Horses for Divorces – Who gets to keep the Horse?
Another thrilling Aintree & Grand National at the weekend brought horses back into the general publics view. As a firm, our family lawyers are increasingly providing divorce advice where an integral part of the divorce arrangements include who gets to keep the horse. An estimated 1 in 15 divorces now involve a dispute over who gets to keep the horse and over recent years we have seen that these disputes are not only limited to wealthy couples but also clients of more moderate means, particularly where the ownership may be sentimental rather than due to the actual value of the horse.
How does the Court deal with horses?
In cases where the dispute is one of ownership, the court regards the horse as property to be divided up in the same way as any other property such as the furniture or the crockery. Where the horse is particularly valuable, its value will need to be taken into account when dividing up the marital assets.
In January 2017, Johnny Depp and Amber Heard finalised their divorce settlement and this included a dispute over the ownership of the horse. Ultimately, Amber Heard retained ownership of the horse.
Another high-profile case involved Athina Onassis (the only surviving descendant of Aristotle Onassis) and her ex-husband. They were involved in protracted court proceedings concerning ownership of their horse, Cornetto K, an extremely valuable show jumping horse who had been ridden in the Rio Olympics. The horse was eventually sold for a rumoured £10million.
Ongoing cost of care for the horse
In addition to issues regarding ownership we have also seen cases which involve one party claiming maintenance for the upkeep of the horse. As women represent 74% of the riding population, more often than not, it is the wife who insists that the ongoing payment for the upkeep of their horse is a need which must be taken into account in a financial settlement. Husbands will generally contest this argument on the basis that maintenance for the upkeep of a horse should be regarded merely a luxury and not a need.
In 2008, a landmark case on the issue of ongoing maintenance for the upkeep of horses was determined by the Court of Appeal. The case involved a childless couple who, having lost a child during pregnancy, opted to keep horses instead. The wife was awarded, amongst other things, a settlement which included £50,000 per year in maintenance from her ex-husband for the upkeep of her horses.
Also in 2008, Tracey Wright obtained a financial settlement from the courts following her divorce from her millionaire horse surgeon husband. The original settlement included maintenance to pay for stabling for her horse and her daughters’ ponies. However, in 2015, the Court of Appeal ordered that the maintenance payments should cease and that Mrs Wright should get a job.
We have seen over recent years that disputes over horses following separation are becoming increasingly common and the way in which such disputes are dealt with by the courts can be extremely complex. We would therefore encourage customers to seek specific advice in relation to their situation from our team of expert family solicitors, accessible across all 10 of our offices, including Northallerton, York, Harrogate and Stockton on Tees. Please contact your nearest office or telephone 0800 1601010 us to arrange a no obligation, confidential chat with one of our specialist family lawyers.