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The case of the golden egg-laying goose and the 20 year anniversary of N v N (2001)

March 22, 2021 Speech Box

The principle that the Family Court will aim to equitably divide the assets on separation 50/50 is well understood by most people. But there are circumstances where logically this wouldn’t result in a fair outcome, for either party.

Imagine a married couple have worked together all their adult lives, and when one party decides to separate and leave the business as well, requests that the business be sold and the proceeds split equally. Sounds plausible and fair, doesn’t it?

However, Family lawyers are still guided by a notable case, now twenty years old, in which Mr Justice Coleridge spoke about this very issue in N v N (2001), “Nowadays the goose may well have to go to market for sale, but if it is necessary to sell her it is essential that her condition be such that her egg laying abilities are damaged as little as possible in the process.

Otherwise there is a danger that the full value of the goose will not be achieved and the underlying basis of any order will turn out to be flawed.”

Clearly the business is not as profitable if the goose loses her golden egg laying properties. Mr Justice Coleridge was illustrating the challenges we sometimes face in dividing up and realising certain types of assets.

In this case N and N were farmers, and notably farms are often handed down generation to generation. As the House of Lords stated, “In fairness, where this property still exists, the spouse to whom it was given should be allowed to keep it. Conversely, the other spouse has a weaker claim to such property than he or she may have regarding matrimonial property”.

That judgment related to the case of White v White which I wrote about here last year. That too concerned a married couple who worked on a farm. Perhaps that was what prompted Mr Justice Coleridge to think about geese and golden eggs all those years ago.

Happy Easter.

If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call me, Louise Barretto, on 020 7091 2869 or email

Our Family lawyers have the knowledge and experience to guide you through these challenging times and have rankings in both Chambers & Partners and the Legal 500 for their expertise.

The above is accurate as at 22nd March 2021. The information above may be subject to change during these ever-changing times.

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.

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