Unmarried couples should be under no illusions that they have legal rights equivalent to those who have tied the knot. The point could hardly have been more powerfully made than by a case concerning an unmarried former couple whose close-knit life together yielded three children and a family business.
During their relationship, the couple were the sole directors and equal shareholders of a company that ran a vehicle repair and MOT garage. Had they been married, the value of the business would have formed part of the financial pot to be divided between them on divorce. As their relationship was never solemnised, however, the option of divorce proceedings was not open to them.
After the relationship ended, the man took steps to transfer the company's business to a new corporate vehicle which he wholly owned. He did so without the woman's agreement. She responded by launching proceedings under Section 994 of the Companies Act 2006 on the basis that he had, by his unilateral move, unfairly prejudiced her position as a shareholder.
Ruling on the matter, the High Court noted that the man did not dispute that claim and had been ordered to purchase the woman's 50 per cent shareholding in the company. The value of that shareholding was, however, not agreed and there was a risk that the costs of the proceedings would be disproportionate to the modest value of the business.
After hearing expert valuation evidence, the Court took a broad-brush approach to the issue and found that £45,500 represented a fair price that the man should be required to pay for the woman's shares. Noting the commercial realities of the dispute, however, the Court urged the couple to settle their differences.
The woman could only receive what the man was able to pay and forcing him into bankruptcy would be futile. A fair division of their joint assets in a manner that secured both of their futures, and most importantly that of their children, would ultimately be in the best interests of all concerned.