adultery

Following the recent news about Matt Hancock, Liz Allen looks at what impact adultery actually has on a divorce, in particular the financial settlement.

So after all the publicity about the clinch in the corridor, we are told that Matt Hancock and his married adviser Gina Coladangelo have left their respective relationships and intend to make a go of their “committed relationship”. Where does that leave both of them when the inevitable divorces occur?

Adultery is rarely relevant to divorce outcomes

The case of Matt Hancock and Gina Coladangelo is a classic illustration of the fact that conduct by a spouse in a marriage is very rarely relevant to divorce.

Most objective by-standers would imagine that there would be some financial consequence of an adulterous affair coming to light, particularly in such public circumstances. This is a myth. If we take the case of Gina, who has been married to Oliver Tress since 2009 and has three children with him, the fact that she has had an affair and now apparently left Oliver to live with Matt Hancock is likely to be largely irrelevant to the resolution of financial matters between them.

When a couple separate the first priority is with the children of the family. In a wealthy situation such as that of Oliver and Gina there will clearly be sufficient resources for the children to be provided for. Gina’s adultery will not affect the capital settlement between the couple. The extent of provision for her will depend on their respective capital and income positions and the financial history of their relationship.

Business and divorce

Gina’s situation is legally interesting in that Oliver Tress will have an argument that his successful business Oliver Bonas should not be divisible equally with Gina, as he founded it many years before they married and may therefore be regarded as non-matrimonial property and retained by him. The business started when he was at university but in recent years has grown very rapidly indeed.

In any divorce, Gina may argue that much of this expansion is due to her involvement in the business as the marketing and communications director. She has also had a successful career in her own right before taking the fateful appointment at the Dept. of Health to work with Matt Hancock. So, Gina’s possible entitlement to any of Oliver Bonas will depend on the extent to which a court decides that Oliver Bonas is non-matrimonial.

Given its rapid expansion and Gina’s involvement it will be unlikely to be regarded as fully non-matrimonial. The court would then need to weigh up the matrimonial element of Oliver Bonas with any wealth that she has accumulated in her own right through her own career. Their marriage is a relatively short one so again this is likely to assist Oliver in any arguments to retain the Oliver Bonas business. For information on how to approach business assets in a divorce, please click here.

The affair is not legally relevant

The fact that will surprise many people is that the only thing that won’t be legally relevant is her affair with Matt Hancock. Likewise, the Hancock divorce settlement will be dealt with largely without Matt’s adultery or conduct being relevant. It is the children’s needs and the financial resources of each party that will be accounted for, not the very embarrassing public conduct.

Matt Hancock will not be financially punished by a divorce court for his conduct regardless of public opinion on this matter.

Sometimes, when faced with the discovery of an affair or other breach of trust, the spouse making that discover can think they would be entitle to “take their spouse to the cleaners” due to their behaviour. It can be difficult for them to learn that the role of the divorce court in the many very difficult situations it is asked to deal with is to try to divide the finances as fairly as possible, without regard to the behaviour of the spouses.

This rule that conduct is not relevant is rarely breached– examples where conduct have been taken into account have been usually due to serious criminal offences such as child abuse or fraud involving the spouses. The sort of behaviour we all witnessed by virtue of a CCTV film won’t amount to that.