Businessman asks EWCA to vary divorce settlement after wife’s death

15 November 2010

The England & Wales Court of Appeal is considering a widower’s request that the divorce settlement he agreed with his wife should be set aside now that she is dead.

Eric and Harriet Richardson co-owned a large hotel business until they divorced last year. In the settlement, Mr. Richardson retained 52.5 per cent of the Richardson Group’s GBP11 million net assets, and agreed to bear all the business’s liabilities.

Mrs. Richardson retained the rest plus the former matrimonial home. Two months later she died suddenly, leaving most of her GBP5 million assets to the couple’s son Fraser.

Since then, a serious risk to the business has emerged. It is being sued by the family of a child who fell from the window of one of their Manchester hotels in 2004.

Though that litigation was already in progress at the time of the divorce, it now appears that the business’ insurers might repudiate liability for any damages – which could be as much as GBP3 million – and costs.

So Mr. Richardson now wants the divorce settlement to be  retrospectively varied such that his ex-wife’s estate would be jointly liable for the damages if he loses the case.

This would naturally reduce the legacy payable from the estate to his son Fraser. The latter is therefore contesting Mr. Richardson’s petition, and according to their legal representatives their relationship has now entirely broken down.

Mr. Richardson’s case is that the accident happened when his late wife was his business partner, and that during the divorce proceedings he could not have foreseen that the insurers might repudiate liability.  He wants EWCA to stay the settlement until the outcome of the personal injury litigation is known.

The court has reserved judgement.





South Devon Herald Express

Luton Today

London Gazette (PDF notifying dissolution of Richardsons’ partnership)



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