The financial fallout from divorce is frequently painful but, advises Stuart Barton, a willingness to compromise almost always offers a better outcome for both sides. The point was made by a ‘big money’ case in which a couple instead spent more than £4.5 million in litigating their differences on a grand scale.
During their marriage, which yielded four children, the couple led an enviable lifestyle on the strength of the husband’s earnings as a highly successful builder and property developer. They lived on an impressive landed estate and owned a private yacht, each worth about £10 million. They employed a substantial number of domestic and other staff, including three gardeners and their own personal chef, and the husband was able to indulge his love of sports cars, some of which cost millions.
Ruling on the financial aspects of their divorce, the High Court noted that there was a difference of more than £20 million between the wife’s and the husband’s estimates of the value of their assets.
Whilst the end of the marriage had left the wife heavily in debt, she asserted that the husband’s lavish spending had continued unabated. He denied having failed to recognise the collective sacrifices they had made and argued that he was already a rich man before they married.
The Court assessed the couple’s net worth at £61,881,721 and found that the wife should receive assets valued at £19,201,912. That represented about 31 per cent of the marital pot. Her debts, which approached £2.5 million, would also be discharged so that her overall provision came to £21,693,118. The departure from the equal sharing principle was justified by, amongst other things, the wealth the husband brought into the marriage, the risks associated with his business and the illiquid nature of his shareholdings.
The Court described the legal costs incurred in the proceedings as truly enormous. The husband had spent more than £2.3 million and the wife more than £2.2 million. They had also spent heavily on litigation concerning child contact arrangements. The Court noted that costs liabilities on such a scale suggested very strongly that judges should do all in their power to simplify financial remedy proceedings.
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