Ex-couples who agree to ‘clean break’ divorce settlements are generally stuck with the consequences even if they later have regrets. That was certainly so in one case in which a woman’s bid to reopen the financial aspects of her divorce from her wealthy ex-husband fell on fallow ground.
The couple were divorced in Australia where they agreed that the wife would receive a £72,500 share of the marital assets. Her ex-husband also paid her about £45,000 in maintenance and continued to pay £9,600 a year in support for their eight-year-old child. He had met his obligations under the settlement in full.
The wife had since fallen on hard times and was largely dependent on benefits. She was more than £50,000 in debt and had had to withdraw the child from her fee-paying school due to lack of funds. The husband’s career had continued to flourish, however, and he lived with his new wife in a £1.6 million London home.
In those circumstances, the wife’s lawyers argued that she was in a predicament of real need and that the settlement had been unfair to her. However, her attempts to reopen the matter and to obtain further support from the husband were rejected by the Australian courts and by the High Court in London.
In rejecting her challenge to the latter decision, the Court of Appeal noted the brevity of the marriage. The wife had taken legal advice before entering into the settlement and had done so with her eyes open. She had aired her dissatisfaction before the Australian courts, which had found that the settlement was fair. It was not the business of the English courts to provide a top-up for every foreign divorce.