Given the increase in the population of the Asian community over recent years, it is perhaps no surprise that the English courts have seen a massive rise in cases concerning dowry issues and, in particular, jewellery exchanged on marriage. The whereabouts of jewellery, its origins, its value and whether it has been unlawfully retained by one spouse are just some of the issues the court will need to tackle at an early stage.
Thursday, 17 October 2013
Firstly, dealing with a bit of house keeping, for those of you who follow my blog, I am sorry that there has been some delay since my last posting. I am pleased to announce that my partner gave birth to a baby and as a result I have been side tracked by sleep deprivation!
Turning now to this week’s blog. Being increasingly instructed by professional footballers and their partners, I wanted to spice up my blog up with a discussion about the unique considerations in cases concerning footballers and in particular the approach of the courts to maintenance awards.
Cases involving footballer are rarely reported. It is fair to say, however, that very few people will not have heard about the case involving Ray Parlour (Parlour v Parlour  All ER (D) 105 (Jul)). There is a common misconception amongst the lay public that all aspects of the Parlour case were litigated to the bitter end and a draconian award was imposed on Mr Parlour. That, in fact, was not the case.
The only issue that went to trial was the value of the Wife’s periodical payments. The division of the capital between the parties had been agreed at a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing, which is a judge-led negotiation hearing where, the only way a final order can be made, is by agreement between the two parties.
It is right to say that whilst the legal issue was fairly narrow, the factual issues in dispute were broad. Whether Mr Parlour was a gambler or whether he had conspired to conceal one of his streams of income were two of a number of issues.
The salient facts of that case were that the parties met in February 1990 when the Wife was a 20 year old employee at a local optician. At the time Mr Parlour was an apprentice footballer having signed for Arsenal in the summer of 1989. Mr Parlour turned professional in March 1991 and reached the first time by January 1992. Though they did not marry until June 1998, they were engaged in early 1994 and, upon Mr Parlour’s encouragement, the Wife gave up her employment and became financial dependent upon Mr Parlour. By May 1999 3 children had been born to the marriage. In November 2001 Mr Parlour left the matrimonial home.
The agreement at the FDR provided for the Wife to have a property of modest value in Norfolk and a lump sum of £250,000, representing about 37% of the capital available for division.
In August 2001 Mr Parlour signed a 4 year deal with Arsenal. Having heard expert evidence the Court accepted at trial that Mr Parlour was likely to receive an average of £1.2m p/a until the expiry of his contract.
The issue for the court was the quantum and length of the maintenance award to the Wife and whether, in particular, the weight the court should attach to the contributions made by Mrs Parlour to home life. At trial the Judge concluded:
“She is a full time Mother of three children aged, 8, 6 and 4. I am satisfied that she bore the brunt of bringing the children up whilst the parties co-habited. Furthermore it is obvious that she will have to bear the burden of bringing them up during their childhood....That I recognise at once is, together with her past caring for the children, an enormous contribution. I am satisfied too that she has no earning capacity....” (emphasis added)
Acknowledging that the Wife had not sacrificed any career opportunities the Judge went on, notwithstanding, to find:
“She told me in evidence that she made no sacrifices in giving up her work with the opticians in 1994 nor has she been disadvantaged in staying at home. She accepted that she had not given up any career. There is no dispute, as I understand it, that the wife was a marvellous mother and ran the household efficiently and looked after the children and the Husband to the very best of her considerable ability.”
Further credit was given to the Wife when the judge also found:
“...he was and is a very talented footballer... so, strictly speaking, the financial wealth of the family was created by the Husband. However, in my judgment, there is a very significant factor in the success of the Husband in which the Wife played a vital role. The Wife has suggested in her evidence that the husband was and is a drinker. From what I have read in the papers and been told...I am satisfied that the husband was in an environment where, before the advent of Arsene Wenger in 1996, there was very considerable drinking amongst certain players in the Arsenal Football Club...the Wife realised that that was the way to ruin and unhappiness and I am satisfied that in about the mid 1990’s she took a grip on the situation and encouraged and persuaded her Husband to move away from that style of living....Thus the wife did make a contribution to the husband’s success as a footballer for Arsenal and also for England ...”(emphasis added)
The Learned Judge went on to accept that Mr Parlour’s earnings were likely to dramatically reduce upon expiry of his contact, by which time he would have been aged 32.
Having made an array of findings the Judge went on to consider the law. In trying to achieve a fair award the Judge reminded himself that there is no place for discrimination between the spouses and their respective roles. There should be no bias in favour of the money-earner and against the home-maker and child-care.
The Husband offered periodical payments of 10% of his net income (roughly £120,000 p/a). Despite concluding that the sum of £150,000 would be sufficient to meet the Wife’s and children’s needs generously interpreted, the Judge viewed this offer as “thoroughly mean and unfair”. In his words “her contributions to the home, and the children, both now and in the future must not be underestimated, overlooked or played down...she was part of the circumstances that persuaded the husband to drop the laddish culture...”
Against this back drop he awarded the wife and children periodical payments in the global sum of £250,000.00 p/a for the rest of her life to be split between the wife and children.
Unsurprisingly the case went to appeal. At the appeal the Judge increased the award to £440,000 p/a (roughly
a 1/3 of Mr Parlour's earnings) but on the basis that the term would end in 4 years time (ie when Mr Parlour’s contract expired), acknowledging that Mr Parlour was approaching the end of his career, he was prone to injury and his contract may not be renewed. By increasing the award (above any financial need) the judge considered that this was necessary to make up for the potential years of famine when Mr Parlour’s career came to an end and at the same time achieving a clean break.
It is clear to see that the considerations in cases involving footballers are particularly unique. Careers are much shorter and are subject to risk such as injury and loss of form but to name a few. Having built up a specialism in this area I cannot over emphasise the importance of avoiding the temptation to advance a case for periodical payments without an understanding of the intricacies of life as a footballer.