Moving his new lover into their home, a property tycoon told his wife she could stay on if she became their housekeeper. He then could not begin to comprehend why she suddenly “became so aggressive” and decided to go after him for her share of the fortune. In a rather odd situation, the couple had been divorced but continued to live as man and wife for decades.
Speaking in the High Court, Mr Justice Bodey, officiating in the case, said that the man, now in his 70s, was so incensed he threatened to go on hunger strike or even to take his own life. He was determined that his ex-wife would not get her allotted share of his wealth. He was worth £13 million ($25 million). Neither could he comprehend her consternation at his offer to keep house.
He could certainly afford to pay for the services of a hired housekeeper, both before and after the current court case.
The wife said she had found his offer to remain in the marital dwelling and continue to keep it clean and tidy for her husband and his new partner “very demeaning and upsetting.” The new woman also had a 12-year-old daughter who moved in with her.
The couple had actually gotten divorced in the 1990s after a twenty year marriage, but the divorce had no effect on their living arrangements, and they had continued to live together. They did not have any children together. Five years ago, however, he fell for someone else.
The judge ruled in favour of the wife and awarded her £6.12 million. He had found that there was little or no difference in their life as a married couple or post their divorce. The husband was still struggling to come to terms with the fact that she and her team of lawyers had found his housekeeping offer so offensive, and why she had pursued her rightful share of the assets of the marriage. The judge, who had carried out a private trial in the Family Division of the High Court, allowed his ruling to be reported but said that the identities of the couple could not be revealed.
It’s an unusual case for several reasons, exacerbated by the fact that this pair had already been divorced for so long. The wife obviously felt no compulsion to make any financial settlement at the time of the actual divorce, as they had carried on living together as they had before. It emerged that she had in fact, signed an agreement stating she would never get more than £3.4 million, but she insisted this had been under duress.
Not making a claim at the time of the divorce does not prevent an ex-partner doing so at any point up to their ex-spouse getting re-married.
A lawyer at Fisher Meredith solicitors, Eileen Pembridge, said that the judge would have had to weigh up all the facts and he clearly decided that the post-divorce years were akin to a continuation of the marriage. They treated the divorce, said the judge, as just a “piece of paper.”
Pembridge, who is Head of the Family Law division at her firm, said she could only recall one other such case in her forty years of legal practice. In that instance, a Thai national had been tricked into divorcing her British husband, and then kept on as his housekeeper. When the man died, the judge ruled she was still entitled to a share of his home. The catch was, she had to go on sharing it with his second wife. Who ended up keeping house in that scenario has not been revealed. In this case though, the woman, who is in her fifties, now has plenty of money to employ a housekeeper of her own.
By Kate Henderson