The couple had been married for nine years and had two children. Their main asset was their home, which was worth £190,000. They were both on low incomes and received tax credits.
Following the separation, the husband bought himself a house with £85,000 borrowed from his father and a £63,000 mortgage. A consent order was then made transferring the matrimonial home to the wife with her taking over responsibility for the mortgage. It was agreed the husband would receive 45% of the proceeds of the sale of the house when the children left home.
A month after the order was made, the husband inherited £180,000 when his father died.
The wife believed that the inheritance was a significant change in circumstances and applied to have the order amended.
The judge held that the original order had been based on the needs of each partner. However, the inheritance meant the husband no longer needed his share of the property, whereas the wife’s need had remained the same.
The judge therefore removed the husband’s right to a share of the money raised when the matrimonial home was eventually sold.
The Court of Appeal has upheld that decision, saying that the judge was right to conclude that the inheritance invalidated the assumptions on which the original consent order had been made.
The original order was dictated by need. Need was a relative concept which was affected by how much there was to go round. When resources were limited, the court’s options might be limited and there might be no choice but to leave one or both spouses in a difficult situation. If more resources were available, needs could be more fully provided for, as in this case.
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