Solicitor wife compensated on divorce for career loss

Divorce: Unusual award for relationship-generated disadvantage

A solicitor who sacrificed possible partnership at a magic circle law firm to have children has been awarded an extra £400,000 in her divorce settlement with an equity partner at the same firm.

Making the unusual award for ‘relationship-generated disadvantage’, Mr Justice Moor could not be sure whether the Cambridge graduate would have become a partner at the firm, which she left after they married, but said she stood a very good chance.

“I have seen all her appraisals. In general, they show an extremely successful career at the firm.”

The unnamed husband was a litigation partner with a pre-tax income of nearly £2m, reduced to almost £1m after tax, for the financial year ending April 2017.

The judge described the 48-year-old as a “very fine lawyer who has had a stellar career at his firm and deserves recognition and praise for his achievements”.

However, as a witness Moor J said: “It is fair to say that he did start his evidence in quite a combative manner that somewhat surprised me given his immense litigation experience, but he was more measured as his evidence progressed.

“He is clearly an extremely intelligent and able man. Indeed, it is impossible to see how he could have been so successful at the firm if that was not the case.

“He was somewhat ungallant as to the wife’s abilities, telling me that he did not think she was an exceptional candidate despite her two exceptional grades in her 2006 and 2007 appraisals. He has clearly convinced himself that her frailties mean she would never have been made a partner at the firm.”

The couple first met in September 1999, when the husband was an associate solicitor and the wife a trainee.

She qualified and was made associate in March 2001. The relationship began the following year, shortly after which the husband became an equity partner.

The wife was promoted to managing associate in 2006, but after working away from the office to look after her father, she moved to a bank to work as in-house lawyer in 2007.

They married in 2008 and moved into a “splendid property” in south-west London, Grade II listed and with seven bedrooms – valued at over £5.8m.

The wife, now aged 45, said “compromises had to be made” when they got married, and she agreed to “put her career to one side for the children”.

Having been “virtually assured” she could return to her role at the bank part-time after her first maternity leave, this did not materialise, but a part-time non-legal role opened up instead and she has not practised since.

The wife was made redundant from the bank in December 2016, and has not worked since. The husband moved out of the matrimonial home in 2018.

In her evidence, she accepted that the husband “did not make her give up her career”; she was “incredibly driven” and “it was very difficult for her to leave the firm”, not wanting to give up “her financial security or the ‘badge of honour’”.

The judge found that the husband did not want the wife to remain at the firm once they were married and she accepted this.

“I am satisfied that, by the time the decision was taken to leave, she had formulated her plan which involved both marriage and, hopefully, children. She viewed herself as the parent who would take primary responsibility for the children. The husband’s career took precedence.

“She therefore rejected any suggestion of trying to establish herself at another magic circle firm, in favour of a move to the legal department of the bank. I am clear that the husband was fully supportive of this decision.”

Moor J said that while it was “unusual to find significant relationship generated disadvantage that may lead to a claim for compensation”, this was one such case. “The wife gave up her legal career, with the support of the husband.”

The husband has another four years until he completes 20 years at the firm, after which he will be encouraged to retire to make way for younger lawyers; if he does so, he will receive a “substantial lump sum”, but with each year he stays after that, the lump sum will reduce pro rata.

The judge said he found calculating the compensation for relationship generated disadvantage “very difficult”. He did so on the basis that the husband’s future working life was four years and awarded £400,000; the wife had earned around £100,000 a year both at the firm and the bank.

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