Footballer's ex-wife nets £4m with share of future earnings

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The Independent Online

The former wife of the premiership footballer Ray Parlour was awarded more than £4m yesterday in a landmark divorce ruling that grants women the right to a share of their husband's future earnings.

Karen Parlour, who was married to the Arsenal midfielder for four years, was told by a judge that her role in her husband's career deserved greater financial recognition. The Court of Appeal ordered Mr Parlour to pay his former wife a third of his £1.2m annual income and £1m legal costs.

Mrs Parlour will receive a personal maintenance allowance of £406,500 - to be reviewed after four years, in addition to two mortgage-free houses worth more than £1m and a £250,000 lump sum. Mr Parlour must also pay £12,500 a year for each of his three children, aged eight, six and four.

Matrimonial law experts said last night that the "revolutionary" case would allow wives to continue to receive large shares of their husband's earnings after they had divorced. It also reflects a legal trend which recognises the value of the wife's domestic contribution in the financial success of the partnership.

After the judgment Mrs Parlour, 33, said in a statement that she was "very relieved at the outcome of the appeal and the settlement agreed".

Ray Parlour, 31, met his wife when he was 17, before he emerged as one of the country's most promising midfielders. He went on to win 10 caps for England. Mrs Parlour told the court that she gave up her job as an optician's assistant in Romford, Essex, to devote herself to the relationship and to bringing up the couple's three children.

She said that before the arrival at the club in 1996 of Arsenal's present manager, Arsene Wenger, there was a "laddish" drinking culture among certain players, including her husband and the former Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams.

She said she realised this was the way to "ruin and unhappiness", took a grip on the situation and encouraged him to move away from that lifestyle.

Ray Parlour's legal team countered that his wife's contribution to his success on the pitch was not part of a "joint enterprise" asset. "He is the one who performs the labour," Nicholas Francis QC, said. "He is the one who submits to Arsene Wenger's regime of behaviour and abstinence. He is the one who risks injury to his hamstring or whatever."

Mrs Parlour first asked for £440,000 a year in maintenance but Mr Parlour, who no longer commands a regular place in the Arsenal first team, argued that £120,000 was enough. The Court of Appeal rejected his argument and decided to increase her maintenance.

Three judges had been asked to rule that, in principle, the post-divorce income of a high-earning spouse should be split 50-50, in the same way as other matrimonial assets, to reflect the vital input of the other partner in the marriage. But Mrs Parlour accepted that, because her relationship with the premiership star lasted only seven years, she could not claim the full 50 per cent.

The court's willingness to consider the value of the couple's relationship to Mr Parlour's successful career as a footballer is in line with recent House of Lords rulings on the division of the capital after the collapse of a marriage.

In most divorce cases, a wife's entitlement to annual payments is based on her reasonable needs. But yesterday's judgment applies the principle of equality in the division of assets to a spouse's income.

The Parlours' case was being heard together with a similar claim by the wife of a high-earning accountant. But Lord Justice Thorpe stressed that the two cases were "far removed from any norm". It was only the huge excess of income over need that had led to disputes between the parties, who had otherwise divided their assets equally by agreement.

Sandra Davis, matrimonial partner at Mishcon de Reya, said the ruling had "massive" social and legal implications. "In the case of a claim on future earnings to such a significant level, there will be little desire or need for a woman to marry again and endanger her income stream unless the man is hugely wealthy, and certainly no incentive for men to marry for a second time as it would be just too expensive," she said.

Women on Top

Zeta and Francois Graff: Ms Graff, a Greek-born actress, was handed at least £10m of the diamond heir's estimated £157m estate, claiming that she was used as a promotional tool. She celebrated with a case of £600 bottles of vintage champagne.

Abdullah Masry and Mona al-Khatib: Mr Masry was ordered to pay his former wife £26.3m after he abducted his four children from their home in London two years ago. Mr Masry, who is thought to be worth £150m, has called for the settlement to be overturned, arguing that he is subject to sharia (Islamic law).

Harry and Shan Lambert: In 2002, Ms Lambert, a plumber's daughter, won an equal share of the newspaper tycoon's £20m fortune. She argued that, as a wife and mother, she was an equal partner in his business.

Terence and Caroline Conran: Ms Conran won a landmark case against the interior designer in 1996 and was awarded £10m. His case was not helped by his comments at the time. "All she did was cook a few dinners," he said.