Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Divorced of Logic

Now call me a bluff old traditionalist, but I thought marriage was generally meant to be an arrangement that is romantically motivated. Now I know that it doesn't always end up all peaches and cream, but the manner in which some more public marriages fail has me thinking if these days it isn't rather more all about cash. I've had this little bee in my bonnet for a while, and a casual glance at a tabloid which found its way into the middle of the bondu (from whence I have just returned) has awakened the sleeping dog.

My bone to pick is with divorce settlements. Now there are several cases I'll probably mention here, but I think I shall tap into the populist media first for a change. A days old and well-thumbed copy of the Sun informed me that about a week or two ago Alex Reid and Katie Price (nee Jordan) announced the end to their calamitous 11 month marital union. Ok, no great surprises there - I would imagine it could be hard making a marriage work with TV cameras in your home 24/7. However, as much as Ms Price's way of life might not fit into my idea of model citizen (no pun intended), I feel rather sorry for her. Why on earth would she apparently need to take precautions to safeguard her money from a man she has had a relationship with for less time than it takes her to read her own book? They have no children. All the money is hers. So what's the problem?

Of course the problem is that this curious little fellow is demanding a cool £2 million to sling his hook. And in today's crazy world, there are enough imbeciles out there misreading enough imbecilic laws to make that a genuine concern for Tits McGee. And we're not even in California, where they are proper mental (just ask John Cleese). Yes, today we shall investigate the worrying trend for staggeringly large divorce payouts; the good, the bad and the downright ugly.

There actually won't be many good ones, incidentally, so don't hold your breath. First let's look at the ridiculous. We'll start with Katie Price. Her husband brought sweet Fanny Adams to the marriage in financial terms. She is already a multimillionaire in her own right. They were together for 11 months. They have no children. To my mind, he should probably just jog on. Any loss of earnings he might want to claim are not down to her as he could perfectly well keep up his day job of hitting people. If he took time off, it's his prerogative, not her fault. In addition he will no doubt have future earnings as a D list celebrity, entirely down to his association with Price (thanks very much). How long before Saturday night sofa dwellers are watching him on Britain's Got Strictly Come Jungle on Ice? However, I fear Price will end up paying the sponger off for fear of negative publicity and what some barking judge somewhere might decide.

Now let us look at the breakdown of John Cleese's third marriage. His first two ended in an undisclosed settlement with the gorgeous Connie Booth (of Fawlty Towers fame) and £2.5 million with Barbara Trentham. He had a daughter with both actresses and is still friends with them today. He was then married to Alice Faye Eichelberger for 16 years. They had no children. The vast majority of his opus was completed before they ever met (he was in his early 50s when they wed). The money that he earned since their marriage was down to royalties on work previously done, his investments and other work that depended on his theatrical skills. He did not require Ms Eichelberger to stop earning or to look after a home or children (though she was unemployed and living in a council house when they met - so despite the relative luxury that one can live in on the state, let us not imagine even if she did stop it was all that much money). Whilst they have been married a long time, what Cleese had and shared with her was still all down to him. Verdict? He handed over more than half of his net value. If nothing else, I imagine his two former wives are a little surprised (and his two children who just had their inheritance halved). Absolutely barking - thank you California.

The justification for handing over £12 million in cash and property and £600,000 a year for 7 years (presumably to get the poor girl back on her feet again)? Probably the best bit. The rather dubious Fiona Shackleton argued that because Cleese was so rich and famous, Eichelberger had become used to "being entertained by royalty and dignitaries in castles." It rather makes me want to throw up. It's the same crap argument that the odious Heather Mills tried to used in her divorce from Sir Paul McCartney (who was represented by Shackleton; on the other side this time). Since when did being used to being spoiled entitle you to a lifetime of spoiling courtesy of someone else's bar tab? It's a wonderful ruse - I must be kept in the standards to which I have become accustomed. Perhaps this shouldn't just extend to divorce law. Perhaps anyone who has ever had any money should be safeguarded from losing the privileges it once bought. Only who would pay for that? Of course, it only works as a tinpot argument because there is some (soon to be) poor dolt to foot the bill in divorce law.

You might be thinking around this time "well, they're bloody rich anyway, so who cares?" I hope not, because whilst I wouldn't be angry with you, I would be disappointed. The entire legal system is predicated on the idea that we are all equal under the law. Why should a rich man be penalised because he is rich with a heavy settlement? Would you make no fuss if it was the poor man who was worse off under the same law because of his lack of wealth? So you see the general theme here - if you don't bring anything to the party, why should the host keep the party going for you long after you've been thrown out?

So those are a couple of the worst of the cases. There is also the story of the lottery winner having half his windfall claimed by an ex-wife due to not having a clean break divorce. How one could justify her contribution to his £1 expenditure that bought the fortuitous ticket I cannot imagine. However, his lawyers obviously convinced him that he should settle out of court for a staggering amount because they know there would be a good chance of losing in our screwed up judicial system. This after he had offered £1 million of his £10 million or so to a trust fund for his daughter - refused of course because the morally reprehensible mother just wanted cash for herself. I could go on, but you get the idea.

If you meet, fall in love, get married and have children one of you will probably stay home to raise that family and run the household. If you divorce many years later, the stay-at-home parent deserves a share of the couple's net worth. I cannot fault that logic, and don't think one should. This is how we end up with the John and Beverley Charman case for example. The owner of Axis and his wife did exactly that. On divorcing, she was awarded 37% of his net worth, to date the largest UK divorce settlement at £48 million. Now the only possible argument here is the percentage. The argument against 50/50 splits or indeed splits even this big is familiar within the superstar world of sports and film.

Charman argued most of that wealth, though admittedly being created from scratch with them both playing their part, was down to his exceptional contribution. I feel I actually agree with him - it's more likely he's pretty good at his job than just long term lucky. Mrs Charman certainly did nothing wrong, but tables turned, would she have built up a £130 million empire? The judge surmised when deciding in Mrs Charman's favour "in the narrow, old-fashioned sense, that perspective is understandable, if somewhat anachronistic. Nowadays it must attract little sympathy."

This is where it gets controversial. Siding with Charman (who offered about 15% - £20 million) rather goes back on the whole being treated differently because you're rich thing. If the Charman's were poor would we begrudge Mrs Charman 37%, or even 50%? I imagine not, in either case. But you can understand where Charman is coming from. As he said, the offer of £20 million is an amount "impossible for any reasonable person to spend in their lifetime." Michael Jordan paid his wife over £80 million. She's probably crap at basketball. Marcia Murphy probably can't hold a tune, but Neil Diamond still paid her over £75 million. In cases like these, you can't help but feel for the earner. 

So where does this leave us? Now that the courts also seem to recognise long term relationships as if they were marriages, the 'not getting married' ruse is out of the window too. So I think it probably leaves us in the world of the pre-nup. A shady but clearly now necessary concept in the world of marriage for profit or profit by marriage (depending on intent). I imagine asking your betrothed to sign one is up there for romance killers with asking them to pop down to the local GUM clinic for a 10,000 mile check. However, I think that in the modern day it is probably a sensible way forward. Sad, that. Unfortunately, in today's world where £20 million isn't enough and the legal pendulum has swung far too far the other way, is there any real alternative? It's your future, and that of your potential unborn children you're protecting.

It is gratifying therefore to see the UK Supreme Court ruling in favour of honouring them in general with their verdict in October 2010 in the Granatino vs Radmacher case. The caveats are sensible enough if not totally binding: the agreements may give great weight to any divorce case providing the terms were fair and entered into knowingly and of one's own free will (the usual jazz). They retain the right to waive them on a case by case basis, especially where it is deemed unfair to the children of the marriage. So hopefully here endeth the UK's hold on title of Divorce Capital Europe, and common sense can reign for once.

I guess we shall see; no large UK divorce case having been put before the courts since. The judiciary have certainly left themselves enough wriggle room to ignore the logic of any given pre-nup case. One can but hope. And that hope is only there for those with enough assets or confidence in future assets to deem a pre-nup necessary. For the rest of us we had better wish love is eternal, because otherwise, you're probably screwed.

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