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Bryan Myerson, the former city fund manager hit by the credit crunch, applied to the Court of Appeal seeking to renegotiate the terms of his divorce settlement last week. Family lawyers now claim that it represented a trigger for countless similar applications.
"If the appeal is successful, it could trigger numerous similar applications, not just in 'big money cases' like for Bryan Myerson and his wife, but in all types of family cases where for example, the value of the former family home has fallen as a consequence of the current downturn," says family lawyer Angela Davis of Nottingham firm Berryman.
"If the appeal is successful, it would represent a significant change to the law. As it stands, a final divorce order is just that and intended to draw a line under the marriage. It is only maintenance payments that are currently readily renegotiable in the event of a change in circumstances."
In the Myerson case, a deal had been done in February 2008 and according to Mr Myerson, his former wife had been awarded 43 percent of the couple's £25.8 million fortune as it was then. Since then the value of shares held by Mr Myerson has plummeted by a staggering 90 percent as a result of the current economic downturn.
Mrs Myerson has already received the majority of the monies due to her, although Mr Myerson is still to pay her a further £2.5 million by way of instalments. Mr Myerson says that he will have to borrow money in order to meet his obligations under the existing court order and that the net effect, calculated on today's values, would be that his wife would have received more than 105 percent of the available assets.
Lawyers for Mrs Myerson argue that it is now too late for Mr Myerson to 'undo' the deal, and Mr Myerson is arguing that it would be unfair if his application were refused.
It appears to be common ground that he accepted an element of risk in return for taking the greater part of the assets, although Mr Myerson argues that price fluctuation this extreme hadn't been contemplated and that it undermines the assumption upon which the original order was made.
"These are interesting times for family lawyers," says Davis. "There are already cases where the outcome of this case could have an impact.
"We have already seen a surge in cases relating to payers seeking to reduce maintenance payments and are having to be particularly careful and creative in terms of advising client's divorcing now because of the way in which asset values are so volatile at present."
The Court of Appeal's decision on whether the application to appeal out of time is granted is due next week.
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