Many divorcees feel that judges have given them a raw deal when dividing up marital assets. They may or may not be right about that but, as one case strikingly showed, it makes much better sense for them to seek swift professional advice than to sit on their hands dwelling on what might have been.
The case concerned a middle-aged couple whose relationship lasted for almost 15 years and resulted in two children prior to their divorce. Their assets comprised over £400,000 yielded from the sale of their former matrimonial home and the husband's shares in two companies, which were valued at about £6.2 million.
Following a hearing, a district judge ordered the husband to pay the wife a lump sum of over £3 million within five years. Pending payment, he was required to pay interest on that sum at 4 per cent over base rate. Together with £4,750 a month in maintenance, he was ordered to pay her 25 per cent of any bonuses he received and 50 per cent of any dividends. She was awarded 75 per cent of the proceeds of the property sale and he was required to pay the children's school fees.
In applying for permission to appeal against the district judge's order, the husband argued that he had suffered a grave injustice and that he could not afford to comply with it. He asserted, amongst other things, that the district judge had taken precisely half of the value of his shareholdings in two private companies without any indication as to how he would be able to raise the required lump sum within five years or at all.
Refusing his application, however, a more senior judge noted that, under the rules of procedure which govern family justice, he had 21 days from the date of the district judge's decision in which to seek permission to appeal. His notice of appeal had in fact been issued more than 15 months after that deadline passed. The delay was serious and there was no good explanation for it.
Noting that a right of appeal is not something that can be stored up in case it might be of future use, the judge could find no good reason for extending the deadline. The husband's complaints, whilst arguable, were not overwhelming, and the delay in lodging his appeal had caused clear prejudice to the wife in that she had been prevented from moving on with her life.