Sometimes the Court can order an unequal division of
relationship property when a couple separates - find out why...
On a separation, the Property (Relationships) Act 1976 starts
with an assumption of an equal split of relationship property.
However it is possible that assets could be divided unequally.
One mechanism for an unequal division is through section 15 of
the Act which allows a court to adjust the division of
relationship property where it is satisfied that the income and
living standards of one partner are likely to be significantly
higher than the other, because of the division of functions in the
relationship. The court can either order a lump sum or a transfer
of property to the party who is economically weaker. If assets are
largely held in trust then there is little scope for an
Section 15 only applies in exceptional cases. Difficulties in
establishing jurisdiction and uncertainty have meant that the
provision has not been as useful or as widespread as hoped.
Awards have also been relatively small and applications have not
been as great as had been expected.
To qualify the income and living standards of one party must be
likely to be significantly higher than those of the other, which
involves looking to the future. The next step is to look to
the cause of the disparity. This involves looking at the
situation when the parties were living together. There must
be sufficient evidence of the roles of each partner during the
course of the relationship, and of the future disparity.
Historically the section has been used where one party has
stepped back to care for the children of the relationship and then
cannot get back into the workforce and earn at the level they would
otherwise have been able to. Another common situation is where one
party's career has been supported to the detriment of the
other, perhaps necessitating moves around. The Court assumes
that these types of decisions were mutual. Suggesting that it was
one party's choice not to work is not necessarily going to be
successful, nor is the suggestion that they could have hired a
The section can be used to argue that one party has been
negatively affected, but also to argue that these decisions have
enhanced one person's position at the end of the relationship.
Cases of depressed income as a result of the relationship are more
common, and have been more successful, than those of enhanced
income. Enhanced income cases are recognised by Judges as more
difficult to establish. Such claims are always open to the argument
that the better off partner is in that position due to their
natural talents, rather than any support given by the "at
Two examples that have successfully argued for an award
The wife supporting a husband through a medical degree, with
training and placement requiring movement around the world as well
as around the country.
A wife who had no qualifications at the start or end of the
relationship, being the stay at home parent while the husband
travelled for work for 50% of the year and gained qualifications
throughout the relationship.
Currently there is an appeal before the Court of Appeal which
included an application for enhancement due to the relationship. It
is likely that this will give us some further direction and useful
guidelines in assessing the merit of an economic disparity
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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