Weekly Family Law Update January 30, 2024

Dealing with housing needs on divorce

When the court is asked to deal with a financial remedies application sorting out financial arrangements on divorce it is required to specifically consider certain factors.

One of those factors, and often the most important one, is the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future.

And one of the main financial needs is of course in relation to housing. Obviously, when a divorce occurs decisions will need to be made as to where each party is to live following the divorce.

But how does the court assess the housing needs of the parties?

A recent judgment provides an illustration.

Single issue

The judgment was in relation to a wife’s financial remedies application.

As the judge explained, this was essentially a single issue case. The issue for the court to decide was: what were the wife’s housing needs?

The background to the case was as follows.

The parties were married in Italy in 2006. They have one child, born in 2010. The wife has lived in England since 2004. Both she and the child have dual Italian and British nationality. The husband is an Italian national, and has remained in Italy.

The parties separated in 2016, and since then the wife and child have lived in a rented flat in Brentford, London.

The wife claimed that she required £1.25 million to meet her housing needs. That sum was required because she wanted to purchase a 3-bedroom terraced house in the (more expensive) Chiswick area of London. She claimed that she needed 3 bedrooms because her parents would occasionally visit, and that the property should be in Chiswick because that was where the child went to school.

The husband disagreed. He argued that the wife actually intended to live in Italy, where she would only need about £350,000 for housing. But if she did intend to remain in England he argued that she could obtain appropriate housing here for about £450 – 500,000, which would enable her to purchase a two-bedroomed flat similar to the property in which she was living, in the Brentford area – she did not need a three-bedroomed property, and there was no need to move to Chiswick, as it was close to Brentford anyway.

Fair housing budget

As to the first of the husband’s arguments, the judge found that the wife’s future did lay in England, not Italy. The wife and child would therefore need to be rehoused here.

However, the judge agreed with the husband that the wife did not need anything more than a two-bedroomed property, saying that he did not consider it to be appropriate to use the family’s resources to enable the wife to buy a larger property just for the purpose of housing family members on occasional visits.

The judge also agreed with the husband that there was no need for the wife to move to Chiswick. The wife and child had lived in Brentford for the last seven years, and the distance the child had to travel to school was short. In any event the wife had selected the child’s school in Chiswick whilst she had been living in Brentford.

That just left the judge to decide how much the wife needed to purchase a two-bedroomed property in the Brentford area.

The judge was satisfied that the wife could purchase such a property for around £450,000. However, he felt that in the circumstances of the case (the parties had enjoyed a comfortable standard of living during the marriage) it would be fair for the wife to live somewhere more spacious and comfortable than the type of property envisaged by the husband.

He therefore concluded that a fair housing budget for the wife would be £650,000, to which should be added £50,000 to cover the costs of purchase and furnishings. Accordingly, he awarded the wife a lump sum of £700,000.