The High Court has very recently allowed a son’s claim to an interest in a family farm that he ran with his father. It provides a good example of the approach taken by the Courts when the issue arises in the context of a parents’ divorce.
The claim was brought by Stephen Moore against his father, Roger Moore. Stephen had worked on the family farm since childhood and claimed that his father had told him a dozen times or more that the farm would be his one day.
In 2008, Roger’s health began to worsen and Stephen too on a more prominent role in the business. His relationship with his parents began to deteriorate dramatically until their relationship broke down completely in 2009 leading to Roger and his wife changing their wills.
When the case went to the High Court it was determined that:
- Roger had made promises to Stephen
- Stephen had relied on those promises by working at and running the farm
- It would be unconscionable for Roger to now go back on those promises.
The Court ordered that the farm should be dealt with as closely as possible to the arrangement that would have arisen had there not been a dispute between Stephen and his parents. Roger and his wife would receive what they were expecting up until their deaths. Thereafter, it was ordered that Stephen would take over the farming and, subject to the amounts needed to support his parents, the farm would be in his name alone.
Relevance to divorce
We have acted in several cases where situations very similar to this have arisen. Rather than coming to a head through the father becoming ill however, the issue has come up when the child of the family has realised that the promises made to them by their mother or father are in danger of being overlooked whilst the parents’ divorce is resolved.
If this situation arises or there is a risk of it being overlooked, it is vital that the child is urged to take legal advice quickly.
If they fail to do so then there is a risk that the divorce could conclude without any reference being made to the child’s claims. Should this happen, the child is faced with potentially having to pursue both his parents individually for a share or, worse still, having to try to step in the way of a sale that may have been ordered in the divorce. It is far better, cheaper and more straightforward if the child’s claims are considered and taken on board by the parents whilst the divorce is ongoing.
It may be that the parents cannot see eye to eye about what the extent of the child’s claim should be. Procedures exist in the family courts to enable this to be resolved by a judge as a separate stage in the divorce process.
If that is to happen however the child needs to make their position clear at the earliest opportunity (preferably as soon as they learn that their parents are divorcing).
Our family law team advises families across the South West on the best solutions for them. If you would like to get in touch with the team about divorce or any other issue you can telephone0345 450 5558 or email firstname.lastname@example.org