By Judith Fitton, Partner in Mundays Family team
If you managed to catch the BBC2 programme “The Millionaires’ Ex Wives Club” you will have had a glimpse into the world of the super rich in London and heard their advice as to how best to handle a divorce when the stakes are high.
It followed two well known divorcees, Lisa Tchenguiz and Michelle Young, both of whom were married to millionaires and filed for divorce in this country, seeking a fair share of the matrimonial assets.
Michelle Young’s story is well known to any newspaper reader; having had two children and a lavish lifestyle with her husband Scott Young, he then sought a divorce, claiming that he was bankrupt. She believed that he was still worth £400m, was hiding his money to defeat her claims and pursued him unsuccessfully for over a decade through the courts, until his untimely death in suspicious circumstances. She has not seen a penny of his money, but is still obsessively litigating against his estate.
In contrast, Lisa Tchenguiz married “The Man from Del Monte”, fruit juice millionaire Vivian Imerman but after suffering a defeat when the Court ruled that she could not use information stolen from his computers in the divorce proceedings, she waived her £100m claim and settled instead for £15m and a quiet life.
Apart from taking interior design inspiration from Lisa’s opulent Mayfair mansion, wives learnt that it is important to listen to legal advice and to be realistic and commercially minded about incurring costs. Pursuing a claim down each and every blind alley can cause misery but of course many women in this position have minimal assets in their own name, perhaps having given up their education or career to marry and have children and feel that they have no choice but to make a claim if they are to have financial security in the future.
And husbands learnt from the programme that it is very difficult to hide assets from the court and that making a sensible offer of settlement at any early stage can avoid years of litigation and ensure that both parties can exit a marriage with dignity.
“Jane Eyre” ended with “Reader, I married him”, but Lisa Tchenguiz’s fairytale ending was cohabiting with (but not marrying) her new American boyfriend, happy to keep her financial independence.