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The question of when wasteful spending and ‘bad behaviour’ of one party during a marriage should be reflected in how finances are divided in a divorce arose in a recent case in the High Court. The former couple had been married for 40 years and accumulated assets worth £25million. Amongst the reasons for the breakdown of the marriage were the husband’s cocaine and alcohol use and spending on escorts.

The wife claimed the husband had spent £6,000 per week on cocaine, £230,000 on residential rehabilitation for his addiction and further amounts on escorts. In total, the wife argued the husband’s spending of £1.5million should be added back to his share of the finances to effectively reduce his share of the pot.

The husband accepted that he paid for escorts and had a cocaine addiction, but denied this in relation to alcohol. However, he argued that his spending should not be taken into account to reduce his share of the finances. His cocaine addiction was after all an illness and his spending had not been motivated by a desire to reduce the wife’s share of the finances.

The judge accepted that the husband had significantly overspent but not to reduce the wife’s claim. His spending was partly because he could not help himself and he should not be penalised for seeking help through therapy. In respect of the spending on cocaine and escorts, the judge, perhaps surprisingly, said that a spouse must take his or her partner as he or she finds them. Whilst the spending was irresponsible, it was not found to have been done to deliberately reduce the overall pot of money available for division.

This case highlights the courts’ reluctance to analyse the behaviour of one party to a marriage and punish them for what might be reckless spending or particularly ‘bad behaviour’. Even in this case, where it appears there was plenty of money to go around and where the husband’s behaviour might be thought of as particularly shocking, the judge was not prepared to effectively award the wife a higher share of the finances. Other than in an exceptional case, there is little point in trying to penalise a spouse financially in the way the former couple’s finances are divided.

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