The length of a couple’s marriage has often been a pertinent fact in assessing how assets should be divided on divorce, and in a recent High Court case a short marriage was also taken into account in determining how much should be awarded to a widow from her late husband’s estate.
Barbara and Roy Lilleyman had been married for just over two years at the time of Mr Lilleyman’s premature death from heart disease in January 2010. Both of them had been married previously and had had children from those marriages. Mr Lilleyman was a successful businessman with three companies which employed his two adult sons. Mrs Lilleyman gave up her part-time employment at the time of the marriage, in order to spend more time with her husband and run their home.
Mr Lilleyman made a will in May 2008, after his marriage to Mrs Lilleyman, giving his wife limited rights of occupation in the matrimonial home and an apartment in Bournemouth used by the couple as a holiday home. Mrs Lilleyman also received her husband’s personal effects, including a collection of Dinky Toy cars worth about £17,000. The rest of Mr Lilleyman’s substantial estate, worth just over £6 million, was left to his two sons. £5 million of the value of the estate was in the form of shares in the family companies.
Following her husband’s unexpected death, Mrs Lilleyman made a claim against his estate on the basis that the will had failed to make adequate financial provision for her. At the hearing, a claim was put forward on her behalf for a minimum award of £1 million.
Under the relevant law the judge was required to consider, amongst other factors, what provision Mrs Lilleyman might have received had the marriage ended in divorce rather than death. The short duration of the marriage would have been taken into account on divorce and the judge decided that ‘the relative shortness of the marriage [would be] appropriately recognised … by excluding from sharing almost the whole of the family business’. It was considered, however, that the will had not made reasonable financial provision for Mrs Lilleyman and, in addition to the personal effects, she was awarded approximately £500,000 consisting of the matrimonial home and the holiday home, with an option to receive a lump sum of £330,000 in lieu of the holiday home.
The substantial costs of the estate were considered in a later hearing and, in the circumstances, it would undoubtedly have saved the entire family much expense had Mr Lilleyman made greater provision for his wife in his will.