A divorcing couple’s dispute over the partition of their £50 million fortune has been compared with spoilt children squabbling in a nursery by a senior family judge.
Lord Justice Thorpe criticised the dispute as ‘puerile’ and told the husband and wife: ‘Somebody has to come into the nursery to make some rules.’
The husband and wife were ‘penniless’ when they met and married in 1985 but went on to achieve success through a financial information technology business.
The wife was granted a decree nisi in April 2011. Her husband’s shareholding in the business is said to be worth at least £40 million and the couple's non-business assets are valued at around £12m.
The wife was awarded assets worth at least £26 million by a judge of the Family Division. However, that decision was subsequently set aside and a fresh hearing of ancillary relief proceedings is pending.
In the meantime, the wife went to the Court of Appeal (Civil Division) to block the grant of a decree absolute, finally ending the parties’ marriage.
Her counsel told Lords Justice Thorpe and Rimer that she is concerned that, if the decree is granted prior to the re-hearing of the ancillary relief proceedings, the husband’s shares could be transferred to a new wife without board approval.
The husband’s counsel argued that there was no need to postpone the decree absolute because the husband is currently prohibited from dealing in the shares of the business by an injunction.
Granting the wife permission to appeal and ordering a stay on the grant of the decree absolute, Lord Justice Thorpe said that even the slightest chance that the assets of the marriage might be dispersed prior to the re-hearing of the ancillary relief proceedings should be eliminated.
Although a decree absolute was now ‘long overdue’, the judge said: ‘I am sure that the husband is a man of honour but if there is a theoretical risk, and it is possible to eliminate it, then it should be eliminated.
‘With great reluctance, I am persuaded that we have to give permission to appeal,’ concluded the judge. He urged the husband to obviate the need for a full hearing of the appeal by now securing his wife's position by ‘eliminating any risk that she will be left with an empty judgment.’