Four examples of high net worth divorces and how they progress

Four examples of high net worth divorces and how they progress

Going through a high net worth divorce or separation can be extremely stressful and is likely to have a long-lasting impact on you and your family.

They become increasingly difficult as children, property, businesses, pensions, inheritances and other assets become involved.

And for high net worth individuals the divorce process can become much more complex, involving complicated negotiations over factors such as high-value or overseas assets.

Crucially you must get the right legal advice at the earliest opportunity. This can help your divorce progress quicker with less conflict, saving you time, money and stress in the long run. Having confidence in your legal team and building a strong working relationship is essential.

Here, we look at four high-profile high net worth divorces and their outcomes:

Sir Chris Hohn and Jamie Cooper

English hedge-fund manager Sir Chris Hohn is often described as one of the UK’s most generous philanthropists and once managed the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, in his career as a prominent investor.

He has reportedly paid himself £1 million a day and has donated more than £1 billion to charity, while setting up the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIF).

When he filed for divorce against his then wife Jamie Cooper in 2012, inevitably the process was going to involve some particularly high-value assets.

The divorce was anything but amicable and stretched to a year before it was completed. Miss Cooper was awarded £337 million in a settlement.

Famously, Mr Hohn told the high court judge that he was an “unbelievable money maker” who had brought more wealth to the relationship.

But the court decided that Miss Cooper had played a key role in their relationship and the marriage, as well as making significant contributions to their charity, which earned her the right to such a large settlement.

The sheer number of months to reach the agreement would have likely resulted in extremely high legal costs.

The case highlights that a long and largely unpleasant battle in the courtroom often suits neither party and mediation and open lines of communication between each party’s representation often serves everyone much better.

At Wolferstans, we seek to develop a close working relationship with you aimed at an amicable conclusion with your spouse that minimises the risk of courtroom pain.

Mel Gibson and Robyn Moore

It may have been nearly 15 years since actor Mel Gibson parted ways with his then-wife Robyn Moore, but their separation is still considered the largest divorce settlement in Hollywood history.

After nearly 30 years of marriage, Moore filed for divorce in April 2009, citing irreconcilable differences, and the process was finalised in December 2011.

When considering a divorce, the finances and division of assets are likely to be your immediate concern.

However, the division of assets is much more complicated in a high-value divorce.

Consideration will need to be given to where the assets came from, whether they were brought to the marriage by either party or whether they were generated during the marriage.

Gibson’s fortune is once estimated to be as high as $850 million.

The couple reportedly didn’t have a prenuptial agreement, which meant Moore was legally entitled to half of everything Gibson built up during that time.

She subsequently accepted a pay-out of $425 million ($539 million in today’s money).

Moore is also entitled to half of all future earnings Gibson receives for the rest of his life.

Gibson is also said to have had more than $100 million in real estate investments worldwide, including an island in Fiji he bought for $15 million just one year before the divorce was finalised.

When going through divorce, the starting point is to agree an up-to-date valuation for each property and also consider any tax implications of transferring ownership or selling properties.

Scot and Michelle Young

Property developer Scot Young and his wife Michelle Young actually separated in 2006, but in one of the longest-running divorce cases in history, only managed to reach a financial settlement some eight years later.

The case highlights the need to be confident in disclosing assets and how a diligent legal firm will work to find assets.

Mr Young had claimed a property deal had gone badly wrong, causing him to be left without a penny to his name. Ms Young refused to believe him, claiming he had “billions” hidden away offshore, and wanted a share – £300 million plus expenses to be exact.

After a marathon number of court hearings, Mr Young refused to disclose his assets – sparking an investigation that led to him being found guilty of contempt of court. It was found that Mr Young had millions in assets and was ordered to pay Ms Young £26 million.

He was sent to prison for six months and the emotional ordeal led to severe mental health problems. His life was tragically ended after falling from a window from a flat in London.

This sobering case illustrates the sheer amount of stress a lengthy court battle can inflict, and how complicated division of assets can become – not to mention the sometimes dire consequences of non-disclosure of assets.

It’s vital you appoint a legal firm with expertise in this area, who are experienced in managing a case that will take a heavy mental toll.

Rupert Murdoch and Anna Torv

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch married Scottish journalist Anna Murdoch Mann (nee Torv) in 1967, after separating from his first wife of 11 years, Patricia Brooker.

The couple had three children and were together for more than 30 years.

However, in 1998 they agreed to an “amicable” separation and divorced the following year.

Torv is said to have secured a $1.7 billion settlement, $110 million of which was in cash, according to ABC News. If that figure is accurate, it would have been the most expensive divorce settlement of all time. That number has since been overtaken following the divorce of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his former wife MacKenzie, who separated after 25 years of marriage.

The settlement involved Jeff handing 4% of Amazon to MacKenzie – an estimated value of a remarkable $29 billion.

One key difference between a ‘normal’ divorce and a high net worth divorce is often property ownership.

As California (the couple’s home state) is a community-property state, Torv could have walked away with half of Murdoch’s fortune, which was then valued at $7.8 billion, according to New York Magazine.

If you own property or assets, you will want to ensure that any agreement or order reached about how to divide them is fair and reasonable.

Finding the best advice

These case studies give you an idea of the expertise required to guide you through the divorce process to an amicable conclusion. It should also give you an idea of the sort of experience and knowledge to expect from your divorce solicitor.

If you have questions about how to proceed or would like to find out more about the service we provide, please do get in touch by calling our Client Services team on 01752 292201.

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