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A big money case

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In September 2003, the case of Stonish v Stonish was decided, two to one, by the Court of Appeal of the Eastern Caribbean States in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. This is our very own Court of Appeal and the decision evoked widespread commentary in the Eastern Caribbean States. It appeared to be so favourable to women that the Women’s Desk here called attention to it in an article in the local newspaper.{{more}}

The case is what one would call a “big money” case, but as you would know by now, the same laws are applicable to cases involving the poor as well as the rich. The decisive judgment was given by Justice Adrian Saunders, supported by Justice Albert Redhead, with a dissenting judgment from Justice Ephraim Georges.

The case has to do with the sharing of the matrimonial assets amounting to more than $2 million, between the husband and wife. When the case came before the trial judge, Justice Matthew considered the asset as a whole and decided that the shares should be 70 per cent for the husband and 30 per cent for the wife.

Both parties were dissatisfied. The husband thought that his wife had gotten too much and the wife thought that she did not get enough. The husband appealed and the wife cross-appealed, contending that she should have more than 30 per cent of two of the six items constituting the matrimonial assets.

Both parties were married previously. The husband brought two adopted children, while his wife brought one of her own to the marriage. Both sold their houses in order to buy a larger house in Illinois, USA, at the cost of $615,000. The husband realized $250,000 from the sale of his house, while the wife netted $15,000 from hers. The house was placed in their joint names. The husband, who worked for a salary of $200,000 per annum, paid the mortgage on the house. The wife worked for a brief period during the marriage, earning $3,000 per month, but afterwards stayed at home to take care of the home and the children. The husband inherited $278,826.62 from the estate of his deceased mother. He used this and some other assets to set up a trust account. The dispute was centred on that trust account, which amounted to nearly $2.2 million and a yacht valued approximately $500,000, which was bought from the money obtained from the sale of the matrimonial home. The wife contended that she should have 50 per cent of these assets.

Both courts acknowledged that the husband had made a greater contribution, having provided the pre-marital asset and the inheritance of over quarter million dollars, but that the wife was entitled to a share of the assets for her contribution to the marriage in accordance with the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act. The Court of Appeal contended that there was an element of “gender discrimination in degrading the woman’s role in the home” and that “there was too much emphasis on contribution that could be measured in hard currency and not enough to the contribution of women to the family structure.” It therefore increased her share to 50 per cent interest in the yacht and 40 per cent in the trust account.

The dissenting view given by Justice Georges is instructive. He was unable to agree with the conclusion reached by Saunders J.A, who had acknowledged that the husband had made a substantial contribution to the trust fund. He felt that the award of 30 per cent by the trial judge, Matthew J. was just and fair, considering the fact that the marriage was not a particularly long one and the husband’s contribution was greater. Although he acknowledged the contribution of the wife in the home, he did not see it fit to increase the wife’s share in the yacht from 30 per cent to 50 per cent for the reason that the husband’s input was greater.

Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: exploringthelaw@yahoo.com

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