Public divorce battles of the rich only serve voyeurism, not justice

Ekaterina Parfenova Fields's separation is one of the first high-profile battles to be played out in full view

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The Independent Online

I don’t know whether, in the photographs we’ve seen, Ekaterina Parfenova Fields is wearing any Prada, but the former beauty queen is certainly expensively and elegantly turned out in a grey tweed outfit with a cream pashmina casually draped over her arms. Her sad eyes are staring directly at the camera. What we know for certain is that, whatever her studied appearance, her attitude isn’t influenced by the Italian fashion giant.

Mrs Fields is in the midst of a public, and very unseemly, divorce battle at the moment, claiming a settlement of £2.6m and maintenance payments of £500,000 a year from her lawyer husband. Meanwhile, Miuccia Prada, head of the fashion house which bears her name, has been unpacking some outspoken views which have a powerful resonance in that contentious territory where divorce and feminism intersect.

“If you don’t work, if you depend on a man for your bread, how can you be happy?” she said. “If you are young and blonde, maybe he will love an older one with black hair.” Mrs Fields is most certainly blonde. At 42, she is 17 years younger than her husband, and her now notorious statement to the court that she would rather look for another husband than a job (although she did say later she was joking) might well have been in Ms Prada’s mind when she made her comments,

There is something highly distasteful about divorce battles being played out in public: what comes out in the High Court is one thing, what happens behind closed doors is quite another. In the case of Fields vs Fields, we’ve been party to a battle over a baby grand piano (it was the only piece of furniture Mrs Fields wanted for herself from the marital home in New York: her request was denied), we’ve been told how much the mortgage payments are on their Kensington house, and how much they pay their domestic staff.

We also know that Mrs Fields suffers from a rare medical condition that leaves her so exhausted that she sometimes has to sleep for 14 hours a day. There might as well be a washing line outside the High Court, so much dirty linen is being laundered there.

This case is one of the first of these high-profile divorce battles to be played out in public. The presiding judge, Mr Justice Holman, refused an application for the hearing to be held behind closed doors because he said that people had a right to see “justice at work”.

For the few members of the general public who are attending the court, that may hold water. For the rest of us, relying on newspaper reports which highlight the more sensational and lurid aspects of the case (and which, given the male domination of the press, are usually skewed against the woman in question), I’m highly doubtful this is true. This public battle serves our voyeuristic instinct, and not our thirst to see justice done.

“Just live your life,” says Miuccia Prada. Good advice to anyone, and something Mr Field is obviously keeping in mind as this, his fifth – yes fifth – divorce is played out in the public gaze. He wants it to be over quickly so he can marry his new girlfriend. Now there’s a man who doesn’t have a commitment problem.

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