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

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.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at VouchedFor.co.uk

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Neil Pavier: Management Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you looking for your next opportunity for ...

    Sheridan Maine: Commercial Accountant

    £45,000 - £55,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ACA/ACCA/ACMA qua...

    Laura Norton: Project Accountant

    £50,000 - £60,000: Laura Norton: Are you looking for an opportunity within a w...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine