A couple’s animals could become the next battleground in expensive divorce cases after a British court ordered a banker to pay £50,000 a year in maintenance for his ex-wife’s horses.
Appeal judges awarded the woman a £1.5 million divorce package, which included a £900,000 lump sum to buy a house with enough land to graze her animals.
The childless couple from Gloucestershire were married for 11 years. The court heard that the horses had almost become a child substitute for the wife, a talented rider who enjoyed eventing.
“During the marriage the horses played a major part in the wife’s life with the consent and encouragement of the husband,” Sir Mark Potter, Britain’s most senior family judge, said.
The animals took on this role “all the more so after she lost a baby in 2001 and the husband gave her a third horse to celebrate their 10th anniversary in 2004, to add to her own two horses which she had bought herself for £20,000 out of a personal inheritance in order to justify her eventing”.
Top British matrimonial and family lawyer Ayesha Vardag (www.ayeshavardag.com) says the needs of the parties are considered paramount by UK divorce courts.
“A major factor in financial awards on divorce is the needs of the parties, whether they are for skydiving, polo, medical care, or whatever else the courts see as reasonable,” she explains.
“Reasonable is in the context of the lifestyle to which the parties were accustomed and the overall financial resources. There is no reason why an award should not be made for upkeep and accommodation of horses, dogs, pot-bellied pigs or any other creature which has formed a significant part of the claimant’s world.”
The husband – a City-worker on a salary of £60,000, plus bonuses – said the horses were an unjustified extravagance and had attempted to argue that the wife’s needs could be met with a £600,000 house without grazing land.
But the three appeal judges upheld an original award made in a county court by District Judge Michael Segal, who said the wife’s love of horses had been a key part of the couple’s lives.
In March, Heather Mills was denied £30,000 for equestrian activities in her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney after the judge pointed out that she did not ride.