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Conduct – what will make the courts stand up and listen?

You are getting divorced. You believe your spouse is a cheat and a liar. You can’t remember one good thing they have ever done for you. You don’t think that it is fair that they still get a share of the assets. But your solicitor tells you that however horrible your spouse is their conduct is “just not relevant”. Where do you go from there? What does that mean?

When dividing up the assets of divorcing couples the Family Court will take into account a number of different factors. These are covered in other blogs but in summary the court needs to know how old you are, how long you have been married, are there any children under 18, how much do you each need to rehouse and live and what do you have between you that can achieve this. The court will also look at your standard of living during your marriage and what you have each contributed. In the mix with all of those considerations, the court will look at each of your conduct but only if it is at a level that is “inequitable to disregard”. This requires specific examples.

A separation can inevitably lead to arguments, some even very heated. Things are said in anger and people behave in a way that in any normal sense is unpleasant. However, when considering whether your spouse’s “conduct” could be used to justify giving you a larger share of the available matrimonial assets, the court has set a very high threshold. In cases where conduct has been a relevant factor it has ranged from child abduction, false statements to police, attempted murder and extreme financial control. In one case a spouse was described as an “unprincipled rogue who has acted in a financially predatory fashion”. In another, a spouse’s actions in reporting his wife’s parents to overseas tax authorities on false allegations were seen as “exceptionally unpleasant”.

This blog does not intend to go into every gruesome detail of the more serious cases where conduct has been taken into account. Save for saying that any conduct alleged must be “gross and obvious”. Family law is not punitive. A judge will not punish your spouse for their affair or for what they said to you in the heat of the moment. This is certainly not to undermine how your spouse has made you feel or to push aside what your spouse may have done or said. It is just a word of warning not to spend vast amounts of money on legal fees on an issue that may not get you what you want in the end.

If you want to know more or want to speak to someone about your specific circumstances, please contact our team on 0161 969 3131.