It is often said that difficult cases make bad law. The newspapers appear to revel in reports of divorcing couples squabbling over eye-watering sums of money. Readers are baffled that divorce and separation cannot be sorted out without acrimonious litigation and that the process appears to be so long and expensive.
It is why we must constantly remind ourselves of the key-hole principle … there is a possibility that peering through this pin-hole into what lies beyond gives a sense of what GCSE maths would regard as a terribly safe “sample”.
And so it may be with Kim Waggott whose attempt to increase her £10m award may not generate sympathy but there are important principles of law at stake. Scale back the figures and a more compelling issue begins to emerge:
- Imagine a couple who, like the Waggotts, have been together for over 20 years.
- But, unlike the Waggotts, they have built up just about enough to house themselves and have sufficient in retirement savings and pensions to see them through the twilight years … these points might be relatively easily agreed.
- And what of the income situation? Her £30k net p/a might be enough, perhaps with child maintenance, to see her needs met. But what of his £175k net p/a, presuming that living at the same standard of living as before leaves him with £120k each year and he will be earning for another decade?
Does it now feel fair that one partner to the marriage will be leaving with £1.2m more in the bank for his retirement – perhaps to share with a new partner – than his spouse who may be facing only careful budgeting and uncertainty during her twilight years. The wife, in this example, may have sacrificed her earning capacity for the sake of the family perhaps in her early 30s. The husband might make his really significant financial contribution to the marriage in the later years as his earnings begin to reach their peak. This is the conundrum facing the Court of Appeal as they pick over the facts of the Waggott’s financial settlement. We await the Court’s decision with interest.