Divorcing in the UK

Divorcing in the UK

Divorcing in the UK of wealthy movie stars and athletes often feature substantial awards of alimony or child support.  Marcia Murphey was awarded $150 million dollars in her divorce from musician Neil Diamond in 1994.  The marriage’s length of 25 years certainly contributed to the high amount.  After a much shorter eight month marriage, Jennifer Lopez is reported to have paid Chris Judd $14 million in their divorce.  This raises the question of whether courts should award such high sums in divorces.

Before you embark on a selfless quest to meet a wealthy suitor or madam, you should know that the U.K. has begun to examine how its judges determine how much to award divorcees.  After some have contended that judges in the U.K. award too much money to divorcees who are less affluent than their partners, the U.K.’s Ministry of Justice will review the standards that inform the award determinations.  Proponents of the decision cite cases where the wealthier partner must make high, long term maintenance (called alimony in the U.S.) payments and cite the current system’s unpredictability.  Others take issue with courts’ willingness to make big payouts despite a marriage not lasting very long, the payee being relatively young, and the lack of children between the couple (all factors that can persuade a judge to pay one divorcee more).

Divorce rate in the UK

Divorces per thousand married males/females

In one ruling that compelled the current review, the U.K. Supreme Court held that a prenuptial agreement should control the asset division in the divorce between heiress Katrin Radmacher and investment banker Nicolas Granatino.  Prior to this, English courts did not give much weight to prenuptial agreements, unlike in the U.S. or mainland Europe.  As a result of the decision, under the prenuptial agreement Radmacher paid only £1.5 million to Granatino from her estimated £100 million fortune.

Divorce Papers

In another well-known case, in 2008 the ex-Beatle Paul McCartney divorced Heather Mills, his wife of six years. She requested the court to award her a total of £125 million of McCartney’s estimated £450 million fortune.  The judge eventually awarded her a total of £24.3 million plus an additional £35,000 per year for child care.  This sum certainly seems to dwarf Mills’s needs, but at 5.4% of McCartney’s total wealth, this case does not seem to fit the profile of the cases the Ministry of Justice believes are unfair.

Further, many cite the high rates of people from abroad who seek divorces in the U.K. as evidence of the system’s dysfunction.  The critics of the current divorce regime in the U.K. believe judges should more strictly follow a formula for awarding money in a divorce.

In the U.S., judges apply many factors to determine what type of alimony payments would be fair.  These include the length of the marriage, who is at fault for the divorce, whether the couple has children, and each party’s wealth and income.  For example, a court would be likely to award more money to a wife who was married for 15 years and who did not seek a career during that time because it is fair to compensate her for her lengthy sacrifice.

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