A person who voluntarily prioritises their marriage over their working life may not be entitled to compensation for the earnings foregone if their relationship ends in divorce. The Court of Appeal made that point in ruling on the case of a former headteacher who abandoned her career when she married a doctor who was 16 years older than she.
The woman was in her 40s when she married the semi-retired doctor. She gave up her job as head of a primary school and subsequently only worked as a supply teacher. She sold her house, using the proceeds to purchase a half share of her spouse's home, which was worth about £960,000. The couple had enjoyed an affluent lifestyle during their eight-year marriage. Following divorce proceedings, a judge ordered the husband to pay his former wife a £140,000 lump sum in order to achieve a clean break.
In challenging that decision, she argued that she had given up full-time employment after her husband assured her that he would look after her financially. As a result, she had lost substantial earnings and her right to a generous final salary pension. She had been left with insufficient resources to purchase a home comparable to the one that she had shared with her husband during the marriage.
In rejecting her appeal, however, the Court noted that she had not been put under any pressure to give up her career and that her husband had not gained financially from her decision. The judge was right to confine his attention to ensuring that her future needs would be met. The standard of living that she had enjoyed during the marriage was not determinative and the judge was entitled to find that she required a housing fund of £450,000, rather than the £700,000 that she had claimed.