Millions affected by the divorce battles of the super wealthy
Two legal judgments that have changed the rules will not only have implications for the rich, says David Prosser
Saturday 27 May 2006
he number of marriages ending in divorce may now be as high as one in two - good news for family law solicitors, particularly after two legal rulings this week that could pave the way for more bitter court battles between husbands and wives.
The two cases were separate - they just happened to produce rulings on Wednesday - but both could have implications for millions of divorcing couples.
In the Miller case, the House of Lords upheld a previous judgment that Melissa Miller should receive a £5m divorce settlement from her husband, Alan Miller, who is thought to be worth more than £17m.
The case is significant because the couple had been married for less than three years. Previously, the divorce courts had ruled that with shorter marriages, spouses such as Ms Miller should be left no worse off than they would have been if the marriage had not taken place - but that they should not be entitled to a larger share of their partner's wealth.
In the McFarlane case, the House of Lords accepted Julia McFarlane's argument that she should be compensated for the loss of earnings potential she had suffered when giving up her job to look after the children. It said the maintenance her husband, Kenneth McFarlane, should pay her should not be based only on her financial needs, as courts have previously assumed. He will now have to pay her £250,000 of his £750,000 annual income
Though the sums of money at stake in these two cases are large, the judgments will act as precedents for divorcing couples with much more modest wealth. "This will cover a lot of ordinary people, not just the super-rich," says Julia Whittle, of Punter Southall Financial Management. "It may affect many professional couples, as well as divorces concerning older people, or cases where businesses are involved."
The courts will first consider the finances needed to put couples in the positions entrenched in law before these cases - so that a spouse in a short marriage is no worse off, say, or that a maintenance settlement covers needs. But if there is money left once these arrangements have been made, the Miller and McFarlane cases will be relevant.
Victoria Brandon, a matrimonial lawyer at Turner Parkinson, says a "significant number" of couples will be affected. "In the majority of divorces, there are not sufficient assets for these judgments to be relevant, but there are in many cases."
The courts remain reluctant to apportion blame when considering settlements. Previously, Ms Miller had argued that one reason she was entitled to a larger share of her husband's assets was that he had committed adultery. "As a result, many recent cases have cited bad conduct of one party as a reason for increasing the award," says Marc Saunderson, a partner in the family team at the solicitor Mills & Reeve. "The courts have wisely decided it is not their role to apportion blame."
Instead, Ms Miller won her case because the courts decided Mr Miller had earned large sums during the marriage and that she was entitled to think her financial position would last for life. "To be relevant, conduct would have to very serious indeed," says Barbara Simpson, a deputy district judge in the family courts. "The Lords gave Ms Miller £5m because £15m was earned by Mr Miller during the marriage and they had enjoyed a high standard of living."
In other words, the courts have now decided that even in the case of short marriages, the less well-off partner should not suffer a greater loss of standard of living.
Similarly, in the McFarlane case, the courts have decided there should be no distinction made between the partner staying at home and the partner going to work. By choosing to stay at home and look after children, Ms McFarlane's individual finances suffered - once her marriage broke down and she no longer shared a family income with her husband, she was entitled to compensation.
The rulings may seem unfair to spouses who have not done so well from divorce settlements in the past. But there is little prospect of reopening such cases. "These judgments are not retrospective," Brandon says. That means it is not possible to ask the courts to look again at divorces on which they have already ruled.
Should you sign a pre-nup?
* Pre-nuptial agreements are not legally binding contracts under English law. However, the courts can consider any agreement signed before the wedding and they can be an effective way to ring-fence any assets that spouses have accumulated before the marriage.
* More couples may consider pre-nuptial contracts following this week's judgments. Victoria Brandon, of Turner Parkinson, says: "For people with money, a pre-nup will protect both partners - not just the spouse with the larger wealth."
* Pre-nuptial agreements carry most legal weight with shorter-lived marriages, where couples' circumstances are less likely to have changed. Once couples have children, the courts put the children's needs first, irrespective of any agreement before the marriage.
* Couples can update a pre-nuptial agreement if the context in which the contract was signed becomes less relevant.
- 1 Should Apple buy Greece?
- 2 Michael Douglas regrets 'embarrassing' Catherine Zeta-Jones with oral sex comments
- 3 Drummer Lee Rigby's family reject 'extremist' groups using Woolwich murder for political gain
- 4 Tunisia hotel attack: Locals form 'human shield' to protect hotel from gunman Seifeddine Rezgui
- 5 Fox News anchor asks 'what's to prevent' three people from marrying after same-sex marriage legalised
The moment a Queen's Guard soldier lost it and drew his gun at annoying tourist
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Extend Right To Buy to tenants of private landlords, Labour's Jeremy Corbyn says
David Cameron struck double blow in his hopes to win Britain a new EU deal
Pentagon accuses Russia of 'playing with fire' over nuclear threats towards Nato
iJobs Money & Business
£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...
Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This extremely successful and well-established...
Competitive with monthly bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced FX...
Competitive (Freelance) : Guru Careers: An Investment Writer / Stock Picker is...
Day In a Page
Previously two semi-detached properties, this five-bedroom home is spread over three floors with a large breakfast kitchen, orangery, office and gym on the second floor.
This five-bedroom home enjoys countryside views over the Blyth estuary to Southwold, offering flexible living space with a ground-floor annexe - ideal for use as a holiday let.
Just outside of Cambridge, this single-storey home offers three double bedrooms, a living room with vaulted timber ceiling and ladder steps that lead to a mezzanine study area.
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn.
A former coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, an attached office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Located beside an impressive Victorian viaduct, this four-bedroom home has an open-plan living area that is glazed on two sides, with skylights and high ceilings.
A former furniture workshop, this three-bedroom home has high ceilings and painted brick walls, in a village setting only fifteen miles from the coast.
This five-bedroom stone townhouse features a pine staircase and an Inglenuk fireplace, double doors from the lounge give access to an enclosed courtyard.
This five-bedroom, detached home blends traditional and modern design; the sleek kitchen features a gas hob and oven set within an exposed chimney breast.
Moored in Chelsea's Cheyne Walk, this houseboat offers two double bedrooms and a teak deck that's ideal for al-fresco dining.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B or countryside retreat, subject to change of use permissions.
This Grade II-listed three-bedroom home is situated on a private road, just a short walk from the sandy beaches of Frinton-on-Sea.
Less than five miles from Malmesbury, this four-bedroom cottage comes with equestrian facilities and gardens that extend to approximately three acres.
Spanning three storeys, this late-Victorian five-bedroom farmhouse is a spacious family home with a modern interior and B&B potential.
With an original church arch, this triplex one-bedroom church conversion has a light, spacious, feel and comes with a secure off-street parking space.
This recently-refurbished three-bedroom home has bi-folding doors that lead out to a decked seating area - ideal for alfresco dining this summer.
Well-located for coastal walks and popular restaurants, this detached four-bedroom home offers views over farmland, to the Solent, the Purbecks and Bournemouth.
If you love high ceilings, school conversions like this one are bang on the money. This two-bedroom flat is minutes from Burgess Park and the foodie haven at Borough Market.
Set within a church conversion in Bermondsey, this two-bedroom maisonette combines existing features, such as original arches and brickwork, with a contemporary finish.
In the pretty market town of Bungay, this grade II-listed Mill House is arranged over four floors, offering four bedrooms and three reception areas.
This four-bedroom Edwardian home offers a combination of original features and contemporary design after a renovation by the current owners.
This four-bedroom home offers a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining with doors that open to the patio and garden.
On the market for the first time in more than 50 years, this six-bedroom home is a project with vast potential - spread over three floors of living space.
This five-bedroom home comes with a range of outbuildings including a large barn which could be converted into a self-contained granny-flat or rental.
Surrounded by rolling countryside, this four-bedroom barn conversion comes with a self-contained, one-bedroom annexe that could serve as an office or a holiday let.
Located near Harrogate town centre, this five-bedroom Victorian terrace is arranged over three storeys while a current study serves as an optional sixth bedroom.
A ground-floor flat in a country house, located a mile from Sway; this two-bedroom home would make an ideal weekend retreat on the edge of the New Forest.
On a popular residential lane in Caterham on the Hill, this four-bedroom family home offers a secluded garden and a convenient location for local schools and public transport.
Just a short walk from Westerham green, this three-bedroom cottage has a light kitchen with exposed brickwork and double doors that lead to a south-facing garden.
In a prime spot opposite the River Thames, this one-bedroom flat has an 18sq ft reception room with glass doors that open out to a private terrace.
Set in the hills above Llanwrda Village, west Wales, this 18th-century three-bedroom farmhouse has holiday-let potential from a separate barn conversion and annexe.
This charming end-of-terrace townhouse is arranged over three floors, with two double bedrooms and a private courtyard garden located at the rear of the property.
Located in the University area, this semi-detached five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors - there's even a rear garden and off-road parking too.
Only a few minutes' drive from the charming town of Marlow, this two-bedroom home sits on the private riverside estate of Harleyford.
This detached four-bedroom home in Middleyard is arranged over two floors, with features that include a wood-burning stove and bespoke oak staircase.
In a row of eight detached Georgian residences, this five-bedroom home offers views of The Sound, Mount Edgcumbe and Cornwall from its impressive veranda and full-length balcony.
If you love cooking for friends this two-bedroom flat - complete with views of the iconic Battersea Power Station and an open-plan kitchen/dining area - will go down a treat.
Located above Grasmere village, this five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors and offers countryside views across Grasmere Lake towards Silver Howe.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.