Wife is awarded 90 percent of husband's wealth because she gave up her career – is this a fair assessment of the judgment in the case of Peter and Jane Morris?

This case has made for sensationalist headlines after a wife was awarded the majority of the parties' capital after giving up her career to raise the…

In the minds of bitterly divorcing couples, the concept of marriage being a partnership is all too often forgotten and what is essentially 'family wealth' starts being described as the 'fortune accumulated by the husband' (or the wife) with the other party to the marriage wanting to take money that simply isn't theirs. This mind set is often associated with traditional family arrangements where a mother gives up her career to raise the family and the sole income and wealth generator is the father. In the case of Peter and Jane Morris, the fact that Jane Morris gave up her career to raise the family for twenty years, coupled with the judge awarding her the majority of the parties' capital has made for sensationalist headlines. Is it fair to present the outcome as giving Jane Morris nearly all of Peter Morris' money? Did the judge really do this because she gave up her career?

As a starting point the English courts recognise the role of 'homemaker' as a significant contribution to a marriage and a role that after a long marriage, the (usually) wife and mother should not be financially penalised for performing. In the past the court has considered going further and compensating the homemaker for the loss of their career (although this has not proved a popular route for the court to take). In contrast there have been cases where it has concluded that there has been an exceptional contribution from the 'breadwinner' which is sufficient to justify the breadwinner receiving a greater share of the family wealth (again this is a route the court has only taken in very limited circumstances). There are some practical considerations when looking at the situation of the homemaker. If they have been out of the job market for a significant period of time then this will impact on their earning capacity. The court must look at each parties' resources and Mr Morris' earnings of up to £240,000 per annum are likely to dwarf the earnings of Mrs Morris.

This case should, however, be treated with caution by wives who have given up their careers. As the judge himself indicated it is an unusually high percentage of the assets that have been awarded to Mrs Morris. It is highly unlikely to lead to a change in the court's approach to such cases as the behaviour of the parties and the extent of their assets both played important parts. Mr Morris' role in significantly reducing the family wealth by his profligate spending influenced the judge's decision. The spending of the parties was such that there was much less money available for them to share than might have been expected when they separated 3 years ago.

On the basis of the amount of money available, the decision was mainly based on the court needing to ensure the housing needs of the children and their primary carer were met. The relevance of Mrs Morris' career break was in relation to her earning capacity and her inability to generate a similar level of income to Mr Morris despite having returned to employment. The award therefore also reflected the stark difference in their income resources and ability to accumulate pension.

It is evident that Mr Morris' behaviour and attitude did little to impress the judge and husbands or wives profligately overspending from joint resources after they separate could face repercussions if there is insufficient left in the pot to provide in full for both parties housing and other capital needs. Whilst the judge found that by agreement Jane Morris gave up her career, this case is about the court prioritising the housing and income needs of the parties' children rather than compensation for loss of a career.

After a twenty-five year marriage of which twenty years were spent running the home and raising the children, it is difficult to see how it is a fair assessment to say that the first instance judge gave Jane Morris 90% of her husband's money.

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