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Two recent House of Lords decisions have been heralded as the most important divorce settlement decisions made in the last two decades. The cases, Miller v Miller and McFarlane v McFarlane, reinforced the requirement of fairness in divorce settlements and have been seen by some analysts as being very pro-wife.

In the Miller case, the parties were married for less than three years and had no children. At first instance, the Court awarded Mrs Miller £5 million of her husband’s £32 million fortune. Both the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords agreed with this decision. The Lords were of the view that, during the marriage, Mrs Miller’s standard of living had improved and that it would have been unfair for this not to have been reflected in the settlement. The Lords also found that Mrs Miller had shared in assets which had increased in value greatly during the marriage.

In stark contrast, Mr and Mrs McFarlane had been married for nineteen years and had brought up three children. Upon the birth of their second child, Mrs McFarlane gave up a promising legal career, thereby allowing her husband to build up his own career as a fund manager. Eventually, Mr McFarlane went on to earn a huge salary. At first instance, Mrs McFarlane was awarded maintenance of £250,000 per year. The Court of Appeal reduced this award to £180,000 per year for five years only. However, the House of Lords extended the period from five years to an indefinite term. In making this decision, the Lords sought to compensate Mrs McFarlane for the fact that she gave up her own promising career for the benefit of her family and her husband.

There has been much comment in the press with regard to how the Miller and McFarlane cases will affect wives in divorce settlements generally, ie cases not involving vast sums of money. Although the Lords did state that the Miller and McFarlane cases do have general application, it must be borne in mind that each case will be determined by the Courts on its own facts and merits.

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