When is a Reconciliation not a Reconciliation?

October 18th 2022

The Judgment in the case of Cazalet v Abu-Zalaf [2022] EWFC 119 is a rare example of a court contemplating not only the nature of marriage, but specifically on this occasion, reconciliation. 

The wife issued a Petition in September 2013 and applied for a Financial Order, then the husband cross-applied for a Pre-Nuptial Agreement to be upheld.  The wife applied for Decree Nisi which was granted on 15 November 2013, financial matters concluding in June 2014 with the Pre-Nuptial Agreement upheld.

Neither party applied at the time for Decree Absolute, so they remained married.

On the same day in January 2022 the parties made cross-applications.  The wife applied to rescind the Decree Nisi and dismiss her Petition on the basis they had reconciled in November 2014, while the husband applied for Decree Absolute. 

As both parties were in agreement at this stage that the marriage was over, why did it matter whether there was a Decree Absolute based on a 2013 Petition or a fresh application for a divorce?  As Mostyn J said, “it is about money, and only about money”.  If the wife’s application succeeded, the terms of the Pre-Nuptial Agreement would give her additional capital and income; in those circumstances it is not surprising that the husband was looking to uphold the existing order. 

The Judge got to examine minutely the behaviour of both parties from late 2014 until 2020 and consider whether it amounted to a reconciliation.  

It was agreed that the parties sometimes stayed over with each other, and did go on holiday together, though the husband’s assertion was this was the only way he could spend long periods of time with his children. It was disputed by the wife that the relationship was quite as bad as she asserted in her original Petition, though it was accepted that this was a relationship characterised by constant arguments. 

Whilst the wife asserted psychological abuse and the Judge had no difficulty accepting that, he commented that in WhatsApp messages “she gave as good as she got”.  Overall a picture was painted of a relationship that was “overwhelmingly unhealthy and damaging”. 

The Judge had to consider whether the marriage had irretrievably broken down and at the time Decree Nisi was declared in 2013 and he had no difficulty in deciding that to be the case.  Was there a reconciliation after Decree Nisi?  The conclusion was that although the parties had “a relationship of sorts….it was not a marital reconciliation in any shape or form”.  The parties had “a toxic, damaging and unhealthy relationship which had none of the qualities of marriage and which cannot be described as a marital reconciliation”.  

The wife’s application failed, Decree Absolute was granted and the original Financial Order would take full effect. 

Reconciliations in divorce proceedings are rare. Where this case is helpful is in examining the quality and true nature of a reconciliation that may, in certain circumstances, have major legal implications.

"It is about money, and only about money"