Nicola Horlick: on divorce

Breaking up isn't easy, especially when there's big money at stake. Having been through a tricky divorce herself, Nicola Horlick is on a mission: to help other women negotiate the post-marital minefield.
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The Independent Online

Having recently split up from my husband, I've learned a great deal about divorce law over the past couple of years. I read law at university and so found it in some ways a fascinating process. I started by avidly reading all the landmark judgements for guidance as to what my own fate might be.

What that taught me is that our current system is confused. A view which has been confirmed most recently by a high-profile case which goes to the House of Lords tomorrow. Alan Miller, a wealthy 41-year-old City worker has won the right to challenge the £5m payoff awarded to his American wife, Melissa Miller, 35, after he left her for another woman less than three years into their marriage. In the past, payouts have been based on how long a couple have been married and judges have seldom taken a spouse's behaviour into account. If a couple's wealth was accumulated during the life-time of the marriage, say, then the general rule has always been that the wife would be entitled to 50 per cent of the assets. Even if she had not worked during this period, the assumption would be that she had given up her career to look after her husband and children. Thus she would be entitled to share in the money. For a shorter, childless marriage, the payout would be much less. In the vast majority of cases, this reasoning still applies.

If the Lords uphold Melissa Miller's award, though, it means that, when infidelity can be proved early on in a marriage, then the rules are very different.

But this is just one example of confusion in our divorce laws. Another concerns how the assets should be split if the main breadwinner has been the wife. There are no landmark cases to go by. Some argue that the split should be 50/50, but I strongly believe that this should only be the case if the husband has given up his career to look after the children. If the husband has continued to work, but with less success than his wife, why should he take 50 per cent of the assets? I have a number of female friends who have found themselves in this position and, because they did not wish to spend a fortune on legal costs or attract bad publicity, handed over half of the assets to their husbands, which seems very unfair.

Given all of the above, it is perhaps not surprising that the popular perception is that marriage can be very expensive, and that iniquitous treatment in the divorce courts is standard. The result, I believe, is that fewer couples will actually bother to get married. This is something that I have started noticing among my friends. I know at least four couples who give the impression that they are married although they are not. They even use the same surname. If the woman gives up her job and acquiesces to such an arrangement, she may find herself with little protection should the relationship fail. And yet this does not seem to deter a growing number of women. (omega)

I've been trying to think about why so many marriages fall apart these days and I think it may be to do with longevity. One hundred years ago, our life expectancy was much shorter. So if you got married in your twenties you would probably end up spending around 30 years with your spouse. Now, if you get married in your twenties and you're going to live until you are 90, the idea that you are going to spend 70 years with the same person is a bit ridiculous.

The Miller case shows the imperfections that exist in the current system. It is difficult to see how government could provide a framework for divorce lodged in statute and so it must be left to the courts to determine how cases should be settled based on the facts. However, there does seem to be a large element of luck involved. A great deal depends on which judge you get on the day, with some reputed to favour wives and others husbands, and what mood they are in.

I do think women handle divorce far better than men. Men tend to find it harder to move on, even if they were the ones who were being unfaithful. Women appear to be more adaptable. Of course, the fact that women are used to multi-tasking, often holding down jobs and bringing up a family, means that they are better able to cope with being on their own.

Whatever the percentage splits in a big money divorce, generally a wife who has not worked will find herself with a considerable lump sum to invest at the end of it. My business, Bramdean, invests money for individuals, charities and pension funds. Last November, we launched a new service called Bramdiva, which is aimed at women. Of course, our clients are not exclusively divorcees, but I expect that a large percentage of them will be as the product develops.

Having reached my mid-forties, I now have a number of friends who have either been divorced or are in the throes of doing so. As they started to ask me how they should invest their money and expressed a fear as to how they were going to make the money last if they did not re-marry, I realised that there was a need for a service which would give this type of advice.

In addition, a woman going through a divorce with no financial means of her own may worry about how she is going to pay her legal costs. Also, she may want to move out of the marital home but have no access to finance to pay for rent or the purchase of her own property. We can arrange for her to borrow this money until the divorce is settled, thus removing a major worry. Some have tried to suggest that Bramdiva is a gimmick, but I would strongly refute this. A woman in this situation definitely needs specialist help.

And there are only going to be more of them in need of help in the future. The greater success of girls at school relative to boys is translating into the creation of more female millionaires in the age group 18-44 than male millionaires. By 2025, 60 per cent of the nation's wealth will be controlled by women. It may be that this greater financial independence is part of the reason for an increase in the divorce rate. Previous generations of women may not have had the confidence to go it alone. Whatever the reason for the elevated levels of marriage break-ups, greater thought needs to be given, as to how financial disputes between husbands and wives are resolved.

But, despite the statistics suggesting that you only have a 50 per cent chance of making a marriage work, I still strongly believe in the concept. It is important to show commitment in a long-term relationship and, over many centuries, men and women have stood together whether before a priest or a registrar and publicly stated that commitment. Children have benefited from knowing that they have a mother and father who live together, love each other and have shared values. To allow this tradition to wither because we are afraid that it will be financially costly is wrong.

I am a person who cries during a film, whether it is happy or sad, and the one thing that is guaranteed to make me cry is attending a wedding and hearing the words "I do". s

For more information on Bramdiva, tel: 020 7052 9272 or visit www.bramdean.com

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