The case of a Hong Kong couple with assets of $5 billion and a monthly income of $1.5 million could set the tone for divorce settlements in the SAR following a British ruling favouring equality for non-earning wives. The ruling overturns decades of British law in which judges awarded non-earning spouses sufficient money only for their 'reasonable requirements' or 'needs', rather than an equal share. Judge John Saunders said the case involving the Hong Kong couple, which recently went to the Court of First Instance and is pending a decision, could give SAR courts their first chance to decide where Hong Kong's future lies given the overseas ruling. His comments came in the Law Society journal Hong Kong Lawyer. The most significant impact of the ruling would be in big money divorce cases where there was more money available than the couple needed, he wrote. However, with its recognition of 'complementary and equal roles' husband and wife traditionally played, the ruling would have a significant impact on ordinary couples, he wrote. Family Court judges in Hong Kong were now applying the new ruling - made in October 2000 by the British House of Lords. They would continue to do so until corrected by the Court of Appeal or Court of Final Appeal, he said. 'Personally, I find the concept that a wife should be entitled to only so much from the fruits of a long marriage as she can spend in her statistical lifetime, even if it is on buying champagne, to be repugnant,' wrote the judge. 'It does not have proper regard to those who live beyond that date, nor does it allow her to make any provision for her children or grandchildren by way of bequest.' One practical implication of the case would be that wealthy couples would have to reveal the full extent of their assets to court, he predicted. The spokeswoman for the Federation of Women Lawyers' family law committee, Helen Kong, described the ruling as 'very important'. 'It's fairer to the party who's not working . . . You have marriages of decades and they are getting nothing much out of it, especially where the wife is looking after children and not spending much,' she said, noting that in some marriages the non-working partner was a man. Associate Professor Bart Rwezuara, a senior lecturer in family law at the University of Hong Kong, said: 'Anything that brings equality within the family, within marriage . . . that turns the marriage into a partnership of equals, is welcome.' The change might also encourage wealthy people to try to use pre-nuptual agreements, he said, but noted these were not enforceable in Hong Kong.