On the day of the landmark Prest decision, Mark Nayler looks at five legal precedents that have shaped divorce in the UK
The Supreme Court’s decision to ‘pierce the corporate veil’ in the Prest divorce case shows yet again that few areas of law are as changeable as divorce law.
As Spear’s reported in the last issue, in which we ran our Family Law Index, a judge’s decision in a divorce case can result in dramatic changes to the law, resulting in an unpredictability which can be frustrating to family lawyers (although the majority say they wouldn’t have it any other way). A quick glance at some landmark cases shows just how frequently a couple’s separation can rock the foundations of divorce law.
White v White (2000)
The case of White v White in 2000 is one of the most important in divorce law. Martin and Pamela white married in 1961 and jointly built up a farming business that was a huge success. After their marriage dissolved in 1994, there followed a complex and fraught piece of litigation regarding the division of the couple’s wealth and assets.
The Court of Appeal eventually ruled that Pamela White’s lump sum financial settlement should reflect her contribution to the business and marriage, and thereby established the principle that marriage is a partnership of equals.
Miller v Miller (2006)
In 2006, Miller v Miller was another landmark ruling. When Alan Miller, an asset manager in the City with a fortune then estimated at £30 million, split from his wife Melissa, she was awarded £5 million after just two years and nine months of marriage. The five Law Lords who made the ruling established the principle that the benchmark for division should be equal shares, regardless of the length of the marriage.
Macleod v Macleod (2008)
Two years later, Macleod v Macleod was instrumental in introducing the post-nuptial agreement. In the 2008 case, concerning the separation of an American couple resident in the Isle of Man, the Privy Council upheld the binding force of an agreement signed by the couple in 2002, when the marriage was falling apart. This meant that couples in the future could have greater control over the division of wealth and assets.
Radmacher v Granatino (2010)
While post-nups were established by Macleod, pre-nuptial agreements had no force in law until Radmacher v Granatino. Katrin Radmacher, the wealthier spouse, had signed a pre-nup with Nicolas Granatino in 1998, but when they divorced, the High Court said it had no validity. However, the Supreme Court said that the pre-nup should carry ‘decisive weight’ in a divorce settlement, although not if it was monstrously unfair or signed under pressure. This brought England and Wales into line with much of the rest of the world.
Prest v Petrodel Resources (2013)
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the Prest case today will prove to be of similar importance to divorce law, establishing as it does the principle that assets held in a company owned by a divorcing spouse should be taken into account when deciding on a financial settlement for his or her partner.