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Holman J overrides pre-nuptial agreement and awards husband £1.2 million

In Luckwell v Limata wife has to meet husband’s housing needs

Mr Justice Holman has determined that a pre-nuptial agreement executed by divorced parties in financial remedy proceedings should be overridden. Holman J ordered the wife, Victoria Luckwell, to produce funds for (i) the purchase of a house (or flat, if he prefers) for the use of her former husband at a gross price not exceeding £900,000, and (ii) non-returnably, the necessary legal costs of purchase, including stamp duty. The award was calculated to amount to £1.2 million.

In Luckwell v Limata [2014] EWHC 502 (Fam) Holman J said:

"If all the facts were the same but the genders reversed, it is inconceivable that the agreements would outweigh making a substantial award to the wife, even if the children were primarily living with the husband and only intermittently staying with her."

The wife is Victoria Luckwell and her husband Francesco (Frankie) Limata The wife's father is Mike Luckwell who, as the director of the media company which created Bob The Builder, has been, and remains, a successful business man in the film, advertising or media and other fields and is a wealthy man.

In 1997, when Victoria was 20, her parents purchased and gave her, her first home, at Greencroft Gardens, London NW6.   In 2002 her mother purchased and gave her another home at Elm Row, London NW3.   Greencroft Gardens was later sold and Mary received the net proceeds.

In summer 2004 Victoria and Frankie began to live together. In February 2005 Victoria and Frankie became engaged, and in March 2005 Victoria became pregnant.   In April 2005 Victoria ceased work and she has never since been in paid employment.   The wedding date was advanced due to the pregnancy and set for 23 July 2005.

On 11 July 2005 both parties signed a "Pre-Marital Agreement". Recitals to the agreement stated as follows: "Victoria and Francesco each specifically acknowledges and agrees that the marriage would not be taking place without this Agreement having been negotiated and signed by each of them."   Each of Victoria and Frankie expressly agreed during their evidence that that was a true and accurate proposition.  

In relation to the pre-nuptial agreement, Holman J found that:

Considering the significance of the pre-nuptial agreement, the judge said:

"There is no doubt that very great weight indeed should be given to the agreements in this case.   There are no vitiating factors such as duress or non-disclosure.   They were entered into freely by a mature man after expert legal advice."

However, he took account of the Supreme Court's comments in Granatino v Radmacher concerning the importance of fairness and concluded that the former husband was "now, on any view, and in the context of this case, in a 'predicament of real need'." 

Holman J said:

"I have concluded that notwithstanding the fact and terms of the three agreements I must make some capital provision for Frankie.   If any provision is made at all, then, if the purpose of adequate housing is to be achieved, that provision will necessarily have to be measured in many hundreds of thousand pounds.   There is no room and no purpose in this case for an award merely of a low number of hundreds of thousands.   That much is clearly recognised by and on behalf of Victoria.   In her open proposal dated 4 February 2014, immediately before the hearing ...her primary position was, as it remains, to offer nothing.   But her fall-back position, in the "scenario" that the court does make any capital provision, is to propose up to £850,000 being used to purchase a property for the use of Frankie until the later of the youngest child attaining 18 or completing a university first degree."

Charles Howard QC of 1 King's Bench Walk (instructed by Hughes Fowler Carruthers Ltd) represented the wife. Lewis Marks QC and Marina Faggionato both of Queen Elizabeth Building (instructed by Charles Russell LLP) represented the husband.

The judgment is here.