Melanie Bien: It's pre-nups all round after Parlour's penalty

I would have thought that even a footballer's ex-wife would struggle to spend £2,500 a week
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The Independent Online

A victory for women everywhere or a step too far? Opinion is divided over the divorce settlement for Karen Parlour, the former wife of Arsenal footballer Ray Parlour.

The Court of Appeal gave the groundbreaking ruling last week that Mr Parlour's future earnings should be taken into account when deciding how much maintenance Mrs Parlour is entitled to. She will receive £444,000 a year over the next four years - around 37 per cent of her ex-husband's future earnings, based on his current contract. She didn't get 50 per cent because the Court ruled they hadn't been together long enough.

On top of this, Mrs Parlour will keep what she was awarded at an earlier hearing: the family's £1m home, a holiday home in Norfolk, a £250,000 lump sum and £37,500-a-year maintenance for their three children.

The Daily Mail didn't mince words, proclaiming it a "victory for women", but I'm more inclined to agree with The Sun's headline: "Fleeced". Mrs Parlour had already received a generous offer of £120,000 a year from her former husband, although a judge ruled it was "thoroughly mean". But it is hard to see how as this would still have worked out at just under £2,500 a week. I would have thought even a footballer's ex-wife would struggle to spend that much.

Now she's got more than £8,000 a week to play with. The Court of Appeal says she is obliged to invest anything left over from her weekly expenditure to build up a lump sum for the future. But as the level of her savings and investments will be taken into account when the case is reviewed in four years' time, and the courts decide how much of Mr Parlour's income she is entitled to, one wonders how thrifty she'll be. There doesn't seem much incentive to put cash by as she'll always have a big safety net - her ex-husband's income - to fall back on. Why save when you can spend and don't have to worry about where the money comes from?

Those who believe she has scored a victory for women will argue that I'm missing the point, and that the principle is what's important. Mrs Parlour says she saved her ex-husband's footballing career by steering him away from the drinking culture that had pervaded his club, but I'm inclined to believe his success on the pitch is down to him.

If he had a bog-standard job, you could argue that she helped him stick with it by encouraging him not to go out on the razzle every night. But to be a top footballer requires talent and discipline: keeping yourself in top condition, eating the correct food and enduring the training regime. Does a footballer's wife influence any of this? Mr Parlour may have been able to focus on his career because she was taking care of their kids, but to make it as a top footballer he had to be ambitious and committed; nobody can be those things for you. And for Mrs Parlour to say she gave up her career to look after the kids - well, that's a choice we can only presume she was happy to make at the time. Live with it.

The case is bound to have repercussions. Some are predicting the further decline of marriage, with wealthy men (and indeed women) refusing to tie the knot out of fear of being pursued in the courts for half their income. However, if it leads to a decline in divorce, because it is regarded as being just too expensive, how welcome that would be?

The case is likely to lead to a rise in pre-nuptial agreements. In the past, these haven't really taken off here, not because they are unromantic but because the courts have the discretion to overturn them. However, if both parties take legal advice and freely enter into a pre-nup, the courts may give them more consideration.

I am all in favour of the pre-nup, even though I used to wonder what the point was in getting married if you reckon there's a chance you'll get divorced. But nowadays, those who get married may have been there before, and could well have kids, property and assets to show for it. Their new spouse could be in a similar position.

With a pre-nup, both parties know where they stand and it reduces the tension that money can cause in a relationship. As he considers appealing to the House of Lords, Ray Parlour may wish he'd drawn one up.

m.bien@independent.co.uk

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