Case could change face of divorce

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A Newmarket solicitor and his client, a world-renowned equine veterinary surgeon, have been at the heart of a landmark case which could change the way courts look at the divorce settlements.

Matt Clemence, head of family law at town legal firm Edmondson Hall, was representing 59-year-old Ian Wright who works at the Newmarket Equine Hospital.

When he and his wife divorced in 2008 as part of the settlement Tracey Wright got a £450,000 mortgage free house in Wickhambrook and £75,000 a year in child maintenance, school fees and spousal maintenance, which amounted to £33,200 for her personal needs.

Mr Clemence said that last year Mr Wright, who had to retire aged 65, had gone to court to vary the order and reduce Mrs Wright’s personal element of the settlement gradually over the next five years.

“There was no question of cutting the payments for child maintenance or school fees, they were ring fenced but Mr Wright had to think about his own future and the payments would be unaffordable after he retired,” said Mr Clemence.

The judge, Lynn Roberts agreed, and said that there was no good reason why Mrs Wright had not done a stroke of paid work in the six years since the divorce. Mrs Wright had challenged that decision but this week, Lord Justice Pitchford confirmed Judge Roberts’ decision.

“He accepted the principle that there is now an expectation that a spouse in receipt of money cannot rely on it for life,” said Mr Clemence. “There seems to be a change of stance that the spousal element of a maintenance settlement is not a meal ticket for life and where spouses have the skills and can work, they should in time get a job.

“The judgement is to be welcomed and I believe this case does set a precedent which will be relied upon in future judgements.

“My client could simply not keep paying out for his ex-wife who the judge had said had made no effort whatsoever to seek work.”