The ex-wife of a millionaire racehorse surgeon
has been told by a judge to 'get a job' saying she has 'no right to be
supported for life' at her ex-husband's expense. In a dramatic ruling this
Court of Appeal decision is likely to have a significant impact for ex-wives of
wealthy husbands. Lord Justice Pitchford said divorcees with children aged over
seven should work for a living.
Lord Justice Pitchford rejected a challenge
by Tracey Wright to a decision to slash her future maintenance, which she
stated would cause 'a plummeting in the standard of living’ of the youngest
child. Mrs Wright's ex-husband Ian Wright, a racehorse surgeon in Newmarket, had
been ordered to pay £75,000 maintenance and school fees per year (£33,200 was
spousal maintenance for Mrs Wright's personal upkeep), in 2008 after 11 years of
marriage. Last year Mr Wright went to the High Court to seek a reduction in the
payments to Mrs Wright, stating it was not fair that he was expected to support his
ex-wife for life, even after his proposed retirement.
Mrs Wright chose not to work after the end of
the marriage, and instead be a stay-at-home mum. As part of the divorce, Mrs Wright received a mortgage-free home worth £450,000 and horse stabling for her and the
daughters’ horses. Lord Justice Pitchford stated that 'the world of work
has innumerable possibilities these days …vast numbers of women with children
just get on with it and Mrs Wright should have done the same'. The judge
continued to state that 'Mrs Wright has made no effort whatsoever to seek
work or to update her skills ... I am satisfied that she has worked on this
basis ... that she would be supported for life.'
The judge upheld the decision of the High
Court that Mrs Wright's personal maintenance payments must cease, with a gradual
tailing off over a 5-year period leading up to Mr Wright's retirement. He
continued to state that:
'The question is whether
there is a real prospect of establishing that the judge gave inadequate reasons
for her decision that the husband should provide no spousal maintenance in his
retirement. In my view there is no such prospect.'
This is significant for two reasons. First,
historically courts have frequently not heard cases in advance of a change of
circumstances - such as retirement - preferring to wait until the time has
come. By accepting Mr Wright's application some 6 years before his planned
retirement, and accepting his argument that he should start to reduce the
support in advance of that date, the Court of Appeal has given a clear signal
that planning for an ‘income changing’ event can be prudent.
Secondly, while in most cases which are
assessed on the 'needs' of the parties, the ex-spouses are expected to go out
to work and pull their weight financially as soon as possible, this case shows
that courts are starting to apply this logic to cases involving wealthy couples.
Taken with the recent
judgment by Judge Mostyn in the High Court case of SS v NS  EWHC 4183 (Fam)
there is a real movement coming from the higher courts
that a divorcing spouse cannot realistically expect to have her income needs
met by her former husband, for many years after the divorce, particularly where
she can reasonably be expected to go out to work, and that the courts will not
treat an unwillingness to work as a good enough reason to expect payments to
continue longer than is necessary for her needs to be met whilst she re-trains.