Rights to spousal support are personal

Posted: 8th December 2016

BankruptcyIn a landmark decision of interest to insolvency and divorce practitioners, the High Court has ruled that rights to financial support following divorce are personal in nature and do not survive the death of either spouse.

The case concerned a divorce settlement that was approved by a judge nine days after the husband had been declared bankrupt. The husband had agreed to pay £48,000 a year in maintenance to the wife and their daughter and to repay over £1.4 million that he owed to the former. Due to the husband’s bankruptcy, however, the settlement was subsequently ruled void and no payments had been made.

The husband took his own life some years later and his trustee in bankruptcy launched proceedings against the wife, arguing that she was liable to cover his £285,000 debts. On the basis that she had been in a much stronger financial position than the husband at the time of the divorce, it was submitted that he would have had a right to financial provision from her. However, the trustee’s arguments that that right had passed into the husband’s estate, and had thus become available to his creditors, were struck out by a judge.

The Court noted that the case raised novel issues relating to the interaction between the Insolvency Act 1986 and the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. However, in rejecting the trustee’s challenge to the strike out decision, the Court found in the light of binding authority that any right that the husband may have had to financial support from the wife was personal to him and had not survived him.