A businesswoman who was belittled as being ‘no more than a receptionist’ by her multi-millionaire husband has had her £2.7 million divorce settlement upheld after the Court of Appeal ruled that her ‘exceptional’ contribution to the success of a family hotel business meant that any reduction in the award would be ‘plainly unfair’.
The woman’s hotelier ex-husband had described her as a ‘good employee’ and argued that a family judge had failed to make sufficient allowance for the brief duration of the couple’s four-year marriage and the fact that the business had been inherited from his parents.
However, the Court noted that the hotel had been struggling before the ex-wife used her business acumen to transform its fortunes. The Court accepted that the family judge had gone too far in finding that the hotel’s goodwill was effectively worthless before she came onto the scene but nevertheless ruled that her award represented a fair assessment of her substantial contribution to the marital fortune.
In addition to a £2.2 million lump sum, the ex-wife had also been awarded the £550,000 former matrimonial home. The effect of the order was to give her approximately one third and her ex-husband approximately two thirds of the total available assets. According to the Court of Appeal, the split ‘fairly reflected the derivation of the hotel and its trade’.
In her evidence, the woman had said that she and her ex-husband had ‘worked ceaselessly’ to transform a ‘dowdy and unwelcoming’ hotel for working men into a successful business catering to the lucrative tourist trade. She had designed and built the hotel’s first website and transformed its advertising, as well as working up to 17 hours a day in the business.
Her ex-husband had argued that, as she was a paid employee, she was not entitled to a share of the hotel’s value. However, in dismissing his appeal, Lord Justice Thorpe noted that the ex-wife’s lawyers had conceded at an early stage that, as the hotel was inherited, one third of its value should be ring-fenced against her financial claims.