Conduct in financial remedy cases

Does conduct play a part in the financial proceedings on divorce?

Conduct is a specific factor that the Courts can take into account when making a financial award in financial proceedings on divorce if, in the opinion of the Court, it would be “inequitable to disregard it”.

Successful arguments of conduct can be found in several cases such as Kyte v Kyte [1987] - a wife’s connivance in the husband’s suicide attempts to gain assets or WW v HW [2015] – the husband’s irresponsible and dishonest behaviour as to the nature of the receipts into his company and the way in which he had conducted himself in relation to the Inland Revenue & Customs, was conduct impacting on the level at which his needs should be met.

Although there may be a number of conduct examples that a husband or a wife would like to run, such as adultery, in reality it is only “in very exceptional circumstances” that the Court will take conduct into account.

That said in a recent case of T v T (A intervening) [2017] there was an opportunity for the Family Court to push back the boundaries regarding conduct and effectively go back in time when looking at the facts of this particular case.

The parties were in a relationship from 2013 and married in 2015. Wife hailed from an extensive farming family. Husband had been previously married and had worked as a successful dairy farmer in Canada. Following the marriage Wife fell pregnant and by agreement the Wife granted the Husband parental responsibility of her son who had been conceived by an anonymous sperm donor.

In April 2016 the marriage broke down in intense circumstances when the Wife stabbed the Husband repeatedly with a kitchen knife during an argument over the "tuna pasta bake she had prepared for the Husband".

The Wife was charged with attempted murder and wounding with intent and she was remanded in custody until the conclusion of the trial. During her imprisonment she gave birth to their child. The Wife later stood trial at the Crown Court and was acquitted by the Jury as they accepted her case of self-defence.

During the financial proceedings on divorce, they both ran conduct arguments. The Wife alleged (a) rape, (b) coercive control, (c) assault (d) stalking, (e) kidnapping, (f) stealing £5,000, (g) "generally being a monster", (h) being "unpleasant to Wife’s saintly mother", and (i) possessing the "most repulsive parents imaginable". Later on the Wife added to these allegations as it came to light that the Husband had diverted waters from the devastating floods that hit the county in March 2015 into the village causing widespread destruction, imperilment of many locals and death of an elderly resident.

The Husband alleged many conduct arguments against the Wife too, namely (a) stabbing, (b) "culinary incompetence", (c) self-pity and (d) being a member of a "large sanctimonious but dysfunctional family that was set on his ruin".

The Court dismissed the Husband’s conduct allegations but found the Wife’s proved and following the case of Miller v Miller [2006] awarded the Wife a lump sum of £10 million. The Court followed the Law Commission’s recommendation that the Court should be “obliged to take account of conduct where to do otherwise would offend a reasonable person’s sense of justice”.

It is interesting to note that in this case social media played a vital part in convincing the Court that the Wife was to be 100% believed and the Husband 100% disbelieved. The researchers found material on Twitter using the hastag #thearchers.

This case sends a strong message that misconduct of this nature would not be tolerated and that each case depends on its individual facts.