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FF v KF: 'Needs' as a term of Art.

In FF v KF [2017] EWHC 1093 (Fam) Mr Justice Mostyn provides guidance on the discretion to be exercised by a judge in assessing 'needs' in short marriage cases.

In FF v KF [2017] EWHC 1093 (Fam) Mr Justice Mostyn provides guidance on the discretion to be exercised by a judge in assessing needs in short marriage cases.

Facts

The case concerned a couple whose marriage lasted for less than two years, although the parties’ relationship as a whole was noted to have stretched over nine years, punctuated by a separation of three years. The Husband had assets of £37m, the great majority of which predated the marriage with the judge finding approximately £2m had arisen during the marriage. During the marriage, the Parties had enjoyed a very high standard of living, however the Wife had also suffered serious psychological harm as a result of the married life and its breakdown. The wife’s condition was an undisputed fact and as a result her future earning capacity was very uncertain.

Both parties' open positions were predicated on an assessment of the wife's needs and it was accepted that the Wife should receive a lump sum on a clean break basis. The Judge awarded £4.25m

The Appeal

It was argued on Appeal by the husband that in making this award the Judge went beyond an assessment of the wife’s needs and ‘augmented it’ by reference to unspecified factors. 

Mostyn J found that in a short marriage case, ‘the discretion when assessing needs is particularly broad and fact-sensitive’. At para 18.

 “So far as the "needs" principle is concerned there is an almost unbounded discretion. The main rule is that, save in a situation of real hardship, the "needs" must be causally related to the marriage. Like equity in the old days, the result seems to depend on the length of the judge's foot. It is worth recalling that Heather Mills-McCartney was awarded over £25m to meet her "needs" (McCartney v McCartney [2008] EWHC 401 (Fam)). Mrs Juffali was awarded £62m to meet her "needs" (Juffali v Juffali [2016] EWHC 1684 (Fam)). In the very recent case of AAZ v BBZ [2016] EWHC 3234 (Fam) the court assessed the applicant-wife's "needs" in the remarkable sum of £224m. Plainly "needs" does not mean needs. It is a term of art. Obviously, no-one actually needs £25m, or £62m, or £224m for accommodation and sustenance. The main drivers in the discretionary exercise are the scale of the payer's wealth, the length of the marriage, the applicant's age and health, and the standard of living, although the latter factor cannot be allowed to dominate the exercise.”

The case reasserts, and highlights, the broad discretion by which Judges can operate in assessment of needs. Mostyn J dismissed the appeal, and found that the Judge acted within the discretion vested in him by parliament.

“It may have been generous, and other judges may have awarded less, but both the assessment of the immediate capital need, and of the amount and duration of the quotidian need, were clearly within the legitimate bracket. Specifically, it was a legitimate choice of the judge to allow the wife to buy a reasonable apartment in a part of London in which she felt happy and comfortable… The fact that other judges would have discounted the figure to reflect this factor is neither here nor there. It simply cannot be said that he was wrong not to do.”

Iain Hutchinson

 

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