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Celebrity divorce settlements.
What do they tell us about divorce law for the rest of us?

This article appeared in the July 2010 edition of Profile magazine.

As negotiations in Mel Gibson's divorce settlement near a conclusion, rumours abound that he will have to pay one of the largest divorce settlements in history. His wife of 28 years, Robyn, is expected to walk away with a sizeable chunk of his estimated $1 billion wealth.

Their settlement is likely to top the list of all time celebrity divorce settlements, currently headed by basketball legend Michael Jordan. The current top 3, according to Forbes magazine, are:

3. Steven Spielberg paid his wife of 4 years, Amy Irving, $100 million even though they had a pre-nuptial agreement in place. This was way back in 1989.

2. Neil Diamond spent 27 years with his wife Marcia before she left with $150 million.

1. NBA superstar Michael Jordan had to pay out $168 million to his wife of 18 years, Juanita, in 2007.

The fact that all of the above are men divorce settlementswho have been exceptional in their field of work, and therefore earned a lot of money, is an important point to consider when examining divorce settlements on a smaller scale. Although the cases above are US based, the law in England is not too dissimilar to bear closer examination.

There is a misconception amongst some women that because they may not have worked, for example whilst raising children, or have worked and earned much less than their husband, that they are not entitled to anything from his business or the money that he has earned.

This is not the case. Under English divorce law the role of homemaker is judged to be no less important than the role of breadwinner. In practice this means that a spouse is likely to be entitled to a share of the assets of the marriage, which include any business, even if they had no direct involvement in the creation of that wealth.

When the Courts look at a divorce settlement, the starting point is a 50/50 split. Many factors are then taken into account, including the length of the marriage, the needs of any children and the current earnings of both parties as well as their respective future earnings capacity. Importantly, the contributions that both parties have made to the marriage, financial and otherwise (such as looking after the house or caring for children) are also included.

Even if the husband has been exceptional in his field and therefore earned a lot of money (what we call a "stellar" contribution), the spouse may still be entitled to a significant portion of the marital wealth.

In my job as a divorce lawyer, I meet many women who have stayed trapped in a bad marriage because they have underestimated what they may be entitled to in a potential divorce settlement. The reality is often quite different to what they had imagined.

If you would like more information about your own particular circumstances, contact me in confidence for a free half hour advice session.

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