In financial settlement cases, especially those involving spousal maintenance negotiations, expert evidence is often required if one spouse is unable to work due to illness.
What factors does the Court consider when deciding on a financial settlement?
When deciding on a divorce financial settlement, the Court must consider provisions under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, section 25 when deciding whether or not to move away from the starting point of equal sharing of matrimonial property.
The section 25 factors are:
- the income, earning capacity, property, and other financial resources each party has access to now and in the near future
- the financial needs, obligations, and responsibilities of each of the parties now and in the near future
- the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage
- the age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage
any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage
- the contributions that each of the parties has made or is likely in the near future concerning caring for any children of the marriage
- the conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would, in the opinion of the court, be inequitable to disregard it
- the value of any benefit one party will fail to acquire due to the divorce
Being unable to earn an income and build up assets and a pension has significant ramifications for a spouse suffering from a debilitating illness. On the other side of the equation, a spouse who has to pay spousal maintenance for many years is often put under significant financial pressure, especially if they remarry and have another family.
What type of illnesses can lead to being unable to work for long periods?
There are several illnesses that can lead to long-term inability to work. Heart disease, mental health problems, and cancer can result in someone being unable to maintain regular employment; however, other less common ailments can equally impact someone’s capacity to earn an income. Examples include:
- Fibromyalgia – characterised by widespread musculoskeletal pain and fatigue, sleep, and cognitive and mood problems. The condition can be triggered by a traumatic event such as surgery, infection, or a psychological event or can simply develop over time. Affecting women more than men, Fibromyalgia is often accompanied by other chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, chronic fatigue syndrome, and anxiety and depression.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome – also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or ME/CFS. As the name suggests, it causes extreme tiredness. Other symptoms include migraines, muscle aches, vertigo, and anxiety and depression. This syndrome is little understood and there is no cure. Instead, health professionals concentrate on managing symptoms.
- Chronic pain – this is pain that lasts for over three months. Patients can experience pain all over their body or in specific areas. Conditions such as arthritis and back pain are common reasons for people to be unable to work. Currently, there is no cure for chronic pain, however, the symptoms can be managed to an extent.
There are many other chronic illness such as Lupus, early onset dementia, and diabetes that may result in a person being unable to work. Not only can this affect the ability of a spouse to earn an income, it may also mean that they have long-term financial needs such as medical expenses and care. These factors may result in the Court awarding a greater share of matrimonial property and assets to the ill spouse as well as spousal maintenance. Given the stakes are so high for both parties, it is no wonder that expert witnesses play an important role in helping the Court to understand the nature of the illness in question and the long-term prognosis.
What can an expert witness do in cases of chronic illness claims in financial settlement proceedings?
An expert witness can meticulously examine the sick spouse’s medical records and establish:
a) Whether or not their illness has or will result in them being unable to return to the workforce,
b) Their long-term prognosis and future care requirements, and
c) The level of income they will need to receive to have a standard of living similar to what they enjoyed during the marriage.
Providing the Family Court with specialist information on the current and long-term prognosis of the ill spouse will allow it to work out a financial settlement that is fair to all parties, including any children from the marriage.
How can Expert Court Reports Ltd help?
How can Expert Court Reports Ltd help?
Expert Court Reports provides expert witnesses and medicolegal court reports for solicitors, barristers and other agencies, including the police, probation services, prisons, and third-sector organisations, as well as private clients. To discuss any issues raised in this article, please call us on 01865 587865, email email@example.com, or request a call by completing our online form.