Compensation for lost Career Cases back in the Family Court
I am often asked in initial meetings whether a spouse can bring a claim for an enhanced award to be compensated for loss of their career and, in the main, the answer is “no” as for most people their lost careers are not considered by the Court to be exceptional enough to justify this element. Raising children is stressful and in most cases some sort of sacrifice is made by one or both parents to enable them to do so. Rarely though do we see cases where there is either enough money in the matrimonial pot to argue that there should be a compensation element to the case, or, do the facts of the case justify this element being argued.
However, the case of RC-v-JC (2020) is one such exception. In this case the husband and wife had been married for 11 years and had two children. Whilst the Husband’s career had flourished and he was a partner in a magic circle law firm, the Wife had given up her flourishing career in law to be the homemaker. She was working before they had their children in the Husband’s law firm and was able to establish to the Court that her career was on an upward trajectory and that she had a very good chance of be coming a partner. However, the Husband had wanted her to leave the firm to get married and to look after their future children. The Husband had supported her to move to work in-house at a bank but the bank did not permit her to return part-time to her role after her maternity leave ended and she then took a different non-legal part-time role but was made redundant. Then, as the marriage fell into difficulties, she suffered a breakdown. She had however recovered from that breakdown by the time of the hearing.
In their financial remedy case, the Wife claimed compensation for relationship-generated disadvantage, claiming that her career was on an upward trajectory at the Husband’s firm and that she had sacrificed this for the marriage and their children and should be compensated upon divorce for so doing. Interestingly she was able to provide compelling evidence of her chances of success in her first career and called two witnesses and produced appraisals as evidence which were exemplary. The Husband tried to counter this by arguing that her career would not in practice have flourished to the extent she argued due to her anxiety.
The case was decided by Mr Justice Moor who agreed with the Wife’s evidence that she had a very good chance of becoming a partner had she remained in her original role. He further found her evidence that she had left the firm to marry at the Husband’s request very compelling. He did not feel that her mental health issues were of any relevance as these had not manifested in the workplace.
When considering a case for relationship-generated disadvantage the Court considered three strands for quantifying the award, which were:
1. The assets must be sufficient (over and above division to meet future needs) to enable a compensation element to be paid.
2. The evidence must substantiate a career path rather than being speculation or aspiration.
3. There must be documentation from the time which supports the applicant’s future career path. In this case the Wife’s appraisals all supported her case for her career potential as did her two witnesses.
In this case the court shared the capital assets and pensions equally and as a result the Wife received an overall settlement worth £4.85 million.
The Judge felt that the Wife’s needs should be met by the Husband throughout her life as, but for the marriage, she would have had a career where she earned very large sums of money. In this case the Husband was only four years from retirement and the Judge was keen to award a clean break. The capital assets having been divided equally between them Mr Justice Moor awarded the Wife an additional £400,000 as compensation for her lost career.
It is important to note that compensation awards of this nature are most unusual. Most cases cannot demonstrate the necessary evidence of relationship-generated disadvantage and thus cases rarely proceed with this element. In his concluding marks, Mr Justice Moor reiterated that cases like this are “the exception and not the rule” and that this case should not be seen as a “green light” to bring these types of claim without thinking long and hard first. However, this is an excellent reminder of the law in this area and a fair decision on this particular set of facts.
If you have any questions as a result of this article please do not hesitate to contact a member of the family law team.