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Family Businesses And Divorce – Family and Matrimonial

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A recent case demonstrates how intermingling business
arrangements within families can create a further layer of
difficulty when marriages breakdown and emotions run

The case of Mr and Mrs M ( M v M [2020] EWFC 41) underlines the
dire consequences of losing perspective, sense and reason when
litigating family disputes.

After 13 Face to Face Hearings, the financial disputes between
Mr and Mrs M were determined by Mr Robert Peel QC on 6 May 2020
following a 5 day Remote Final Hearing in the High Court

Mr and Mrs M were married for almost 22 years; they are both in
their early 50s and have 3 children – the youngest being 14. 
During the marriage they lived a comfortable lifestyle; living in a
5 bedroomed property in London, enjoying regular holidays, eating
out frequently and their children attended private school. 
Throughout the marriage their lifestyle had been subsidised by the
Wife’s parents who paid the majority of the children’s
school fees. 

The family finances were intertwined with the Wife’s
family’s businesses – the Wife’s parents had set up two
Companies and they had gifted the Wife shareholdings in those
businesses.  At the time of separation (June 2018), the
Husband was employed as Managing Director of one of the Companies -
having worked for the family business since 2005.  

The Husband resigned as Managing Director towards the end of
July 2018 and in the October of that year, he was accused by the
Wife and her family of alleged financial misfeasance whilst running
the Family Company – this lead to his arrest.  By the time of
the Final Hearing in May 2020, the Husband still had not been
charged with any offence. 

It is easy to surmise that there was heightened emotion and
anxiety for everyone involved when the marital problems arose
–  the Wife, the Husband, the Children, the Wife’s
parents, the Wife’s brother were all financially and
emotionally affected by the separation.

By the time the Final Hearing began on 1 May 2020, the Wife had
spent and owed £214,830 in legal fees whilst the Husband had
spent and owed £251,000.  The eye watering level of
costs in this case underlines the extent of the disputes that were
being raised and the level of anger brimming below the
surface.  After dismissing the Husband’s arguments in
relation to the Wife’s jewellery and car registration plate;
the Judge concluded that the only substantial liquid asset was the
proceeds of sale of the matrimonial home

Both parties raised arguments about additional loans/debts that
they owed members of their families – the Wife indicating that in
addition to her legal fees she owed her brother £155,000 and
her father £50,000 – the Husband indicating that he had
credit card debts of £122,000 that related to family
expenditure and he owed £46,000 to his sister and brother in
law.   The Judge accepted that the Husband’s credit
card debt and £33,000 of the monies owed to the Wife’s
brother were relevant debts.

In relation to illiquid assets the Husband had pension provision
worth just over £500,000 from which he could access
£125,000 as a tax free lump sum in October 2021; the Wife had
pensions worth £229,000; her minority shareholdings in the
family businesses were valued at £319,848 and it was
determined that she was also owed £11,000 by one of the

By May 2020 the Husband was working at a Plumbing and Heating
Company earning £32,000 per annum and the Wife was earning
£36,500 per annum from one of family businesses.

Ultimately the Judge ordered that the Wife’s brother should
receive repayment of £33,000 from the proceeds of sale of the
matrimonial home before the balance (£597,500) was divided
£377,000 to the Husband and £220,500 to the

After payment of their legal fees the Wife would be left with
£5,368 and the Husband would have £5,423.  A Clean
Break was also ordered so the Wife retained approximately
£200,000 more in illiquid assets than the Husband.

Both parties raised costs arguments against the other with the
Judge concluding that the Husband was more blameworthy given the
number of applications and appeals he had made and he was therefore
ordered to pay £15,000 as a cost contribution to the
Wife.  Coincidentally £15,000 was equivalent to an
amount that the Wife was likely to be assessed to pay the Husband
in relation to the costs of an appeal hearing that had taken place
in January 2020.

Putting to one side the level of costs in this case in
comparison to the asset values, an interesting aspect of the
Judgment is the assessment of whether wider family resources that
might be available to either party should be taken into
account.  Increasingly this is an argument raised in many
cases where the parties themselves do not have assets/income to
sustain their standard of living and throughout the marriage
financial support has been provided by the wider family. 

In this case the Judge concluded that despite all the support
that had been provided to the Wife and the family throughout the
marriage there should be no “judicial encouragement”
placed on the Wife’s family to provide monies to the Wife going
forwards in order to justify a greater share of the
“matrimonial” assets being awarded to the Husband. 
One wonders whether the Judge might have taken a different view if
the Husband had not lost perspective and conducted the litigation
as he did; but then it is also hard to say how any of us may react
to being arrested for financial misconduct.   Being able
to separate family and business issues when they have been
intermingled for 20 years is a big ask and devastating from an
emotional and a costs perspective for everyone involved.

The Husband will probably feel the most aggrieved because unless
his financial circumstances unexpectedly improve he will need to
service his credit card debts for another year before drawing his
tax free lump sum from his pension to repay those debts.  It
is questionable whether he will then be able to buy a very modest
home for himself.  In comparison whilst the Judge considered
it more than likely that the Wife’s family would choose to
assist her to purchase a property, he concluded that there was no
obligation on the Wife’s family to do so.

Is this fair? The Judge considered it was and he proceeded to
apportion the marital assets between the parties on a roughly equal

Might there have been a way to protect the parties from this
mammoth litigation nightmare?   Pre-nuptial and Post-
nuptial Agreements may have helped to limit the arguments and
therefore the level of costs.  A Family Council/Constitution
that addressed the consequence of the “4 Ds” – divorce,
death, disability and debt on the Family Companies and all members
of the wider Family may also have been useful.

Unfortunately the litigation between the Husband and Wife is not
completely concluded – the Husband has not seen the parties’
youngest child since August 2019 and there are ongoing Children Act
proceedings. How hard must it be for the children to navigate their
way through this minefield involving every member of their close
and extended family?  If both parents are now able to take the
opportunity to stop and reflect – they may still be able to find a
way forward for themselves, their children and future

Our team of family law solicitors are sensitive to your concerns
and are here to provide you with clear, practical advice to help
resolve your family disputes . We offer guidance in a number of
areas including divorce and separation advice, children and
parenting arrangements & financial issues. Call us now if
you need any advice or assistance.

Originally published June 29, 2020.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.