50 per cent is worth finding
The BBC has recently aired a documentary called Millionaires’ Ex-wives Club, in which the ex-wives of the ultra-wealthy discuss how they fought for what they considered was a fair percentage of their ex-husbands’ respective fortunes. One of the wives interviewed was Michelle Young, ex-wife of Scot Young, who died in mysterious circumstances during the two-year filming of the programme.
In the documentary, film maker Lynn Alleway tries to work out whether these ex-wives are gold diggers or just fighting for their fair share – which in the English Courts can often, in long marriages, be 50 per cent of the total wealth arising during the marriage. This is no doubt why it has become the divorce capital of the world. In many other countries a homemaker is unlikely to be awarded more than he or she needs to continue to live in the manner to which he or she has become accustomed.
For many years that was also true in England and Wales, where a wealthy husband could avoid telling the court how much he was worth if he could afford to pay an amount to his wife that was sufficient to meet her needs for the rest of her life. Nowadays however, a wife in that position could be entitled to a full half share even if that were more than she could ever spend in her lifetime.
The Millionaires’ Ex-wives Club programme discussed a number of cases as well as the Scot Young’s, including that of an unnamed City trader who was ordered to pay his estranged wife £453 million in May last year, making it the biggest divorce settlement in British legal history.
Being awarded large sums is only part of the battle and although Michelle Young, who was awarded a divorce settlement of £20 million in 2013, the programme highlighted the fact that she has not yet received a penny.
One remedy, albeit a draconian one, that we have seen being used increasingly by the courts in these circumstances is for us to be appointed Court Receivers over all the assets of the husband. He can then, in extreme cases, be removed, for example, from the board of directors of his own companies and steps can be taken by the Receiver in his name to raise money by selling businesses or assets to fund the divorce settlement.
Michelle Young’s case is the longest running divorce case in British legal history. Scot Young died in 2014 after falling from the first floor of a £3 million penthouse. Michelle believes Scot was worth hundreds of millions after a lifetime of property deals with Russian oligarchs but he claimed to have been penniless. However, during the making of the film, he called her and offered her £20 million to end the litigation. She refused the offer and he was dead five weeks later.
Forensic accountants can play a key role in a successful divorce settlement;