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Former Wife Told by Judge to Get a Job

In a landmark decision in the Court of Appeal this week in the case of Ian Wright, aged 59, and Tracey Wright, aged 51, Lord Justice Pitchford told Mrs Wright to “just get on with it” and find a job like “vast numbers of other women with children”. 

Mrs Wright, a former legal secretary and riding instructor married Mr Wright a racehorse surgeon who runs an equine hospital at Newmarket where he carries out surgery on racehorses including former Derby winners.

They separated in 2006 after 11 years of marriage. Their elder daughter is at boarding school and their younger daughter aged 10 lives with Mrs Wright. The previous divorce court ordered that their £1.3 million seven bedroom home should be sold and the proceeds split.

Mrs Wright subsequently purchased a £450,000 mortgage-free property in Newmarket and stabling for her horse and her daughters’ ponies. Mr Wright was ordered to pay £75,000 a year in maintenance and school fees of which £33,200 a year was for her personal expenditure. 

Last year Mr Wright applied to the High Court for a variation of maintenance on the grounds that it was unfair for him to support his ex-wife indefinitely even after his retirement while she made “no effort whatsoever to seek work”.

Judge Lynn Roberts in the High Court agreed that Mrs Wright should have found work stating “I do not think the children will suffer if Mrs Wright has to work, and indeed a working mother at this stage of their lives may well provide them with a good role model. It is possible to find work that fits in with childcare responsibilities. I reject her other reasons relating to responsibilities for animals, or trees, or housekeeping.” It was ordered that her personal maintenance payments would stop with a tailing off over a five year period up to Mr Wright’s retirement. 

Mrs Wright appealed the decision to the Court of appeal who upheld the decision of the High Court and Lord Justice Pitchford stated that it is now “imperative that the wife go out to work and support herself.” 

The case highlights the court’s interpretation of Section 25 2(a) of The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 which covers the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future, including in the case of earning capacity any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire. 

Whereas in the past wealthy divorcing wives might have been awarded significant maintenance and avoided the need to find work the case reinforces the expectation on the non-working spouse to find paid employment.

Tara Deegan is a Family Solicitor and Family Law Mediator at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.

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