Good advice to avoid legal pitfalls

When it comes to divorce, the matter is never pleasant and often not too simple. Occasionally, it is true, the final part - the declaration of a decree nisi - will be very swift, but what comes before could be highly protracted and painful, not least if lawyers are embroiled in a scrap to see who can get the most out of the situation.

Walking away from a confrontation could be costly. Few may find this more than Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone. His wife Slavica filed for divorce on the grounds that the 78-year old's workaholic lifestyle was putting too much strain on her. Mr Ecclestone did not turn up at the High Court to fight the charge of unreasonable behaviour and the woman to whom he had been married since the mid-1980s was granted a decree nici in seconds.

The upshot of this is that Mrs Ecclestone could end up with a record-breaking settlement, with a large slice of her former husband's £2.4 billion fortune up for grabs. Suddenly, the Formula One chief could have a major fight on his hands.

Of course, most people will be dealing with nothing like the fortunes the Ecclestones may concern themselves with. But then that very fact could mean that it is advantageous to create a situation where one does away with lawyers.

If a couple are heading for a situation where one is not willing to contest a case brought by another, it may be deemed worthwhile by both parties to get a DIY divorce and work out an agreement themselves.

Another aspect that may be helpful to both parties of such an agreement is that it will still be legally binding and, by being mutually agreed, should end the matter there and then without the potential for future disputes resurfacing.

That such a battle could happen was revealed this week by City fund manager Brian Myerson. Last February, Mr Myerson had to cede £9.5 million in cash from his fortune as a result of the court settlement. However, since then the credit crunch has hit his interest hard, with Mr Myerson's stocks losing 90 per cent of their value.

As a result, he has taken the matter to court to dispute the original settlement and attempt to claw back some of the cash. His QC told the court of appeal: "The husband's case is that the unforeseeable and unforeseen combination of forces at play within the global economy has undermined the assumptions upon which the order was made," a point with which the judge sympathised enough to describe the matter as "a rum do".

The argument continued that Mrs Myerson now holds 105 per cent of her ex-husband's assets and Mr Myerson minus five per cent.

Of course, some may not have too much sympathy for City tycoons in the current climate, but a real issue may arise if the matter of changing financial circumstances in a settlement becomes increasingly rooted in case law as a reason to revisit divorce settlements. Those who may try to move on with settled assumptions about their finances could be in for a potential shock.

For this reason, it may be much better to ensure the whole thing is indeed amicably settled. If it can be done without the cost of lawyers, then that will leave more money for both sides.

Written By Christopher Evans

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Published on: March 12, 2009

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