Butler v Butler  EWHC 2453 (Fam)24 August 2023
Published: 20/11/2023 10:46
Moor J. Does judge have to satisfy both parties’ needs in a needs case? Appeal in modest asset case where first instance order did not meet W’s needs.
H (64) and W (53). 6 year marriage; after this in name only, and the parties only lived together for 9 months in total. Both parties had children from previous relationships, all adults, and there was one child of the marriage, T, aged 16, who lived with W.
The case centred on a mortgage-free residential property purchased by H in 2015 with a market value of c.£410,000. It was purchased with the proceeds of a prior inherited property. It was wholly non-matrimonial property; . W never lived at either property but only ever in rented property with T and one of her adult daughters. She was on universal credit of £35k pa but her rent in London was £1700 pcm and she was in ill health with a carer. H worked as a local authority caretaker earning c.£25,000 per annum with retirement imminent. He had pension income of £6,274 pa, plus in future expected second pension of similar value and state pension. He appears to have been living with one of his adult children.
At first instance, W’s case was that H’s property should be sold and she should receive 75% of the proceeds of sale to enable her to rehouse herself, T, and an adult daughter. Recorder Jones provided W with a lump sum of £58,000 on a clean break basis, this being the maximum he found H could raise by way of mortgage against his property. This would allow W to discharge her debts, but would not be sufficient to rehouse her. W appealed on the basis that after correctly identifying this as a ‘needs’ case, Recorder Anderson’s order failed to meet her needs.
Held: W’s appeal was dismissed. Recorder Anderson was entitled to make the order that he made. Any award over the £58,000 sum awarded to W would have left both parties homeless; . Judge would have taken into account the origin of the asset; the length of time that had elapsed since the separation of the parties; the age of the Husband; and the inability of the Wife to do anything very much with the lump sum.
The fact a judge concludes a case is a ‘needs’ case does not mean that the judge must then make an order that satisfies both parties’ needs.
‘There will be many cases where there are sufficient assets to meet both parties’ needs and it is undoubtedly right to do so, even if that means invading non-matrimonial property. There will, however, be a different category of case where the assets may only be barely sufficient to do so or, potentially, not sufficient. These are the most difficult cases and this case is one of those. in cases such as the case I have been dealing with, the court cannot simply apply needs as the only consideration. It must consider all the factors set out in section 25(2), albeit that some will be more significant than others.’