Family lawyers have different rules for rich and famous clients, says Raymond Tooth

Click to follow
What is the difference between a celebrity divorce and an ordinary one? The simple answer is money. While an ordinary couple might be arguing over a four-bedroom house and an income of pounds 50,000, a wealthy family and their lawyers have a very different set of negotiations.

Surprisingly enough, great wealth can make things much simpler. One might imagine that there would be months of arguments over every last penny in every account., but there is something known as the "rich man's defence", where a client being sued for divorce can state that he is worth not less than x million, and can pay whatever the court orders. In these cases, the court will generally be reasonably realistic, and as long as the asset value sum stated is not challenged, there is no need for a massive investigation into his worth.

Of course, if there is a big difference in what someone says they are worth and what their partner claims, there will be an investigation, and the courts require full and frank disclosure. The aim is generally to achieve a clean break settlement, with both sides provided for.

Aristocratic couples have particular problems - and the Royal Family might be said to be in this category. The Duke of X may have lots of properties and acres of countryside, but none of them will belong to him outright. So when the Duchess sues for divorce, the usual thing is to sign over a property to her for life, which will revert to the family trust on her death. A much-married aristocrat might have several houses occupied by former spouses. In the case of the Prince and Princess of Wales, Kensington Palace looks likely to be the property signed over to the Princess for life.

Publicity is a great danger in a case like this. Thankfully, it is reasonably rare for one side to start using the press to try to force the hand of the other, but it does seem to be a factor with the Prince and Princess. If I were advising either side, I would suggest insisting that nobody says anything publicly unless a statement has been agreed by both sides - and I would threaten an injunction to silence a party that refused to comply.

Much has been made of the question of the Princess's title after the divorce. But there is a clear protocol for noblewomen who are divorced, which is the one that the Royal Family seems happy to follow. If the Duchess of Notting Hill Gate were to divorce, she would become Anna, Duchess of Notting Hill Gate; if the Duke remarries, his new wife becomes the Duchess of Notting Hill Gate. Having one person named Diana, Princess of Wales, whether she is known as Her Royal Highness or not, does not mean that there could not be another Princess of Wales, or even several.

The most difficult problems always arise over children. In this case - and in many others where wealthy families are concerned - everyone must be grateful for boarding schools. There is no need for complicated arrangements to shuttle the young princes to and from their parents; the school is de facto in charge of them during term time and their holidays can be shared between their parents.

Divorce can bring a lot of pain, and a lawyer often has to give emotional support to clients. I know the lawyers involved in this case, and both are excellent at their jobs - I am sure they will be doing their best to make this divorce as painless as possible. When it is all over, the lawyers walk away - we try to remain friends with our clients, but we are not there to pick up the pieces after the divorce goes through.

The writer is a senior partner, specialising in divorce, at Sears Tooth.