'Laddish' footballer's divorce settlement was mean, judge says

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The Independent Online

For Ray Parlour life in the early 1990s was about Premiership glory, big houses and the off-pitch "laddish" excess of a footballing millionaire.

For his wife, it was about looking after their three children and trying to steer her husband away from "ruin and unhappiness" by partying with his team mates. Fortunately for the Arsenal and England player, Karen Parlour's efforts to persuade him to leave behind the hard-drinking culture at his club were successful.

But the marriage did not last and yesterday the value of Mrs Parlour's contribution to her former husband's career took centre stage at the Court of Appeal when the footballer tried to overturn a judge's ruling that his divorce settlement offer of a tenth of his £1.2m salary was "thoroughly mean".

A landmark legal case brought by Mrs Parlour, 33, who met her ex-husband when he was 17, will decide whether a wife is entitled to an equal and ongoing share of her partner's salary after the marriage has ended. Mrs Parlour, who split from the Arsenal midfielder two years ago, is arguing that her battle to bolster his earning power by curbing his drinking and looking after their young children means she should receive an annual maintenance payment of £440,000.

Mr Parlour, 31, had instead offered £120,000 or 10 per cent of his salary. The judge sitting on the case earlier this year rejected the offer and awarded Mrs Parlour £250,000 annually as well as a lump sum of the same value and two houses.

Making his ruling in January, Mr Justice Bennett said: "To suggest that in the circumstances of this case the wife should walk away with £120,000 when set against the husband's net income of about £1.2m is thoroughly mean and ... unfair."

Explaining why Mrs Parlour should receive more, the judge said she had played a major part in persuading him to drop the hard-drinking "laddish" culture among certain Arsenal players prior to the arrival of the current manager, Arsene Wenger, in 1996. The pair met in February 1990 when Mr Parlour was a 17-year-old apprentice and his wife-to-be was working at an opticians in his native Romford, east London. They married in 1998 after the birth of their second child. The footballer left the family home in 2001 and now lives with another woman, with whom he has a child.

The judge added that Mrs Parlour had been a "marvellous wife and mother and ran the household efficiently and looked after the children and the husband to the best of her considerable ability".

Her lawyers, who are claiming the maintenance should be more than £250,000, argued that she had recognised her husband's drinking was the "way to ruin and unhappiness" and had encouraged him to curb it.

Under current legal precedents, a spouse can claim an equal share of all the assets of a marriage such as the marital home. But the law states that the maintenance award should be made on the basis of the spouse's need. Mrs Parlour is arguing that it should be made on the same basis as the marital assets by being divided equally.

Nicholas Mostyn QC, for Mrs Parlour, said: "This is different treatment based on the grounds of sex and therefore amounts to discrimination."

Mr Parlour, who helped Arsenal win the Premiership this year with a number of appearances as a substitute, is arguing that a higher award would leave him unable to save for retirement. The case continues.