Can my ex make a claim against the assets and income I’ve generated since we separated?

business assets fiona wood

Can my ex make a claim against the assets and income I’ve generated since we separated?

Until a financial order is obtained within divorce proceedings either spouse can make a financial claim against the other. When considering what a fair financial claim is, a judge will look at all the assets owned by the couple at the time they divorce. What if one of the couple has significantly increased their assets since separation? Will their spouse benefit from this just because they did not divorce sooner after they separated?

Partner Fiona Wood, who is particularly accomplished at dealing with divorce cases where there are substantial and complex assets, explains further.

When marriages end the couple are not always in a rush to get divorced. Emotionally it is often a very difficult time and many people wait until after they have been separated for some time before formalising their separation by obtaining a divorce and a financial order within their divorce proceedings.

Until a financial order is obtained within divorce proceedings either spouse can make a financial claim against the other. When considering what a fair financial claim is, a judge will look at all the assets owned by the couple at the time they divorce. What if one of the couple has significantly increased their assets since separation? Will their spouse benefit from this just because they did not divorce sooner after they separated?

There are no strict rules regarding how a judge should divide the assets when a couple divorce

There are no strict rules regarding how a judge should divide the assets when a couple divorce, only guidelines. Judges therefore have a lot of discretion regarding the financial orders that they make. However, the main factor that judges must consider is the needs of the couple and their children (up to the age of 18). Need is usually having somewhere to live and money to live on, although how much is required to meet these needs will vary from case to case. If the couple’s needs can only be met by taking into account all of the assets, including those acquired after the couple separated, then all of the assets will go into the matrimonial pot for distribution between the couple.

Ring-fencing assets

If there are more than sufficient assets to meet the couple’s needs, it may be possible to ring-fence some or all of the assets that have been acquired after the couple separated. For example if one spouse started a new business after separation and at the time of the divorce this business had a significant value, if there are more than enough assets to meet the couple’s needs without taking the business into account, a judge could ignore some or all of the value of this business when dividing the other assets between the couple.

What if the asset existed at the time the couple were together, but it has increased in value significantly since separation? If the growth in value is just latent growth, such as an increase in value of a property owned by one of the couple as a result of a general increase in property prices, a judge is unlikely to say that this asset should be ring-fenced before the assets are divided between the couple.

If the growth in the asset since separation is as a result of significant efforts by one of the spouses since separation, for example a business increasing significantly in value over a period of time after separation due to a change in direction taken by the business owner, a judge may ring-fence some of the value in the business before the assets are divided between the couple. Some of the value of the business is likely to be included in the matrimonial pot as the business that existed at the time of separation provided a springboard for the growth of the business.

A judge’s discretion

When calculating how much should be ring-fenced, the Court of Appeal in Hart v Hart (2017) used both an arithmetical and a broad-brush approach to make this decision, which gives judges quite a large discretion regarding how they deal with this issue.

With regard to earnings that one spouse has earned after separation, again provided that there are sufficient assets to meet the couple’s needs without using money saved from post-separation income and bonuses, this money is likely to be ring-fenced. The case of Waggott v Waggott (2018) removed earning capacity from the matrimonial pot, allowing income received after separation to be treated differently if there are sufficient assets to meet the couple’s needs without having to use this money.

If you would like to know more about the issues raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.

The Millionaire’s Defence

the millionaire defence

The Millionaire’s Defence

What Is The “Millionaire’s Defence”?

When a couple get divorced they are both obliged to provided full financial disclosure. The “millionaire’s defence” was a term created following the divorce case of Mr and Mrs Thyssen-Bornemisza in 1985, when the very wealthy husband said that he did not need to provide full financial disclosure in his divorce proceedings as he had sufficient wealth to pay any reasonable sum that a judge ordered him to pay to his wife.

Partner Fiona Wood, who is particularly accomplished at dealing with divorce cases where there are substantial and complex assets, explains further.

What is the benefit of running this defence?

Many wealthy people would prefer not to provide full details of their wealth, which may include significant business assets and interests under family trusts. Successfully running this defence means that these details do not have to be provided. Furthermore, formal valuations are often obtained of business assets in divorce proceedings and not having to provide sufficient information to facilitate this and not having values attributed to these assets in court proceedings, which can be attended by the press, can have its attractions.

In what circumstances can I run this defence?

Firstly, you need to be very wealthy. Secondly, the sharing principle should not apply to your divorce. Since 2000, assets that have been acquired during a marriage are usually subject to the sharing principle when a couple divorce, provided both their needs can be met by doing this. Therefore if you are very wealthy, but much of your wealth was accumulated during the marriage, the Judge will want you and your spouse to provide full disclosure of all your assets and may also want experts to value these assets, if their values cannot be agreed by you and your spouse, as the judge’s starting point, when considering a fair settlement, will be an equal division of these assets.

In the 2013 divorce case of AH v PH, the husband stated that he had assets worth £76 million, which had been gifted to the husband by his very wealthy family before the couple married. The husband’s assets were considered non-matrimonial and therefore not subject to the sharing principle. The judge accepted that full financial disclosure was not required from the husband as the wife should receive a needs based divorce settlement, based upon what she needed to fund the purchase of suitable house and a capital sum to meet her income needs. The wife received £7.775 million.

Is the Millionaire’s Defence relevant to other relationship claims?

If an unmarried couple separate and they have children who are under the age of 18, the parent that the children live with can make a financial claim against the other parent for the provision of a house, a car and other capital needs until the children finish school or university, plus child maintenance. These applications are made under Schedule 1 of the Children Act. Whilst financial disclosure usually has to be provided by both parents in these proceedings, if the paying parent is very wealthy they may be able to rely on the Millionaire’s Defence.

In the case of A (A Child) in 2014, the mother made a Schedule 1 application and the father ran the millionaire’s defence. The father was a member of wealthy ruling family from a middle eastern country. The mother appealed the court’s decision on the basis that the court did not make adequate financial provision because of the father’s failure to provide full financial disclosure. The Court of Appeal rejected the mother’s appeal and confirmed that where there is significant wealth there is no need to examine in close detail the father’s financial resources.

It is fair to say that the Millionaire’s Defence will only be run successfully in a limited number of cases. However, for the very wealthy, who are keen to keep details of their wealth private, it is a defence that they may want to consider using.

If you would like to know more about the issues raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.

The Potanina divorce: the highest-value divorce case in English legal history?

Natalia_Potanina

The Potanina divorce: the highest-value divorce case in English legal history?

The Potanina divorce highlights the issue that those who have divorced abroad can apply to get a better settlement in England. Partner Fiona Wood explains.

Last week the Court of Appeal overturned a decision of the High Court, therefore allowing Natalia Potanina to bring her divorce claim in England. Her husband, Vladimir Potanin is stated to be worth $20 billion and to have a controlling stake in Nornickel, one of the world’s largest producers of nickel and palladium.

Divorce in Russia

The couple married in Russia in 1983 and lived there for most of their marriage. They divorced in Russia in 2014. Natalia received a divorce settlement of $41.5 million from the Russian court but says that she should have received a far greater share of her husband’s fortune. She informed the English High Court that she had “made exhaustive efforts to obtain justice in Russia” but that the sum she was awarded “does not even begin to meet my reasonable needs”.

English law

Couples who have links to the UK but who have divorced overseas and believe they have been treated unfairly can apply for permission to bring their case to be heard by the English courts under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. English law is far more generous to the financially weaker spouse, usually the wife, than the law of many other countries, making such an application an attractive option.

Divorce tourism

Natalia has had a house in England since late 2014. Her attempt to bring proceedings in the English courts was blocked by the High Court in 2019 on the basis that the couple had little connection with Britain. A judge said that if her claim went ahead “there is effectively no limit to divorce tourism”.

Court of Appeal

However, last week the Court of Appeal reversed that decision and granted Natalia permission to bring her case in the High Court in London. Lady Justice Eleanor King in her ruling last week noted that the 1984 Act was not just designed for families with “massive or even substantial wealth” to bring cases. She went on to say “No doubt to most people, whether affluent or poor, the sums received by the wife made her a rich woman. Everything is, however, relative. The wife’s settlement represents only a tiny proportion of the vast wealth of this family, all of which has been accumulated during this very long marriage”.

It is not yet known if Vladimir Potanina will appeal this decision to the Supreme Court. Also, if the High Court does adjudicate on their divorce settlement, we do not yet know how generous they will be. However, this case does highlight the fact that those who receive divorce settlements abroad can potentially have a second bite at the cherry and try to obtain a second divorce settlement in England if they have links here.  Furthermore, now that we are no longer part of the EU this claim is also now potentially available to EU nationals.

Enforcing English divorce orders against assets in other countries

It is, however, worth noting that obtaining a second divorce settlement in England can be a pyrrhic victory if the majority of the husband’s assets are outside of the UK. Enforcing English divorce orders against assets in other countries can be extremely difficult. Despite this, I am sure that there are many wealthy ex-wives around the world watching very closely what happens in the Potanina case.

 

If you are affected by any of the issued raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.

10 top tips for business owners facing divorce

top 10 tips for divorcing business people

10 top tips for business owners facing divorce

Divorce is never easy, but it can be more complicated when you’re a business owner. Partner Fiona Wood, who is particularly accomplished at dealing with divorce cases where there are substantial and complex assets, offers her advice.

1 Don’t panic! The divorce process is NOT designed to damage a business so that it is no longer viable. The income produced by the business will often be the business owner’s main source of income both before and after divorce. This income may also need to fund child maintenance payments and sometimes spousal maintenance payments after a divorce, so damaging the business would be counter- productive.

2 Your business, along with your and your spouse’s other assets, will be considered a relevant asset within the divorce proceedings. You will need to provide information relating to the business, even if you are not the sole owner. If there are other business owners you should inform them of your divorce, if you have not already done so.

3 Your business is likely to be valued by an independent accountant, instructed jointly by you and your spouse, within the divorce. They will look at the value of your shares, how much money, if any, you can raise through the business to assist with the divorce settlement and the sustainable income that can be taken from the company going forward.

4 It is the net value of your shareholding that will be taken into account, after notional costs of sale and tax have been deducted. Whilst you may not be selling your shareholding, your shares will be valued on the basis that you are selling them.

5 Valuing a business is an art not a science, so different accountants have different approaches, which results in some accountants providing more optimistic valuations than others. It is therefore important to take advice on which accountants would be most suitable for your situation.

6 If your spouse also has shares in the company, it is unlikely that you will both remain shareholders in the company after your divorce. A few divorcing couples agree to continue running their business together and to both remain shareholders after they divorce. However, in the majority of divorces one spouse transfers their shares to the other as part of the divorce settlement.

7 The date of separation may be relevant if one spouse is to transfer their shares in the company to the other. If shares are transferred from one spouse to another in the tax year of separation, the Capital Gains Tax liability that arises on the transfer is paid by the spouse who receives the shares as and when they sell the shares in the future. If the shares are transferred from one spouse to another after the tax year of separation, the spouse who is transferring the shares will have to pay any Capital Gains Tax liability that arises on the transfer shortly after the transfer.

8 Do not be tempted to transfer your shares in the company to a third party, in an attempt to reduce your spouse’s claims on divorce. Any disposals of assets that are at an undervalue can be set aside by a divorce judge, and if the disposal took place within the 3 years prior to the divorce the onus is on the spouse who “got rid” of the asset to prove that it was not at an undervalue.

9 Just because you have a business does not mean that your divorce settlement will end up being argued about in court. Once you have an appropriate valuation report a financial agreement can then be negotiated, without the need for a judge’s input.

10 Make sure that you obtain legal advice from an expert family solicitor who regularly deals with divorce cases where there are businesses.

If you are concerned about any of the issued raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.

Do I have to pay tax on my divorce settlement?

do I have to pay tax on my divorce settlement

Do I have to pay tax on my divorce settlement?

Some people believe that as a divorce settlement takes place between a married couple tax is not payable, but that is not always correct. Partner Fiona Wood, who is particularly accomplished at dealing with divorce cases where there are substantial and complex assets, explains.

The type of assets that you and your spouse have and when you and your spouse separate will determine whether tax is payable and when it is payable.

How is tax factored into a divorce settlement?

When looking at the value of matrimonial assets, it is the net value that is relevant. Therefore if you have assets that will attract tax, usually Capital Gains Tax, when they are sold or transferred between spouses, the tax needs to be calculated and taken into account when calculating the total assets before you decide how they should be divided between the couple.

For example, if a couple jointly own a second property, a holiday home, which is worth £300,000, but if sold they would each have to pay Capital Gains Tax of £30,000, the value of the property taken into account within the divorce is £240,000.

Which assets attract tax?

The family home does not usually attract tax when it is sold or if transferred to one spouse, provided that it is the couple’s main residence, as it will qualify for Private Residence Relief in most cases.

Holiday homes or investment properties, if they have increased in value since they were purchased, are likely to result in the payment of Capital Gains Tax when they are sold or transferred to one spouse, as will some investments. Shares in private limited companies are also likely to attract Capital Gains Tax if sold or transferred to one spouse, although some tax reliefs may be available to reduce the tax payable.

With regard to payments of child maintenance and spousal maintenance, these are paid out of income that has already been taxed, so the recipient of these does not have to pay tax upon them.

Does  the date the assets are sold or transferred impact the tax payable?

If an asset is sold to fund a divorce settlement and tax is payable on its sale, it does not matter when it is sold, the tax will have to be paid. Given that we all have annual allowances for Capital Gains Tax there may be some advantage to assets being sold in different tax years, if a few assets are being sold within the divorce that attract tax.

Where an asset is transferred from one spouse to the other, if the transfer takes place in the tax year of separation, the total gain is retained by the spouse who is retaining the asset and they will pay the tax when they sell the asset at a later date. If the asset is transferred after the tax year of separation, the spouse that is transferring the asset will have made a disposal for Capital Gains Tax purposes and will have to declare this gain and pay the tax. In this scenario it is important that the spouse who is transferring the property has sufficient cash from which to pay their tax as part of the divorce settlement. When the transfer takes place does not reduce the tax payable, but it dictates when the tax has to be paid and which spouse has to pay the tax.

The date a couple separate can be very important from a cash flow perspective when looking at their financial settlement. Some couples agree to transfer properties and shares in companies before they have reached a financial settlement, so that the transfers take place in the tax year of separation, thus avoiding having to find funds to pay tax liabilities at that juncture. Transferring the assets before a financial settlement is agreed does not change the financial claims that each spouse has within the divorce.

If you are experiencing problems in your marriage and have assets that could attract a payment of tax if transferred to your spouse or sold to achieve a divorce settlement, you should take advice from a specialist family lawyer and an accountant, in order to see what the likely financial settlement will be if you divorce and what tax is likely to be payable as a result of this.

If you are concerned about any of the issued raised here, please get in touch today. We are here to help.

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