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Has AB v FC changed the pitch of spousal maintenance?

Posted: 24/01/2017

A short marriage, a small child, a huge income and virtually no assets make AB v FC an interesting read. One party in this recent case was a French Premiership footballer earning £1 million a year, living in England. The wife (also French) had previously been a beautician. The marriage lasted only 19 months, and the parties’ baby was four months old at the time of separation.

During the marriage the husband’s income afforded the couple a lavish lifestyle. The wife gave up work to be a full time mother and they rented a family home and spent vast sums freely. Consequently, despite the husband’s large income, there was little in the way of capital assets (and no marital acquest) to divide at the breakdown of the marriage. The only assets of value were a property development in Miami, a small French property and the husband’s unpaid bonus.

Aside from the court’s general maintenance and capital award, which included a markedly reduced housing budget for the wife (£1.7 million cut to £700,000), a number of interesting points were made which could inform how spousal maintenance claims are argued and decided in future high income/low asset cases:

  • it may be appropriate for a party with many years of child caring responsibilities ahead of them to be provided with enhanced spousal maintenance to include an element to ‘stockpile’ capital to make mortgage repayments. In this case, the wife was provided with around £80,000 per year in extra spousal maintenance to pay down a mortgage over eight to 10 years. The court considered this appropriate to give housing security to the child;
  • a modest earner should not be penalised pound for pound in the form of reduced spousal maintenance if he/she starts earning for themselves. Here, it was expressly recorded that if the wife generates a (minimal) independent income in the future, this should not be an automatic trigger for a reduction in spousal support;
  • a review of spousal maintenance rather than an extendable term may be appropriate. The court in this case ordered ongoing spousal maintenance but included a recital for a maintenance review in seven years. This date was appropriate because it was when it was expected that the husband’s footballing income would materially reduce. 

The award was considered both affordable and fair for the husband in the context of his income capacity, and he would also retain his bonuses.

There were useful pointers for practitioners too on the proper preparation and conduct of financial cases. In this case, despite incurring significant legal costs, the wife was unable to present the court with an informed or consistent account of her income requirements. The court suggested that practitioners should consider instructing an accountant to assist the client in preparing a budget to ensure the court was provided with the best information to form a view. The court also cautioned parties and legal advisers to put forward properly reasoned and sensible open proposals well in advance of a final hearing not least to protect themselves from adverse costs consequences.

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