Court throws out ex-wife’s de­mand for ex­tra £1.5m di­vorce pay­ment

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Mike Lock­ley Fea­tures Staff

THE law firm rep­re­sent­ing a for­mer air host­ess has voiced its “dis­ap­point­ment” af­ter judges re­jected her bid to up a £3.5 mil­lion di­vorce pay­out to £5 mil­lion.

Di­vorce lawyers at Ir­win Mitchell Pri­vate Wealth say the Court of Ap­peal de­ci­sion “leaves the law in a state of flux”.

Karen Hart, from Sutton Cold­field, be­lieved she should have re­ceived £5 mil­lion from her busi­ness mogul hus­band af­ter their 20-year mar­riage ended.

The 61-year-old’s bar­ris­ter de­scribed £3.5 mil­lion as the “worst case sce­nario”.

She should have got at least half of a fam­ily for­tune val­ued at £9.4 mil­lion and it was “un­fair and dis­crim­i­na­tory” that John Hart walked away with 63 per cent, she ar­gued.

But Ap­peal Court judges dis­agreed, point­ing to the fact that Mr Hart, aged 82, was al­ready a multi-mil­lion­aire when they mar­ried in the 1980s.

A “man of sub­stance”, he had built a prop­erty de­vel­op­ment em­pire af­ter start­ing out on his fa­ther’s fruit and veg stall in the 1950s.

Mrs Hart was work­ing as an air host­ess when they met and “had no as­sets save for a Porsche”, said Lord Jus­tice Moy­lan.

De­spite the more than 20 years be­tween their ages, the cou­ple met and fell in love in 1979 – and tied the knot eight years later.

They had two chil­dren to­gether and lived in a £1.1 mil­lion five-bed­room gated prop­erty in Wishaw. It boasts a gym, home cinema room, a sep­a­rate guest an­nexe and garag­ing for five cars.

Their pros­per­ous lifestyle in­cluded hol­i­day homes in Mi­ami and Spain but they sep­a­rated in 2006 and started di­vorce pro­ceed­ings in 2011.

Since then, the court heard, the cou­ple have spent more than £500,000 on lawyers’ bills while fight­ing over money.

Two years ago fam­ily Judge Stephen Wild­blood di­vided their as­sets un­equally, hand­ing Mrs Hart £3.5 mil­lion to cover her “rea­son­able needs”.

That was just 37 per cent of the money pot, but the judge found Mr Hart was “wealthy be­fore the mar­riage”, bring­ing £2.6 mil­lion into the union.

Mov­ing on from his fa­ther ’s stall, he branched out into fi­nan­cial ser­vices be­fore shift­ing into prop­erty de­vel­op­ment around the time the cou­ple started liv­ing to­gether. By the time of the di­vorce, the fam­ily wealth came to £9.4 mil­lion, in­clud­ing a trust fund worth £5.5 mil­lion, which was found to be “the hus­band’s re­sources”. Peter Mitchell, for Mrs Hart, ar­gued that her £3.5 mil­lion pay­out “was, as it tran­spired, the worst pos­si­ble re­sult for her”. By fo­cus­ing on her “needs”, rather than equally di­vid­ing the fam­ily as­sets, Judge Wild­blood had reached an “un­fair and dis­crim­i­na­tory re­sult”. “It is dis­crim­i­na­tory to the wife to limit her to her rea­son­able needs and to say ‘we are giv­ing the hus­band ev­ery­thing else’,” he ar­gued. “The res­o­lu­tion of the case on needs was the worst pos­si­ble out­come for Mrs Hart. Mar­riage is a part­ner­ship of equals and, if you build up a pot to­gether, you should share equally in that pot. It was the worst pos­si­ble re­sult, which pre­cluded any shar­ing.”

But Grant Arm­strong, for Mr Hart de­scribed the for­tune the busi­ness­man brought to the mar­riage 30 years ago as an “ele­phant in the room”.

Com­pared to his re­sources at the time of the mar­riage, his young bride – just 27 when they met – was a fi­nan­cial “mouse”, he added.

Mr Hart was al­ready very rich by then, hav­ing sev­eral cars, yachts, the prop­er­ties in Spain and Mi­ami and all the trap­pings of wealth.

“He was com­ing into this mar­riage as a man in his 50s, af­ter a life­time of work­ing in busi­ness and hav­ing con­sid­er­able prop­erty as­sets,” said the bar­ris­ter.

“This was not a case where a cou­ple grew their as­sets to­gether.”

Far from be­ing un­fair to her, the di­vorce had left Mrs Hart “a home, a hol­i­day home, a life­time in­come at a very con­sid­er­able fig­ure and clear of li­a­bil­i­ties.”

In a state­ment, Ni­cola Walker, part­ner at Ir­win Mitchell Pri­vate Wealth, said: “It is dis­ap­point­ing that the court has once again erred in the favour of Mr Hart. Given that the cou­ple were mar­ried for 23 years, the set­tle­ment should have been based on an equal shar­ing of the as­sets they cre­ated be­tween them dur­ing this time.”

Rul­ing on the for­mer air host­ess’s ap­peal, Lord Jus­tice Moy­lan said there were “de­fi­cien­cies” in Mr Hart’s ev­i­dence about the ex­tent of his as­sets.

But he con­cluded: “I have, af­ter much re­flec­tion, come to the con­clu­sion that the judge did not fall into er­ror when award­ing the wife £3.5 mil­lion. The judge was plainly en­ti­tled to find that the hus­band had sub­stan­tial wealth at the com­mence­ment of the re­la­tion­ship, be­cause this was agreed.

“He was also en­ti­tled to con­clude that an equal divi­sion would be un­fair to the hus­band and, equally, that an un­equal divi­sion would be fair to the wife.”

Lords Jus­tice Lloyd Jones and Beat­son agreed that Mrs Hart’s ap­peal should be dis­missed.

> Karen Hart, the ex-wife of prop­erty ty­coon John Hart, be­low left

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