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Should a wife be “compensated” for giving up on a potentially lucrative career?

She has certainly given up more than I have” – actor Chris Hemsworth

In a recent edition of the men’s fashion and style magazine GQ Australia, Chris Hemsworth (where his role as Marvel hero Thor catapulted him into Hollywood stardom) has shared that his successful Hollywood career has been hard on his marriage for his wife Ailsa Pataky (also an actress in her own right).

Chris said “my wife and I fell in love, had kids, didn’t really see each other for a few years, then fell back in love”.  Whilst Chris has been gaining recognition for his ever growing film career, his wife has been bringing up the couple’s three children, a 5 year old daughter and 3 year old twin boys.  He acknowledged in the interview that he has been able, in the large part, to concentrate on his film career as he is safe in the knowledge that his wife is taking care of their three children.

What the law says

 So does the law acknowledge that the home maker should be compensated for giving up a potentially lucrative career to care for the parties’ children?

Miller and McFarlane – Needs compensation sharing

 In Miller v Miller; McFarlane v McFarlane [2006] UKHL 24 the House of Lords identified three principles which justify the making of orders under the Matrimonial Causes Act:

  1. Needs (generously interpreted).
  1. Compensation for relationship generated disadvantage.
  1. Sharing of the fruits of the marital partnership.

“Compensation” was, perhaps, the surprise concept to emerge from Miller and McFarlane.  It arose in McFarlane where the wife had given up a potentially very lucrative career to care for the parties’ children.  The husband continued with his career and was enjoying a vast income, with a large surplus, even after both parties’ outgoing needs had been met.  Rather than attribute to the wife in need the parties’ surplus income in order to make a provision for her own retirement, as the husband was able to for his own, the House of Lords considered that the wife was entitled to be “compensated” for the loss she had suffered arising out of the relationship.

In short, the position some 10 years ago was that the wife was able to be compensated for giving up a potentially lucrative career. At the time, many commentators felt that this development had opened “Pandora’s box” – generating many potentially complicated issues.

Today’s Position

 The position today is somewhat different in that it is far rarer for any party to be “compensated” for giving up on a potentially lucrative career and provision will only be made for compensation in a very small number of circumstances.  The concept of compensation is very fact specific and, as a result, very limited.

The position at court therefore is at odds with what many more enlightened men think.  Even if the financially stronger party believes (which may or not be the husband as is the case with Chris Hemsworth and Ailsa Pataky) that the financially weaker party should be compensated for giving up on any potential monies, the court on the whole unfortunately does not agree with this view.

Whilst your needs will continue to be made a priority by the court on any financial settlement, before any financially weaker party thinks that they will be adequately compensated in the event of a family breakdown, by say giving up on a potentially lucrative career, unfortunately, in reality, this is unlikely to be the case.

Top Tip: If you are experiencing difficulties in your marriage and face the possible breakdown of your family relationship, speak to a solicitor early on to consider your position and the strength of your position if you were to apply to the court.  At Rayden Solicitors we have a wealth of experience and expertise in financial proceeding applications, and can provide you with discreet and confidential advice, and our top expertise from the very outset.

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