Having just gone through the annual routine of Valentine?s Day ? which, in my case, consists of i) contributing a frankly impossible amount to Mark Howe?s pension fund and ii) joining a long queue of men at Hallmark trying to find a card that doesn?t involve fluffy bears, fluffy monkeys, fluffy dogs or any other nauseating animals which look as if they?ve never had a carnivorous or rapacious thought in their pointless, aseptic lives ? my attention has been drawn to the well-publicised court proceedings involving ?national treasure? Sir Paul McCartney and his ?monopod psycho? soon-to-be ex-wife Heather.
Normally my sympathy would be, to say the least, limited when considering a payout of £80-odd million from someone who has, by all accounts, over £800m in the bank (and I?m not even going to factor in any surcharge which any right-thinking judge would impose for inflicting the Frog Chorus and Mull of Kintyre on the populace) but the idea of Heather walking away with a sum that could equate to over fifty thousand pounds for each day of their marriage fundamentally offends my sense of justice.
I should declare at this point that being male and in a profession which, for better or worse, has a reputation for being both demanding and well-remunerated does mean that my view of the courts? approach to divorce is going to be jaundiced. I?d also point out that in an increasing number of cases where there are significant assets at stake, it is the wife who has accumulated those assets, and the number of cases which the following rant applies to is only a tiny fraction of the total ? in most instances, divorce will lead to penury for both sides. Notwithstanding this, I?m going to spend the next six hundred words trying to persuade you that the fundamental principle which has been adopted by the English courts where a non-working spouse deserves a significant proportion of the assets acquired during a marriage (where the assets are in excess of the reasonable needs of the couple) is just plain wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Wronger than a very wrong thing wearing a t-shirt saying ?I?m Wrong?.
No-one is saying that spouses who have provided a loving and stable environment over many years do not deserve some sort of financial recognition on a split, but can anyone really say that both i) a spouse who has enjoyed an enviable lifestyle over many years supported by cleaners, nannies and any number of beauticians/golf coaches and ii) a spouse who has, by dint of large amounts of hard work and a portion of luck, earned the money which made that lifestyle possible, deserve an equal amount?
The courts should treat both parties as adults who are, regardless of inclination, fundamentally capable of providing for themselves and living their own lives. If it?s a bit of a shock for an ex-wife or husband to have to go out and find a job after years of not working, it may be fair to include some sort of ?parachute payment? in the settlement, but the fact that you?re not used to working or not particularly qualified to do anything shouldn?t mean that, like the Queen, you are magically relieved from any requirement to earn a living. Unless you actually are the Queen, in which case i) thanks for reading this humble column, ma?am and ii) anytime you need an offshore lawyer ? you know, to legitimately circumvent those pesky taxes which those horrible Labour oiks keep foisting on you – just let me know. I?m very discreet.
Anyway, an obvious difficulty when considering divorce is that no two cases are exactly the same and there will always be mitigating circumstances one way or the other (for instance in relation to the behaviour of a cheating wife or husband), but to me the key principle should always be that once the reasonable needs of both spouses are covered, the party that earned the money should keep it ? a sort of modified ?Finders Keepers? approach.
Of course, the concept of ?reasonable needs? itself needs a bit of fleshing out, and herein lies another problem ? do Heather?s reasonable needs now extend to a full-time security force and access to a 24-hour carpenter? Should a spouse who has never had to cook or clean a house be entitled to a cook and a cleaner for the rest of their life? Could it be argued that as a ?model?, Heather?s career had an intrinsically limited lifespan and her earnings potential has in fact been increased by virtue of her marriage ? so even with no payout she would be in a position to fund her own reasonable needs? Amazingly, notwithstanding the thousands of single parents who somehow manage to get by on benefits and part-time manual labour, Heather is demanding (and will in all honestly probably get) an annual seven-figure sum until their child turns 18.
Even scarier, the courts have been known to accept the argument that by getting married to a wealthy person, a spouse can get a ?legitimate expectation of a higher standard of living? ? ie that because you?ve married someone rich, you deserve to be rich for ever. That?s like saying that just because I had a ?legitimate expectation? that as a result of getting married I would get regular sex for the rest of my life, Lady X should continue to ensure that I get laid on a weekly basis even if we divorce. Which is just nuts. Potentially very entertaining, but nuts.
Finally, I?d like to draw your attention (and scorn) to someone who is frankly even more nuts – Jean North, who, having separated from her husband in 1978 ? yes, that?s right ? thirty years ago ? went back to the courts a couple of years ago for another cash sum having managed to spend all of the cash her husband had given her in their original settlements. The fact that he had given her a house and a portfolio of investments and that she had subsequently moved to an area with a higher cost of living and made a string of bad investments (and had made no attempt to find a job since 1977) somehow did not affect her sense of entitlement to her ex-husband?s assets ? and stupefyingly she managed to find a district judge who, in one of the most misguided decisions since Mr and Mrs Hitler looked into each others? eyes and said, ?Let?s have a baby?, agreed that she deserved another £200,000 in a cash lump sum.
In case you?re somehow in doubt as to exactly how suboptimal this decision was, I should mention at this point that the reason they split in the first place was that she was having a steamy affair with another man whom she subsequently moved in with (and of course, the fact that another man was now in a position to support her didn?t in any way compel her to give any cash back). However, in a victory for common sense, which, Rocky-like, crawled off a blood-smeared canvas in the last round to deliver a knockout blow, this has been overturned on appeal ? so there may be hope for our third-favourite Beatle yet?.