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Divorcing Mum Saved from Immediate Sale of Matrimonial Home

Divorcing couples have to face up to the possibility that their assets may have to be sold so that the proceeds can be fairly divided. However, in an important decision, the High Court came to a mother’s aid and overturned an order for the immediate sale of the home where she lived with her three children.

Georgain HousesThe woman’s marriage lasted 25 years and she had lived in the five-bedroom house with her family for much of that time. Aged in her 50s, she had given up a successful career to act as mother and home-maker and her children were all still at various stages of their education. The husband had once earned £250,000 a year, but his income had almost entirely dried up when the company of which he was chief executive officer went into liquidation. Following their separation, the husband had been constrained to move to their holiday home some distance away.

Given their declining economic circumstances, the former couple agreed that the house would have to be sold. An initial asking price of £950,000 had to be dropped, however, and the husband was keen to accept an offer of £785,000. The sale was resisted by the wife, on the basis that that represented a significant undervalue. She argued that the house should be retained for about 18 months, until her middle child, currently in the sixth form, completed his schooling. Despite her objections, however, a family judge ordered an immediate sale of the property.

In upholding the wife’s appeal against that decision, the Court noted that the divorce proceedings were at a very early stage. The judge had enjoyed no power under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 to order the property’s sale prior to the marriage being ended by a decree absolute. He also had no inherent jurisdiction to direct vacant possession of the property at an interim stage. Even had such a power existed, the Court was satisfied that the judge had exercised his discretion wrongly.

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