Divorcing a rich man is no 'meal ticket' for life - you need to get a job

Divorce lawyers see the death of ‘meal ticket’ divorces - is this fair?

Diplomatic immunity court case

The end of the 'meal ticket' divorce is nigh. Courts are increasingly choosing to limit the length of time that the ex-wives of rich men (or ex husbands of rich women) can pick up a hefty monthly payment from their former spouse. If they want to maintain the lifestyle they had when they were married, then they'll have to get a job.

Traditionally a less well-off woman divorcing a rich man (or vice versa) could expect spousal maintenance payments for the rest of their lives - to keep them in the manner to which they have become accustomed. However, a report for The Telegraph, claims that an increasing number of cases are seeing family courts award maintenance payments for a limited period of time only.

Why?

Elizabeth Hicks, a Partner and family law expert at Irwin Mitchell's London office points out that this meets one of the basic aims of the courts. She explains: "It is important to remember that the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 – which is the statute which governs how a family's assets and income are divided on a divorce – makes it plain that the Court must look at bringing a married couples' financial claims against each other to an end at the earliest possible opportunity." Increasingly, she says: "The courts are now making this more of a reality."

The trend apparently moved up a gear last year, when Ian Malcolm Wright successfully applied to cut the amount he had to pay to his ex-wife Tracey. He had been paying maintenance since 2008 - during which time Tracey had chosen not to work - and argued that as he approached retirement they would be increasingly difficult to afford. The court decided that the payments were to reduce over a five year period leading up to his retirement - at which point they should stop. The judge in the case added the opinion that divorcees with children over the age of seven should expect to work for a living.

Hicks, points out: "This decision seems to illustrate the sea change in the way the Family Court are now looking at spousal maintenance. It is one of a long line of authorities where single Judges have made it plain that spousal maintenance is no longer a meal ticket for life. The fact that it was a decision on Appeal gave it greater weight."

Still big payouts

Of course, each case is still considered on its merits. The law is designed to be flexible enough to take each individual's circumstances into consideration. There will, therefore, still be cases where a wife can successfully argue she has sacrificed her budding career for her husband and children, and after decades out of the workplace, cannot hope to make up the lost ground in the time she has left in work, and therefore she needs spousal support.

The payouts will also take into account the needs of the ex-spouses - to ensure that one half of the couple is not left in dire circumstances while the other lives the high life. This idea of 'needs' is another flexible one, which has allowed impressively huge payments to ex-spouses.

It is why earlier this month ex-model Christina Estrada (pictured) received a divorce settlement from billionaire Sheikh Walid Juffali, which was worth £75 million - after 12 years of marriage. This includes an annual income of £2.5 million a year. The case hinged on Estrada's 'needs', which she put at £196 million, but the court cut back. Despite the cuts there will be those wondering how anyone can 'need' £2.5 million a year, or indeed a home worth £18 million.

So while the idea of a 'meal ticket for life' may be on the wane, there will continue to be cases where marrying and divorcing a rich man or woman will keep you in the lap of luxury for the rest of your life.

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