Big money divorce cases get into the news for a whole variety of reasons, but an allegation of sex discrimination is seldom one of them.
However, this was one of the issues raised in a divorce case involving a high-flying wife who sacrificed her career to be a home-maker.
The wife had been the finance director of a major high street retailer, but gave up the boardroom to care for the couple's two children. Whilst she stayed at home, her husband, a partner in a leading accountancy firm, enjoyed a flourishing career. He was the family's sole breadwinner, sometimes earning more than £900,000 per year.
When the couple divorced, the wife was awarded £1.37 million of their marital assets, leaving her ex-husband with about £1.2 million. He paid her maintenance of £90,000 per year, which was later increased to £150,000 per year. She had savings of £1 million and estimated her ex-husband's wealth at £11 million.
Nine years after their divorce, the ex-husband wanted to retire for personal reasons and asked a family judge to capitalise his ex-wife's future financial entitlement into a one-off lump sum. The judge rejected her claim for up to £2.6 million and awarded her just £400,000. He said that sum, together with her savings and the £500,000 she could make by downsizing her £1.75 million home, would give her a 'generous' £80,000-a-year income.
Upholding her challenge to that decision, the Court of Appeal accepted that she should be fairly compensated for the career she had given up. The requirement that she sell her own home, in order to boost her savings pot and thus increase her income, was 'arguably discriminatory' against her.
Directing a full rehearing of the case by a different judge, the Court found that a 'more sophisticated' analysis was required of the ex-couple's assets, income and needs in order to ensure a fair division and avoid any discrimination.
Although the ex-couple's children had left home, the woman's lawyers insisted that she deserved a similar affluent lifestyle to that enjoyed by her former husband.
The financial arrangements on divorce often lead to bitter arguments. This decision will be welcomed by any ex-spouse or ex-civil partner who gave up a successful career in order to bring up children before the break-up of the relationship.