Borders sheep farmer ordered to pay £900k to divorcing wife

A sheep farmer in the Scottish Borders has been ordered to pay an award of £900,000 to his ex-wife after she brought divorce proceedings to the Outer House of the Court of Session.

Edith Bradbury sought a capital payment from the defender, Thomas Craig Bradbury, on the basis that she had made significant contributions to his farming business. The pursuer also sought a periodic allowance of £2000 per month until the death or re-marriage of the defender.

The case was heard by Lord Brailsford, who was satisfied that the marriage had broken down irretrievably. The pursuer was represented by Speir, advocate, and the defender by Brabender QC.

Extensive involvement

The date of the parties’ separation was 15 January 2019. At that time, the matrimonial property included two farms in Melrose and Selkirk respectively with a combined value of over £3.8 million. The title to these properties was in the defender’s sole name. Prior to the marriage, the defender had owned a sheep farm in Lancashire, which was sold in 2010 to enable the expansion of his business by the purchase of the Melrose farm, with the Selkirk farm being acquired in 2015.

The pursuer gave evidence herself as well as leading evidence from the parties’ two children and other employees of the farms. She and her witnesses stated that she had been extensively involved in many kinds of farm work at both the Lancashire farm and then the Scottish farms when she was not attending to the parties’ two children. She was also solely responsible for the management of a cottage on the Melrose farm which was rented out for holiday lets.

Counsel for the pursuer submitted that the conduct of the parties in running the farming business ought to be characterised as a partnership and invited the judge to prefer her evidence over the “blatantly self-serving” evidence of the defender. The pursuer had worked alongside the defender for all 22 years of their marriage whilst also looking after their children, and in that time the business had expanded significantly. It was further submitted that she required a large capital sum in order to continue in farming with her own enterprise together with her children.

In his evidence, the defender contested the proposition that the pursuer was actively involved with farm work, stating she lacked commitment and only really helped with the books. It was submitted that the children had “entrenched disdain” for their father which had influenced their evidence. Further, he had worked as a sole trader throughout his career as a sheep farmer, and evidence of his financial documents did not disclose any economic disadvantage suffered by the pursuer.

Realistic assessment

In his decision, Lord Brailsford said of the evidence of the pursuer’s contributions: “Throughout the marriage the pursuer made a significant contribution to the defender’s farming business. The tenor of the evidence suggests that the words ultimately, and I think reluctantly, used by the defender to describe their efforts in the business was as of a ‘joint effort’.”

He continued: “I do not consider it productive to seek to arrive at some arithmetical division of labour. In my view the important part is that over the entire span of the marriage the pursuer made a significant contribution to the defender’s farming business whilst at the same time making the major contribution to what I will characterise as the running of the parties’ family.”

Addressing the issue of economic disadvantage, the judge explained: “[The pursuer] devoted 22 years to bringing up the parties’ children and, in addition, working on the business which the defender has described in evidence as their ‘joint effort’. She is in her 50s. She has no profession or work history beyond that on the farm which would enable her to recommence a career.”

Noting her intention to start her own farming business, he went on to say: “Whilst there was no evidence on the practicalities of that intention, nor was there any evidence in relation to what such a unit may cost, it did appear to me to represent a relatively realistic assessment of what the pursuer might do. Having regard to all those factors I consider that it can be said that the pursuer is at economic disadvantage in relation to these matters.”

Assessing the appropriate division of the matrimonial property, Lord Brailsford said: “It would not be fair to, as was submitted by counsel for the pursuer, divide the net matrimonial property equally. To do so would ignore both the factor that the defender’s capital contribution to the enterprise at the relevant date was significant and, further, fail to take into account that the evidence did show that the defender was a good and capable farmer and, moreover, worked hard throughout the years on the farming business.”

On the issue of periodical allowance, he added: “Whilst there was no developed argument in relation to that submission, [in] consideration of the fact that the pursuer at present has no employment or meaningful source of income and that the defender remains in receipt of the entire income of the farming business the proposition does not appear unreasonable.”

Lord Brailsford therefore made a capital award of £900,000 in favour of the pursuer, as well as an award of £2,000 per month until payment of the capital sum due.

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