A judge has ordered an ex-premier league footballer to pay £200,000 per year in maintenance to his former wife.

At the outset, this may seem entirely reasonable. He is a high-earning football star, she a beautician.

However, here is the rub. They were only married for 19 months. And in that short time they spent a small fortune on luxury items, from “Christian Louboutin and Chanel” according to the wife, who admitted she only wore some of the items once.

Her ex-husband, told the court bitterly that he believed his former love thought she, “hit the jackpot”, when she married him.

Did she? Following this ruling, should high-net-worth people be worried about how much of their wealth they would have to give to a spouse if the marriage hits the skids in a few short years? What is the law around financial settlements and marriages of short duration?

The risk of letting a judge decide your financial settlement following a divorce

The couple’s divorce case ended up in the family court following a vicious row over the financial settlement. Spouses always take a risk when resigning themselves to letting a judge decide their financial settlement rather than reaching an agreement between themselves. The court’s decision is final and any award made could be far in excess of what either party expected.

And in the case of divorce, that would only mean one party wins big and one party loses.

In this case, lump sum payments totalling £300,000 were made to the wife, on top of the £200,000 per year spousal maintenance awarded; allowing her to pay the mortgage on a £700,000 property for her and the couple’s child.

The husband claimed that the couple’s extravagant lifestyle, which included renting a £52,000 per year home and spending thousands of pounds on luxury clothes, handbags and holidays, had left him with ‘no capital’. However, Justice Roberts appeared to have little sympathy, stating that as a professional footballer, his earning capacity was still around £1 million per year and she was therefore, “satisfied that this is a case where there are presently sufficient income resources to provide wife and child with the security, in due course, of their own home.”

Some would argue that morally the wife received more than her far share of her husband’s riches during the marriage and after a mere 19 months, she should walk away with her bags and clothes (which, one would imagine, she could sell for a pretty penny on Ebay) and get on with her life.

But the law is not interested in morality. It is interested in legality. As we shall see, rightly or wrongly, under the circumstances, Justice Roberts was fully justified in terms of the law in making the above financial award to the wife.

The starting point for working out a financial settlement in divorce proceedings

If a divorcing couple is unable to agree to a financial settlement between themselves or through mediation, the court will make an order dividing up and awarding capital and assets.

Despite the great wealth of case law in respect of financial claims during divorce, the starting point for the courts and family law solicitors is the checklist set out in section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 (the Act).

The eight factors the court must have regard to, under section 25 of the Act are as follows:

  1. the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources that each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future, including any increase in earning capacity that the court thinks is reasonable to take into account
  2. the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities that each spouse has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future
  3. the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage
  4. the age of each spouse and the duration of the marriage
  5. if one or both of the spouses is mentally or physically disabled
  6. the contributions that each spouse made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family
  7. the conduct of each spouse, if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it
  8. in the case of proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage, the value to each spouse of any benefit that, by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, that party will lose the chance of acquiring

Short marriages and divorce

If a marriage is one of short duration, the court is more likely to look at the money and assets each person brought into the marriage when determining what is matrimonial property. There is also a strong propensity for the court to order a ‘clean break’, meaning both sides walk away from the relationship with no ongoing financial obligations to each other, especially if no children are involved.

However, and this is the crux of the matter; in Miller and McFarlane [2006] 1 FLR 1186 HL, the House of Lords made it clear that the court must apply all the section 25 factors no matter how short the marriage and examine which assets were produced during the marriage, and which existed before. As time goes by, the distinction between marital and non-marital assets becomes increasingly blurred.

Lord Nicholls stated:

“In the case of a short marriage, fairness may well require that the claimant should not be entitled to a share of the other’s non-matrimonial property. The source of the asset may be a good reason for departure from equality. This reflects the instinctive feeling that the parties will generally have less call upon each other on the breakdown of a short marriage”.

When applying the principle that the court must consider all eight factors when making a financial settlement to the case of the ex-premier league footballer (who cannot be named), it is easy to deduce why such an apparently generous maintenance sum was awarded despite the marriage lasting just over 18 months:

  • there was a child involved
  • the standard of living enjoyed by the couple was luxuriously high
  • the footballer’s income was relatively high compared to that of his wife (she was a beautician), and as a professional football player, he has the potential to earn more, not just from playing in a team, but endorsements and advertising contracts

Looking at the case from this angle, one could argue that if the marriage had lasted longer, it is highly likely that the maintenance awarded would have amounted to a far greater sum.

Final words

For high-net-worth people, financial settlements following the breakdown of a marriage are rarely straight-forward. It is therefore crucial that both parties seek independent legal advice as soon as it becomes clear the relationship is over. This will go a long way to ensuring that each parties financial and personal interests are protected.

Saracens Solicitors is a multi-service law firm based opposite Marble Arch on the North side of Hyde Park in London. We have years of experience representing high-net-worth individuals in divorce proceedings and have the resources and expertise available to achieve swift, fair financial settlements. For more information, please call our office on 020 3588 3500.

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