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Inheritance and how this impacts on Divorce

Inheritance is considered to be a “financial resource” to which one or other of the parties to the marriage has “or is likely to have in the foreseeable future”.  When considering financial relief applications within divorce proceedings, inherited wealth is one of the factors considered under Section 25(2)(a) of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.

This area of law was reviewed by the House of Lords in 2000 in the case of White v, White.  It was decided that when assets of the family are insufficient to meet the needs of both parties, the fact that part of those assets had been inherited would not prevent them being taken into account.  If, on the otherhand, there are sufficient resources for needs to be met without recourse to the inherited assets, they may be ignored, although this is only likely to happen where there is considerable wealth available.

Inheritance (pre-marriage)

In the case of P v P [2004] which involved a marriage of 19 years and 2 children.  The husband had inherited property worth £2.4m which was being run as a farm.  The wife had played a major part in running the farm and the husband’s whole life had revolved around the farm.  The wife was claiming 40% of the assets which would have resulted in the farm having to be sold as the husband was only able to raise 25% of the property value to fund a lump sum to his wife.  The Judge commented in this case that inheritance was based on a “..landed estate that has been in one spouse’s family for generations and which has been brought into the marriage with an expectation that it will be retained in specie for future generations”. 

More recently in the case of K v L [2011] the husband and wife cohabited for a period of 5 years prior to their marriage in 1991 and they separated in 2007.  The wife had inherited shares worth £700,000 prior to the marriage which 24 years later had a value of £57m.  Neither party had worked throughout the marriage, instead they lived off their investments.  The husband owned assets amounting to £300,000 which in the main consisted f the family home held in his sole name.  The husband sought £18m by way of settlement.  The court awarded him £5.3 at the same time emphasising the fact that the major source of wealth had arisen from the wife’s inheritance which had remained in her sole name since before the marriage and the parties had lived frugally in any event.  The court deemed that the husband would still be able to live a far more affluent lifestyle than what the parties had experienced during their marriage. 

Inheritance (post-marriage)

In the case of Norris v. Norris [2002]  the parties had been married for 23 years.  The matrimonial assets consisted of £4.4m for the husband and £3.6m for the wife which included inherited wealth.  The wife sought to have the inheritances ring fenced (excluded).  The court would not agree to leave the inheritances out of the account and awarded the wife a lump sum of £360,000 to equalise the assets. 

In the case of a short marriage Davies v. Davies [2002].  The parties ran a hotel together.  The husband had brought into the marriage a one third share of the hotel which he had inherited prior to the marriage.  In this case the court was prepared to ring fence that share and instead divided the overall assets as to one third to the wife and two third to the husband. 

Inheritance (post-separation)

As stated above the courts will take account of prospective inheritance if it is a resource that a party is likely to receive in the foreseeable future.  As such a variety of possibilities occur, including:- 

  • the prospective inheritance may be ignored as too uncertain;
  • the non-inheriting spouse may have his/her aware increased to reflect the inheritance that will accrue to the other party;
  • the financial remedy application may be adjourned until the value of the inheritance is known.

 If you require further advice or information relating to divorce and financial relief matters generally, please contact Maureen Naylor on 01394 277941 or email maureen@fairstep.co.uk.