Divorce Law

Land mark divorce case in making between the Prest’s coming before the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is set to hear a landmark divorce case concerning on assets held by spouses companies after a Court of Appeal (CoA) ruling last month.

The case of the Prest’s revolves around the question of whether companies belonging to spouses can be ordered to pay assets in a divorce settlement.

Family lawyers for Yasmin Prest, the ex wife of oil tycoon Michael Prest are contesting the decision given by the CoA on the 26 October, which ruled that companies owned by Mr Prest would not be made to hand over assets totaling £17.5m to his ex-wife, in a judgment which was criticised by critics saying that it would enable wealthy spouses to protect their assets in divorce proceedings.

The ruling by CoA came after justice Moylan ordered Mr Prest to hand over the £17.5 sum last year. And suspecting that Mr Prest would not comply with the orders as he had not provided a frank and full disclosure, justice Moylan had ordered 14 of the businessman’s properties in theUKand abroad to transfer assets to Mrs Prest as part payment of the award.

But that ruling was overturned last month when the companies won an appeal against Moylan’s ruling, on the basis that the assets belonged to the companies, which were separate legal entities to Mr Prest.

The October ruling divided the CoA bench two to one, with commercial judges Justice Patten and Justice Rimer finding in favour of the companies against Justice Thorpe, who in his dissenting judgment said that if the law permitted Mr Prest to retain assets in this way it defeats the Family Division judge’s overriding duty to achieve a fair result.

In his ruling, Rimer argued against Thorpe, and said that primarily their were no findings which could justify the finality except that the properties were part of the assets of, and belonged beneficially to, the companies that respectively controlled them.

Commenting on the October decision, family law lawyer for Mrs Prest said that it was a great pity that years of case law and practice which had enabled family law judges to do justice between divorcing couples have been overturned by a non-unanimous decision of the CoA. Devious men who want to avoid making fair provision for their wives would rejoice at this decision.

Another family law barrister added the decision was a disappointing one for many wives who confront on divorce a tangled web of companies used to shelter their husbands’ wealth.

He added that the ruling had put the genie back in the bottle. The Court has effectively sanctioned for other cases the use of what could be perceived by the general public to be a cheat’s charter.

Divorce Law

A demand by Iain Duncan Smith may bring a new Coalition row

The Works and Pensions Secretary has demanded that the government introduce a tax break for married couples.

Iain Duncan Smith wants George Osborne to make changes by next year’s budget to show the government was serious about promoting marriage.

The idea of giving a tax break for married couples was a key Tory manifesto pledges which if not carried out would let the public dismiss as tokenism, Mr Smith has said to have warned David Cameron.

It is being feared that the pledge which the prime minister said would be honoured by 2015 was going to fall by the wayside unless implemented soon.

But the problem lies within the coalition with the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg opposing it by accusing the Tories that it was trying to create the 1950 model of suit wearing, bread winning dad and apron clad home making mother.

Mr Cameron championed the idea of a marriage tax break when in opposition, although the proposal was watered down to the point where it would be worth only about £150 a year to most.

He said encouraging marriage would help in avoiding divorce proceedings as it would encourage more couples to stay together and produce greater stability for children.

The move was bitterly opposed by the Lib Dems, who argue it was wrong to favour marriage over cohabitation. The Coalition agreement allows them to abstain on any vote on the issue, and gives priority to their tax plan of raising the income tax threshold to £10,000.

Mr Duncan Smith received an unstinted support from the Bishop of Chester. Peter Forster said recognition of marriage in the tax system was one way of sending a ‘powerful symbolic message from government into society, and stress the importance of marriage in the society.

He argued that good marriages were not just a benefit for the couple themselves, and their children, but serve to strengthen the wider society of which they are a part.

A strong respect for marriage would actually support single parents, and others who have the care of children.

Speaking in a House of Lords debate on child development, the bishop urged ministers to act without delay, adding that there would be some changes needed to be carried out to implement the issue before the next budget it would become an unfulfilled pledge of the government as the next election would approach.

Former Tory Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay of Clashfern also urged the Chancellor to act swiftly in the interests of children.

Ministers have not specified exactly how the pledge to recognise marriage in the tax system by 2015 will be implemented.