Weekly Family Law Update February 19, 2021

A rent claim, lockdown divorce and refuge addresses

Husband fails in claim for rent from wife

A husband who claimed £600,000 rent from his former wife has had his case dismissed by the Court of Appeal.

The couple had lived in a five bedroomed house in Kensington, which was owned by the husband. The marriage broke down and in 2014 the husband moved out.

The couple were then divorced and in 2016 they agreed a financial settlement whereby the wife was to receive a total of £11.5 million. £6.5 million of this was to be paid to her straight away, with the balance to be paid when the house was sold. The agreement was incorporated into a consent court order.

Unfortunately, due to problems in the property market the sale did not take place until 2019. The wife remained in occupation of the property until then.

The husband claimed occupational rent from the wife in the sum of £5,000 per week, totalling £600,000. The wife refused to pay, claiming that she was entitled to live in the property rent-free, until it was sold.

The husband took his claim to court. Initially the court agreed that the wife should pay the rent, but the wife appealed against that decision, and her appeal was upheld. The husband then appealed himself, to the Court of Appeal.

The husband argued that whilst the consent order did not include a term requiring the wife to pay rent, such a term should be implied, as the parties would have agreed that it should be included if they had known how long the sale would take.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. The consent order was final, and therefore the wife did not have to pay rent. Accordingly, the husband’s appeal was dismissed.

Study suggests lockdown will not lead to more divorces

Fears that married couples being forced to spend more time together due to lockdown will lead to more divorces may be unfounded, according to a study by the pro-marriage charity the Marriage Foundation.

The study looked at 3,005 parents who completed a survey, and found that twice as many married couples said their relationship had improved during the Covid-19 restrictions, and those considering divorce had dropped by two-thirds compared to before the pandemic began.

Founder of the Marriage Foundation Sir Paul Coleridge said: “The predicted Covid divorce boom is still not even on the horizon let alone just around the corner. It seems that the centuries old marriage vows ‘for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health’ still resonate and hold good for the majority of married couples who are hanging in there through thick and thin even whilst their relationships are being stress-tested.”

Courts share refuge addresses with abuse perpetrators

London’s Victims’ Commissioner Claire Waxman, who works to improve the experience of victims of crime in London, has warned that the family courts are putting domestic abuse victims and children at risk by sharing the secret addresses of refuges with the perpetrators of the abuse. As a result, some abuse survivors are suffering stalking by their abusers.

Domestic abuse refuges, which house many women at risk of harm if they remain at home with their abuser, are located in secret locations and have strict security measures to ensure their residents remain safe.

Ms Waxman is calling for a provision to be included in the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill stating that refuge addresses should never be disclosed, not even to the court, and that only the office address of the organisation running the refuge should be used to effect service of court orders on a survivor fleeing violence.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson commented: “Protecting victims is our absolute priority. While existing measures enable this information to be kept confidential by the court, we are working with the judiciary to see how we can better protect those in refuges.”