So you’re a private equity or hedge fund bigshot – maybe an ex-Beatle with a cool £800 million fortune. You’ve made your money; you’re admired and respected; when you walk into a room, people pay attention. At home, however, your marriage is on the rocks.
The trophy wife (or husband) doesn’t seem so much of a trophy any more. Thing is, you’ve heard that Britain is among the most generous jurisdictions in the world when it comes to favouring the weaker party in a divorce, and that has you worried. John Charman, the insurance magnate, was ordered to pay £48 million to his ex-wife – and few are rich enough for that not to hurt.
So what do you do? Will the courts take away half your fortune? Should you start protecting your assets in an offshore trust?
Sounds like you need a divorce lawyer. And if they’re honest, here’s what they’ll tell you.
1. It will not be fun. Don’t underestimate the rollercoaster of emotions you will have to grapple with, even if it is your decision to end the marriage. You will be required to make life-changing decisions in relation to your future financial security and, possibly, your relationship with your children.
2. From the start, consider a prenuptial agreement. The court’s starting point is an even split of the marital assets, but it retains wide discretion and must take various factors into account. If your romance is destined to last and you’ve got assets to protect, consider entering into a prenuptial agreement before heading down the aisle – particularly if you’ve been married before.
3. If you’re divorcing, don’t try to hide your assets. One of the first questions a divorce lawyer is often asked by a wealthy husband is, “How can I hide my money?” Don’t risk it.
4. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that putting your assets into a trust will save them. Trusts established for tax planning purposes are not immune from the court’s jurisdiction and can be attacked.
5. Don’t try any artistic editing of your bank statements or other documents. That won’t wash, either.
6. Try to resolve disputes over the division of the contents of the home between yourselves. Don’t let things get out of perspective.
7. Every penny you spend on lawyers shrinks the marital pot you’re fighting over. Divorce is expensive, both in terms of time and money.
8. Make sure you get early legal advice, particularly if there is a jurisdictional issue at stake. Some people have more than one habitual residence, so more than one court may have jurisdiction.
9. Don’t move out of the matrimonial home unless your sanity is truly at stake.
10. Don’t cut your spouse off financially without warning. It might be tempting to put a stop to a joint credit card, for example, or to freeze a joint bank account.
11. If you have children, try to resolve arguments over them without involving the lawyers.
12. If you move, you can’t necessarily take the children with you.
13. Keep your mobile phone and computer locked.
14. Private investigators will comb through everything.
15. Keep your financial documents under lock and key.
16. Try to keep hostility to a minimum.
17. Spend time finding the right lawyer.
18. Don’t try to do it on the cheap.
19. On the other hand, don’t spend hours on the phone to your lawyer.
20. Tell your lawyer the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, however bad it may seem.