Over the past few weeks Matt Hancock’s resignation as health secretary over an affair with his aide Gina Coladangelo has played out in the full glare of the media. It is understood that Mr Hancock, a father of three, has left his wife of 15 years, Martha; his relationship with Ms Coladangelo is described as “serious”.
Partner and family law expert Caroline Bilous looks at the implications of Mr Hancock’s conduct, explaining to what extent an affair is taken into account when resolving the division of assets on divorce.
“…the conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it.”
The law contained within this key piece of legislation was supplemented by the House of Lords decision in Miller v Miller and McFarlane v McFarlane in 2006  1 FLR 1186 which provides that only in truly exceptional cases where conduct is “gross and obvious” will it be taken into account.
When is conduct taken into account?
The law in England today does not enable a court to punish a person for their behaviour and instead the process is designed to achieve an outcome that has regard to all the circumstances of the case, one that mist give first consideration to the welfare of any child under the age of 18 and only in exceptional circumstances, where the assets are in excess of need will a parties conduct have an impact upon the outcome. It is important to note that need will be measured by assessing available financial resources and assessing the standard of living during the relationship and generally the longer the relationship’s duration the more important the standard of living will be.
In 1972,Wachtel v Wachtel  EWCA Civ 10 Lord Denning made it clear that:
“The court should not reduce its order for financial provision merely because of what was formerly regarded as guilt or blame. To do so would be to impose a fine for supposed misbehaviour in the course of an unhappy married life.”
This is an extremely poignant extract and one that broadly sums up the courts approach to personal conduct today in that the role of the court is not to redress marital unhappiness and that such arguments have no place before the financial remedy courts.
In clear contrast however is where conduct takes the form of dissipation of assets by one party to the marriage causing a depletion in the assets available for division. The other party in this scenario would then seek to add back those assets that have been taken to redress such conduct.
For the court to add back assets that have been spent, the court has to be satisfied that there has been “wanton dissipation of assets”. In Martin v Martin  Fam 335, Cairns LJ said:
“A spouse cannot be allowed to fritter away the assets by extravagant living or reckless speculation and then to claim as great a share of what was left as he would have been entitled to if he had behaved reasonably.”
“…of course a spouse can spend his or her money as he or she chooses but it is only fair to add back into that spouse’s assets the amount by which he or she recklessly depletes the assets and thus potentially disadvantages the other spouse…”
There can also be issues of non-disclosure or a lack of financial transparency which could also fall within section 25 (2)(g) conduct.
“…the Court must be astute to ensure that a non-discloser should not be able to procure a result from his non-disclosure better than that which would be ordered if the truth were told. If the result is an order that is unfair to the non-discloser it is better that than that the Court should be drawn into making an order that is unfair to the Claimant”.
Therefore, while each case is treated entirely on its own merits and circumstances, as the law stands, an affair itself is highly unlikely to be taken into account when dividing assets on divorce. However to understand more about your rights our specialist team of family solicitors are here to help guide you through with a breadth of experience through these complex and difficult circumstances.
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Welcome to McAlister Family Law - A Family and Children's Law Firm like No Other.
Each and every member of our award-winning team is a genuine specialist in family and child law.
As can be seen from our entries in the various respected legal directories, we employ some of the most highly ranked specialists in the country.
Managing partner Amanda McAlister is one of the very few family lawyers listed as an “eminent practitioner” in Chambers and Partners and other partners are listed as leading individuals in the Legal 500.
Many of our solicitors are members of the Law Society’s Advanced Children Panel (more than any other family law practice). And we do not sit on the fence: that is why our clients feel totally in control during what can be a highly emotional and difficult process.
McAlister Family Law is Beyond Group’s specialist Family and Children Law Practice. The Group established the specialist family law firm in 2017.
Amanda is one of the UK’s most experienced, and respected, family law practitioners.
As a divorcee, a mother and a step-parent, Amanda brings empathy and personal experience of the many stresses and strains that a marriage breakdown can cause.
Amanda has been awarded the prestigious status of Eminent Practitioner in the independent directory Chambers and Partners. She is also one of the handful of individuals in the North West singled out as a Leading Individual by the Legal 500 who has described her as “truly phenomenal” and a “leading light”.
She has a reputation as being warm and engaging but at the same time is known for being a fighter, someone who is fearless when pursuing her client’s interests. Amanda has expertise in all aspects of family law but specializes in divorce involving financial issues, particularly those with an international element, complex pension or trusts. She also represents parents and wide family members in disputes concerning arrangements for children.
Amanda has extensive knowledge of co-habitation disputes and advises on separation and pre and postnuptial agreements.
Fiona has specialised in family law for over 20 years.
She is an expert in dealing with divorces which involve businesses and is know for her commercial awareness. Clients praise her attention to detail and her calm approach. She is ranked as a “noted practitioner” by Chambers and Partners.
Whilst Fiona undertakes all areas of family law, she is particularly accomplished at dealing with divorce cases where there are substantial and complex assets.
She regularly advises business owners on how they can protect their assets by way of pre-nuptial or post nuptial agreements. She also gives expert guidance to those who are divorcing and are keen to avoid the divorce impacting their business.
Fiona regularly acts for parents where a financial claim is being made on behalf of their child, as well as advising on disputes regarding arrangements for children.
She is known for her calm, empathetic and thorough approach, which ensures that all issues are considered and then dealt with proactively.
Liz has specialised in divorce and family cases for over 30 years.
Liz sits as a Deputy District Judge, and has specialist knowledge of the Child Support System having also sat on the original Child Support Tribunal; she has an understanding of the avenues available to resolve issues for the unmarried who have to rely on civil law as well as the Child Maintenance Service to resolve their cases.
As a member of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, Liz is well placed to assist her clients who are residents abroad.
Liz is an accredited member of Resolution and a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators through which she practices as a Family Law Arbitrator, a member of the Law Society Family Panel, an assessor for the Law Society Panel, a member of the International Academy of Family Lawyers, a speaker for MBL and sits as a Deputy District Judge. She also lectures to family practitioners on a number of topics.
Ruth is a highly experienced family lawyer of more than 25 years and a specialist in Children Law, both public and private.
She has been a member of the Law Society Children Panel for more than 20 years, is a Member of Resolution, Reunite and works closely with the Association of Lawyers for Children as a Member of their organisation, attending the executive committee meetings. She is also a representative on the Cheshire and Merseyside Family Justice Board, often arranging training courses for her fellow professionals.
Her work also encompasses divorce and financial matters, including complex company assets, pension and trusts. Ruth also works with teenagers in relation to deprivation of liberty/secure accommodation orders: having fostered children for many years, she has seen the other side of care proceedings and this experience allows her a deeper and more personal understanding of the issues inherent in such situations.
Paul is experienced in dealing with all aspects of relationship breakdowns, including divorce and finances, cohabitation, children matters and domestic abuse matters.
His friendly and positive manner provides comfort and reassurance to his clients. Paul has assisted many people who have served in the Armed Forces and as such is known as the go-to expert for all Family Law by many military and ex-military personnel.
Paul is a firm believer in putting children first in any case where a child or children are involved. Once Paul has discussed and agreed his clients’ objectives, Paul will work tirelessly for them to ensure the best possible outcome.
Melissa has a vast amount of experience in dealing with all aspects of family law, and in particular children matters.
Many of her cases are complex involving such matters as allegations of domestic abuse, allegations of harm, parental alienation. Melissa is highly experienced in conducting divorce, financial and children matter cases with international elements.
She is a member of Resolution and is committed to resolving family law issues in a constructive and positive manner.
Melissa is focused and has a calm approach to her cases. She puts her clients at ease and has their objectives at the forefront of her mind.
Anna graduated from Lancaster University with LLB Hons in Law in 2011.
During Anna’s time with McAlister Family Law, she has strengthened her extensive knowledge surrounding managing assets during unmarried couples, dissolving civil partnerships and urgent children applications. Anna has a great relationship with the Police Federation and attends monthly legal advice centres to assist officers and provide sound advice relating to divorce, protecting assets including police pensions together with other matters such as contact with children.
Anna believes that client care is of the utmost importance; she appreciates that every time a client or potential new client makes contact it is because they need help and guidance through very difficult and highly emotional times.
Calm and kind, her sympathetic but entirely pragmatic approach to situations where emotions are running high is much appreciated by her clients.
Experienced in all aspects of separation, Aaron has a comprehensive knowledge on divorce, matrimonial finances, children act matters and domestic abuse injunctions.
He has extensive knowledge of separating parties that are key workers, assisting members of the Police Force, the Armed Forces and the NHS, and his knowledge and familiarity with defined benefit pension schemes leaves him well placed to cut through technical jargon, explaining the facts and putting his clients at ease.
With a comprehensive knowledge of private children act proceedings, Aaron is well versed in all facets of private children applications ensuring that the needs of the children are what are considered first and foremost.
He has assisted many clients in securing much-needed protection from abusive ex-partners and family members, and is well-versed in applications for Non-Molestation orders to protect clients from intimidation and harassment, as well as applications for Occupation Orders addressing the right to occupy the dwelling home.
Heather graduated with First Class Honours in Law from the University of Leeds and gained her LPC from BPP Manchester.
She has worked on a wide variety of family law cases, including parental alienation, international divorce and child contact as well as regularly working on cases involving assets in excess of £1 million.
Heather has already forged a reputation for academic rigour, excellent communication skills and an empathetic approach.
Early in his career George chose to focus on Family Law, and has worked in various areas of that specialism, including private law children, and divorce and finances.
“I find family law incredibly rewarding: there is something special about picking someone up from a bad situation and helping them towards a good one,” he says.
Outside of work George has fundraised for many years for the Help for Heroes charity and has a genuine interest in working with military and police personnel, the latter because of close family ties to the Met. He is a keen rugby player, and is also a qualified referee.