lurid terms would grab headlines. A wife told to get a job and stop living off her ex is very sensational-sounding, but in reality it happens all the time.
The courts are mandated to bring to an end the financial dependence of both parties upon each other, as soon as possible. Maintenance is only intended to last for so long as it is reasonably required. Furthermore, when it comes to spousal maintenance the court’s primary concern is addressing reasonable need on that basis. As part of the mandatory exercise Section 25 (2) (a) Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 requires consideration of the earning capacity of both parties, and “any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire.”
In this case, the couple were married for 11 years and therefore it was a medium term marriage, there had been a passage of time since the original order. It was not a long term marriage where the wife had long ceased working. Prior to their marriage, Mrs Wright was a riding instructor and legal secretary. She clearly has an earning capacity and her ability to earn will not be hindered by child care. There is nothing new or sensational about this.
As the Court heard at its various stages said, it is not unreasonable to expect the mother to contribute financially. Out of the initial settlement, Mrs Wright acquired a £450,000 mortgage-free house and stables for the ponies she and her daughters have. This does not seem to me like a woman who is struggling.
It is the Court’s prerogative to decide what the reasonable needs of each party will be going forward. In this case, they ruled that the amount the wife was receiving could be reduced. To me it seems like a fairly straight forward decision.
Read the judgement here.