'Maintenance for life' unseated in racehorse surgeon case

James Myatt, Partner, comments:

Yesterday’s decision in the Court of Appeal regarding the future maintenance obligations of racehorse surgeon, Ian Wright, towards his ex-wife, Tracey Wright, has been met with concern in some circles.

However, it has long been a reality that in cases not involving the very rich, income is limited and it is commonplace for both (divorced) parents to work (as many have done while married).

There is a checklist within the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which judges are required to take into account when deciding how to divide a couple’s financial resources on divorce. This includes “the income, earning capacity……which each of the parties to the marriage has, or is likely to have, in the foreseeable future, including in the case of earning capacity any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire”.

The judge at the original hearing and the Court of Appeal both appear to have decided that Mrs Wright could have found work - and should have done so. The decision can thus be seen as simply a re-statement of the law in strident terms, rather than breaking new ground.

Every case turns on its own facts. However, it now seems clear that those spouses who stay at home to care for the home and/or children will find it harder to justify not obtaining at least part-time employment once the youngest child attains the age of seven or eight. This should be seen in the context of planning for the longer-term and into retirement, although many may argue this court decision further erodes the traditional, supportive role of homemaker and carer.

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