Barrister's ex-wife wins maintenance case

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The former wife of a top barrister today won a lump sum payment of £215,000 from the husband she divorced in 1985.

Philippa Vaughan asked the Court of Appeal to reverse a ruling by a High Court judge who refused her application for a lump sum payment after her £27,175-a-year maintenance was discharged last year.

David Vaughan QC, an expert on European law, had been paying her maintenance since 1991 and had applied to the High Court when he faced a reduced income because of retirement.

Allowing her appeal, Lord Justice Wilson said the High Court judge was "plainly wrong" to conclude that Mrs Vaughan could adjust without undue hardship to the ending of the husband's periodical payments.

Richard Anelay QC made his ruling in the Family Division on the understanding that Mrs Vaughan had no children and her desire to leave a legacy to a niece would be covered by the value of her home.

"In my view, it is invidious for the court to try to analyse a person's relationships in order to seek to measure the extent of reasonable expectations of benefit under her or his estate," said Lord Justice Wilson.

Mrs Vaughan, 66, an expert on Islamic and Indian art but who now has no earned income, lives alone in a four-bedroom house in Hammersmith, west London, worth £1,091,000. She was married to Mr Vaughan for 13 years.

Mr Vaughan, 71, remarried after his divorce and lives with his 56-year-old wife, Leslie, in North Kensington, west London, in a house worth £4,365,000. They have two children at university.

Nicholas Mostyn QC, representing him at the Appeal Court hearing earlier this month, told the three judges that Mr Vaughan's first wife was claiming that his pension pot should be included in assets available to her.

Mr Mostyn said the fund, which could generate up to £100,000 a year, did not exist during his first marriage and was set up during his second marriage.

He said Mr Vaughan's second wife was entitled to half of it and to argue that the fund should be available to support Philippa Vaughan "would mean the second wife would be chipping in to the maintenance of the first wife".

Philippa Vaughan had been asking for a £560,000 lump sum but reduced her claim to £341,000.

The ruling today gave her £215,000 to be paid by July 2010 and, until then, periodical payments of £14,000 a year backdated to November 2009.

Lord Justice Wilson said: "In my view, the judge in the present case wrongly gave priority to the claims of the second wife."

He said that, whatever the length of the second marriage in relation to the first, however substantial the contributions made by the second wife to it and whatever the extent to which the pension fund was built up during the second marriage, it was "illogical" for the judge to attribute one half of the pension income to the second wife.

The judges were told at the hearing by Christopher Wagstaffe, representing Mrs Vaughan, that the husband's overall wealth was more than £5 million and he had an income in "six figures".

In a statement after the ruling, Mrs Vaughan said: "I am relieved that finally justice has prevailed. Court orders and first wives cannot be swept aside at the whim of the rich and powerful.

"David Vaughan is a wealthy and successful QC and part-time judge. In 1991, an order was made which provided me with a modest but vital income for life.

"He initiated this case to set aside that order, on the grounds that he no longer wished to pay. He refused to negotiate a lump sum compensation and I found myself drawn into this process against my will.

"David engaged the services of top advocate Nicholas Mostyn QC, who has previously represented Paul McCartney and other high profile clients. The court was subsequently informed that he was acting pro bono for David.

"I therefore felt obliged to instruct a similarly high calibre advocate, thereby incurring great financial risk.

"They led an aggressive case of attrition, no doubt hoping I would give up. However, it was the knowledge that I was also fighting on behalf of others in a similar situation which has kept me going.

"It has been a terrible two years. The whole system seemed to be positioned against me. I was being bled of energy and resources. The High Court decided entirely in favour of David and criticised my costs.

"This is a case which I should not have been forced to litigate in this way. It raises serious concerns which I encourage the Bar Council and the Law Society to look at in the interests of justice and equality."