By Joanna Pratt, Partner. Article first published in New Model Adviser, February 2014.
Over the past couple of weeks, some parts of the media have picked up on a case in the High Court concerning Sally and Christopher Nightingale.
They are finalising the financial arrangements arising from their divorce proceedings. Sally Nightingale is living at Appleby Castle in Cumbria, which she apparently received as part of her divorce settlement. Her former husband is living in Singapore.
The headline to the story is that Mrs Nightingale was due to receive about £1.6 million, part of the sale proceeds of a shareholding held by Christopher Nightingale. He has apparently disposed of those shares but received a tiny fraction of the amount which he had expected to receive, and has only paid Sally Nightingale £83, rather than the expected £1.6 million.
During the last week in January 2014, a High Court Judge made a Freezing Order. As well as freezing the proceeds of sale of some shares, the court has also frozen Christopher Nightingale’s library, which the Judge described as of “quite considerable value”. Mr Nightingale has refused to provide evidence of the sale price and the proceeds which he received from the sale of the shares. In such a situation, it is perhaps not surprising that the court has made a Freezing Order against Mr Nightingale’s assets. The court will want to preserve those assets which are available, until full financial disclosure has been made.
The case of Mr and Mrs Nightingale is a good reminder to couples involved in divorce proceedings, that the value of assets can change, sometimes very quickly. The Nightingale case is focused on the disparity in the proceeds of sale of some shares as against their value in the divorce proceedings. Mrs Nightingale was expecting to receive £1.6 million from the sale of some shares, but to date has only received £83. Shares and other equity based investments tend to be the most volatile assets. If one party to a divorce is taking all or mainly shares and equity based investments, then they need to be warned as to the potential risks, if there is a sudden downturn in the stock market.
Shares are however not the only asset which can fall in value. We tend to think of properties as being a relatively secure and guaranteed asset in terms of value. However, that has not always been the case, and if there is a sudden and unexpected downturn in property prices, although the impact will not be as swift as a downturn in the stock market, its effects can be just as devastating. If property prices are falling, there tend to be more sellers than buyers, which puts more pressure on house prices.
When advising a client with regard to the financial matters arising from the breakdown of a marriage, it is important to consider not only the current value of the assets, but the types of assets concerned.
The value of no assets can be guaranteed in even the short term, but as well as obtaining accurate valuations, it is important to consider the type of assets involved.