Adultery & Financial Settlement- Another Downton Scandal

Posted by Laura Bennett on
Amid the drama, during the last episode of Downton Abbey, on ITV last night, there were more 'light-hearted' scenes in which Mrs Patmore's new B&B had become unfortunately embroiled in scandal – her first guests were not married, as she had been lead to believe, instead the lady was married but they were having an affair. Poor Mrs Patmore only became aware of the true facts when paid a visit by Sargent Willis, the local policeman. The lady's husband had found out about the affair and was suing the gentleman, as a result. The matter was eventually settled out of court, by the payment of a lump sum in damages.

How times have changed! Gone are the days when a husband could sue another man for financial compensation for having an affair with his wife, or for 'trespass on his property' as it was considered.

Since 1973, the only ground for divorce is that a marriage has irretrievably broken down. This is proven using one of five facts, the first of which is that one party (Respondent) has committed adultery and the other (Petitioner) finds it intolerable to live with the Respondent. It is possible to name a Co-Respondent, the person with whom the adultery was committed, although this is not encouraged.

What many people, who have not received legal advice, fail to realise is that there are no financial consequences to adultery. When considering what is an appropriate financial settlement, where parties are divorcing because one has committed adultery, the Family Court are not interested in blame or punishment. The Court's focus is to meet the reasonable needs of both parties, by sharing the assets in as fair a way as possible. The idea is that this will hopefully allow the parties to be financially independent of each other (as far as this is possible) so that they are able to move on with their lives. The Court will not penalise the party who has committed adultery, however morally reprehensible their behaviour may have been.

Please also see my colleague's blog, following the conclusion of popular TV drama Dr Foster, for more information on adultery and arrangements for children of the marriage.

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Laura is a Senior Solicitor in the Family team based in Oxford.

Laura Bennett
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