How much can a spouse claim on separation? How much ‘maintenance’ – the financial support one spouse is ordered to provide to another - is reasonable? These are the issues that continue to trouble our family courts.
A decision from the High Court in London recently hit the headlines, once again igniting the debate over appropriate levels of maintenance.
Maintenance, which can be short or long term, is all about a spouse’s needs. Maintenance is given to provide support for someone financially who is financially weaker and may not be in a position to pay for everything that they need. They may be unable to support themselves independently or a shortfall in their income. They may have difficulty paying a mortgage, household bills or other reasonable everyday expenditure.
For the courts, getting the right level of maintenance is about trying to achieve something that meets reasonable expenses or a ‘need’.
‘Need’ is the all-important word and it leads to many a long and expensive arguments.
When deciding settlements the court will take into account the all of the above factors as well as the needs of any children. Any money paid must be fair and reasonable and meet justifiable needs.
The amount of money involved in a recent case was of truly eye-watering levels. Christina Estrada and Sheikh Walid Juffali - a very wealthy individual - were said to have met in 2000 when she was an international model. She had been living in England since 1988. They married, she gave up her profession and they had a daughter. They later separated, but it was reported that Mr Juffali had married another woman in Saudi Arabia, in 2012, whilst still married to Ms. Estrada. In 2014 he divorced Ms. Estrada in Saudia Arabia under Islamic Law.
So how did this international couple end up before our courts? In simple terms, Ms. Estrada got permission to apply for a financial settlement here because she could not apply for one in Saudia Arabia.
England has one of the most flexible legal systems in the world but it is also fair to say that with the recent cuts in legal aid funding, rises in court fees and London’s growing reputation for so called “divorce tourism” our courts are increasingly becoming the playing fields for the super wealthy – especially as these individuals have the endless financial capacity to appeal, claim and counter claim.
The recent decision between Ms. Estrada and Sheikh Walid Juffali is ‘proof positive’. She was awarded a £75 MILLION divorce settlement – successfully arguing she had to meet her ‘reasonable needs’. While the amount was reportedly less than the £238 million she was seeking, it still amounted to a very healthy sum and will no doubt continue to encourage spouses to use English court’s to try and secure a more generous settlement than could be achieved elsewhere.
It was reported that amongst other things a figure of £1 million a year was needed for clothing which included £40,000 for fur coats, £109,000 for haute couture dresses and £21,000 for shoes. Quite possibly a little bit more than the average yearly shopping spree! Other reported expenses included £26,000 for a mobile phone, £2.1 million travel costs including £600,000 for private jet charters and £58,000 for two luxury handbags annually, £23,000 for six casual handbags annually and £35,000 on ten clutch bags annually.
Turning to her capital ‘needs’ - it was reported that Ms. Estrada wanted a luxury home in London worth around £60 million, a £4.4 million house in Henley on Thames and a sum of £495,000 for a fleet of five cars – only three of which were based in England.
Ms. Estrada had said that she had enjoyed a successful career until her marriage and fully accepted that she had a spectacular life with her super rich husband. She described her lifestyle as “magical”. One of the things the Court had to grapple with according to Mrs. Justice Roberts was whether she was entitled to continue “with a bubble of a magical existence” for the foreseeable future and to ensure that adequate provision is made to meet her reasonable needs.
But whether you expect a mega rich lifestyle, or live a decidedly more modest existence, the law governing financial settlements in England is exactly the same.
The Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, sets out the factors that must be taken into consideration when looking at how to divide assets and award maintenance. The only difference between cases is the total amount of money and assets in the matrimonial pot.
Whatever your view on the latest high-profile, high value divorce case, one thing is certain – it is unlikely to be the last.
By family and divorce solicitor, Mandy Rimmer