Lawyers for Earl Spencer hinted to a Cape Town court that they would fight Countess Spencer's claim for a pounds 3.75m settlement on the grounds that she had been treated for alcoholism and eating disorders.
In a reference to the five months the former model had spent in a rehabilitation clinic, Leslie Weinkove, representing the earl, said: "There is a question mark over her ability to manage such an award, given that she has a 12- step approach to life dealing with each problem day to day."
Reformed alcoholics and addicts are often given a 12-step recovery programme.
The hearing at Cape Town High Court will decide whether the couple's divorce case should be heard in South Africa or in England, where Earl Spencer's assets are greater and where, therefore, Lady Spencer's demands are more likely to be met.
The court was told by Earl Spencer's lawyers that Lady Spencer, 32, was incapable of coping with a huge divorce settlement. He has offered a settlement of pounds 300,000.
Lady Spencer has alleged that her husband, the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, admitted sleeping with 12 other women while she was receiving treatment. Yesterday, Jeremy Gauntlett, Lady Spencer's solicitor, described the initial allegations as "merely a summary ... There will be more details of a serious kind and if it has to be drawn out, so be it." Earl Spencer's legal team say the allegations will be strenuously denied in court.
The legal teams of both parties questioned a British family lawyer, Jeremy Posnansky, about the way divorce cases were held in Britain. When asked what kind of property pounds 300,000 would buy in London, Mr Posnansky replied: "I'm not an estate agent, but I personally think pounds 300,000 would only get a house in a very unattractive, distant suburb with problems such as crime."
Earl Spencer, 33, is reported to have a family fortune of pounds 100m. Although much of it is tied up in property which cannot be sold, his income has been described as pounds 6m.
During the hearing, he appeared relaxed and joked with lawyers while Lady Spencer looked tense and anxious. Neither party looked at the other.
They moved to South Africa in 1996 after tabloid newspapers published stories about about his extramarital activities and his wife's treatment at the rehabilitation clinic. They married in September 1989 but now live in separate houses in Cape Town. They have four children.
The London Evening Standard last night published a letter from Earl Spencer to Chantal Collopy, with whom he allegedly had an affair. She is now supporting Lady Spencer. The earl was said to be upset that sections of the letter were released which had him admitting to being "callous and vicious" and "a dreadful bully". He authorised his lawyers to release a fuller version which read: "I feel a dreadful bully to Victoria. I've been callous and vicious, trying to force her out of my life. She deserves better than that - a good man who will love her, give her security and help her deal with her shortcomings."Reuse content