Beware Sir Paul: Divorcées are entitled to more
British rulings Wednesday factored in loss of career, homemaker contribution.
British divorcées won a remarkable breakthrough in their battle for a more generous division of family wealth Wednesday when the country's top court ruled in favor of two women claiming millions of pounds of their ex-husbands' assets.Skip to next paragraph
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In an extremely rare intervention in the contentious world of marital breakdown, the House of Lords sided with Melissa Miller and Julia McFarlane in quite distinct cases that appeared to swing the pendulum of divorce finances further toward wives.
Lawyers said the rulings were ground-breaking because for the first time they took into account the financial sacrifice of women giving up their careers for their husbands and also their contribution as homemakers.
"Until today maintenance for a stay-at-home mum was based purely on her living costs," said James Pirrie, lawyer for Ms. McFarlane, who gave up her career to look after the couple's three children.
As for wealthy men facing their own marital crises, the decisions sent the unequivocal message that divorce would be costly. For Sir Paul McCartney, said to be worth as much as £800 million, the rulings are particularly untimely, coming just weeks after his own four-year marriage collapsed. Observers say he could now face a divorce settlement of as much as £200 million - the largest in British history.
Wednesday's decision followed tortuous appeal processes that took both cases to the highest court in the land. Though the two cases were different, the law lords who sit in ultimate judgment over legal issues in Britain ruled that the women sacrificed careers, prospects and income to make homes for their husbands, and in so doing enhanced the men's careers and financial status. The lords said the settlements should reflect the fact that "each party to a marriage is entitled to a fair share of the available property".
In the McFarlane case, the court upheld Julia's demand for a maintenance of £250,000 a year for life. Her husband Kenneth, a senior tax accountant who earned in excess of £750,000 a year, had argued for a lesser sum.
Mr. Pirrie, her lawyer, called it a "groundbreaking ruling."
"Now judges must consider contribution and compensation for people like Julia," he said. "This is only fair. The judgment recognizes her sacrifice and that marriage is a partnership."
The Miller case was more surprising still in that the marriage lasted less than three years and ended childless. Melissa Miller, an American PR executive who had also given up work, wanted £5 million from her husband Alan, a multimillionaire fund manager.
He argued that he was wealthy before they married, and was prepared to part with only £1.7 million. The law lords gave her the full settlement. The case had turned particularly poisonous, with Miller castigating his ex-wife as a "waste of space" and spendthrift termagant."
The cases come amid a growing number of expensive divorces in Britain, perhaps not surprising in a country where two in five marriages break down. Multimillion-pound settlements have been made recently to ex-wives of top golfer Colin Montgomeria, footballer Ray Parlour, and advertising chief Sir Martin Sorrell.