Spousal maintenance after divorce. Is £33,000 a week enough to get by on?
A recent divorce case in the US caught my eye, firstly because of the eye popping amounts of money involved, but also because it provides a window through which to look at spousal maintenance.
Marie Douglas-David (37) had filed for divorce from her husband, businessman George David (67). Mr David had built up a conglomerate of successful businesses over the years, under the umbrella of United Technologies, and had a fortune estimated at $329 million. Mrs Douglas-David, a Swedish countess, had given up her job as an investment banker when they married.
Her initial claim was for a settlement of $100 million plus $53,000 per week in maintenance, in order to maintain the lifestyle to which she had become accustomed. Just take a second to let that sink in. This was for a 6 year, childless marriage.
Lists of their respective weekly expenses provided to the court showed that they were both living very well. Her $53,000 a week included such items as $4,500 for clothes, $8,000 for travel and $1,000 for hair and skin treatments. His $200,000 a week included $95,943 to run his 90ft yacht, $18,042 on charities and $1,773 on food.
Apart from raising the obvious questions (what was he eating for $1,773 a week and what was she putting on her face?), this case also gives us an opportunity to look at spousal maintenance and when it may be appropriate.
In the UK, entitlement to spousal maintenance depends on many factors, including the length of the marriage, the standard of living before the divorce, your respective needs and the needs of any dependent children, your respective future earnings capability and the contribution made to the marriage, either financial or by caring for children and looking after the family home.
For example, if a couple have been married for 20 years and by agreement the wife gave up a well paid job to bring up the family at home, while the husband became the sole bread winner, then the wife's future earnings capability may be severely compromised. In these circumstances the wife should not be penalised for her lack of earnings ability. The courts see the role of the homemaker as no less important than that of the bread winner. A fair settlement may include the wife receiving half of the joint assets including the husband's pension entitlement, as well as ongoing spousal maintenance.
On the other hand, if a young couple with no children have been married for a short time and both are working, then it may be fair for them both to leave the marriage with no ongoing financial ties and taking with them what they brought into the marriage.
It is reported that Mrs Douglas-David eventually received $50 million, significantly more than the $43 million she was being offered under the terms of the couple's post-nuptial agreement. In the ultra-privileged world that the Davids inhabit, $7 million probably won"t curtail either of their lifestyles too severely. But in the world where most of us live, a skilled divorce lawyer can have a significant impact on negotiations, and help you to achieve the most favourable settlement available.
Click here to go back to In The Media.
Follow this link for more advice from our divorce and family solicitors.