Most divorces are hard. But divorces become progressively difficult — and complicated — as children, property, businesses, pensions, inheritances and other assets become involved. Certain cases — high or ultra-high-net-worth divorce cases — can be some of the most complex. But what exactly do these cases involve? Our high-net-worth divorce solicitors take a look at two high-net-worth divorce settlement examples and outline what you can learn from them to ensure your divorce goes as smoothly as possible.
Divorce Settlement Example 1: The UK’s Largest Settlement
In 2012, Sir Chris Hohn, an English hedge-fund manager, filed for divorce against his then-spouse Jamie Cooper. The couple was described as the UK’s most generous philanthropists, having reportedly donated over £1 billion to charity and set up the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIF). In a far-from-amicable divorce that took a year to reach completion, Miss Cooper was awarded £337 million in a divorce settlement, despite protests from Mr Hohn that he was an “unbelievable money maker” who had brought more wealth to the relationship. The court ultimately made its decision by looking at his ex-wife’s influence in the marriage and her contribution to their charity.
However, the court battles didn’t end there. In 2018, the couple were once again back in court, this time centred on the foundation they jointly set up. The High Court heard that Miss Cooper sought a £280 million payout from the CIF to a charity, Big Win Philanthropy, she established following the divorce. The court approved the grant, which was swiftly followed up by an appeal that argued that the litigation had its origins in the “breakdown of the relationship” between the couple.
This case clearly outlines the dangers of long court battles. While it’s unknown exactly how much the case cost in legal fees, mediation would have likely been a much more cost-effective option.
Divorce Settlement Example 2: The ‘Bankruptcy’ Case with a Tragic Ending
Property Developer Scot Young and his then-wife Michelle Young were involved in one of the most long-fought, costly and high-profile high-net-worth divorce cases we’ve seen in recent years. Despite splitting in 2006, divorce applications and proceedings lasted eight years due to disputes over the financial settlement, costing Ms Young a staggering £17 million.
Mr Young’s case was that a collapsed property deal had left him penniless — a claim Ms Young disputed, stating that he had “a few billion” at least, hidden in offshore trusts. Ms Young wanted what she felt was her fair share: £300 million excluding legal expenses.
Following further court hearings, 65 in fact, a final hearing was held, by which time Mr Young had been legally declared bankrupt, citing debts of over £28 million. However, he was hesitant to disclose his assets. Following an investigation into his non-disclosure, Young was found guilty of contempt of court and sentenced to a six-month custodial sentence. What the Judge later found was that Mr Young had assets totalling £45 million. £5 million was retained for legitimate debts, and Young was instructed to pay his ex-spouse £26 million.
This case has a particularly tragic ending. The sheer emotional intensity of his divorce and prison sentence led to Mr Young being treated for drug and alcohol abuse. He was also diagnosed as bipolar. Not long after the final judgement, Mr Young fell to his death from a fourth-floor window in a flat in London.
What the Brewster’s Millions case — as it was dubbed in the press — clearly highlights is not just the consequences of non-disclosure but also the emotional strain a divorce battle — especially when fought under the intense media glare — can have on those involved.
If you are a high-net-worth individual (HNWI) who needs assistance or advice on your divorce, contact a solicitor at KMJ today.