Examining divorce matters involving footballers including the landmark case of Parlour –v– Parlour

It was Eddie Murphy in his stand-up show RAW who gave a side-splitting skit where his fictional wife from Africa decides she wants a divorce from him and demands, “Eddieee… I want half, Eddieeee…”. This one great line, like many others, have subsequently made it into our popular culture. This post will not comment on divorce laws in the United States, as every state has different rules, and I am more concerned with a specific area of UK law. However, it is interesting to note that when most people think of divorce involving rich couples, regardless of their nationality or the jurisdiction they find themselves in, most believe that the assets are automatically split down the middle 50-50.

The House of Lords decision in White v White (2000) is a landmark case in redistribution of finances as well as property on divorce in the UK which builds on this belief. This case involved a couple with assets exceeding £4.5m which was more than either needed for their reasonable requirements. It was held that the absence of financial need did not mean departing from a more generous settlement for an applicant in big money cases. This, therefore, enables the courts to make settlements reflecting the wealth of the parties, and not just their needs and requirements.

Lord Nicholls’ leading speech seemed to suggest that he intended much of what he said to apply to all divorce cases, and not just big money ones. Lord Nicholls said that in all cases, regardless of division of assets, a judge would always be well advised to check his tentative views on distribution of assets against the “yardstick of equality of division”. This was not to introduce a presumption of equality in all cases, but “to ensure the absence of discrimination”, for instance, between a wage earner, and a child-carer, thereby recognising the non-financial contribution of the parent caring for children.

This judgment no doubt had high-earning celebrity types all in a spin. Perhaps none so more than our own modern day footballers. In 2004 the case of Parlour v Parlour, saw Ray Parlour’s ex-wife, Karen Parlour, winning a landmark appeal court decision to claim more than a third of the ex-Arsenal player’s future income. The mother-of-three, whose marriage to £1.2 million-a-year midfielder Ray Parlour was dissolved in 2002, was told by the Court of Appeal that her award of £250,000 a year personal maintenance would be increased to £406,500 (this to be reviewed after four years). In addition to the award, she also received two mortgage-free houses worth more than £1 million and a £250,000 lump sum, plus the £12,500 a year Parlour was paying for each of his children, then aged eight, six and four.

Parlour had offered her £120,000 a year in settlement, however, his ex-wife and her solicitors rejected this offer. The three judges at the Court of Appeal had been asked to rule that, in principle, the post-divorce income of a high-earning spouse should be split 50-50 in the same way as other matrimonial assets to reflect the vital input of the other partner to the marriage. Mrs Parlour accepted under examination that, because her relationship with the premiership star lasted only seven years, she could not really claim the full 50% that she argued for.

However, Parlour was criticised by the court for the preparation of his financial disclosure documentation, the all important Form E. His ex-wife was summarily awarded well beyond her assessed income needs as well as a handsome capital settlement. Her solicitors, Clintons, said the judgment would make similar settlements involving high income families fairer in future. Fairer for whom is a debatable subject. Fairer for the long time wife who supported her husband throughout his struggle with depression, alcohol, gambling or drug dependency while playing football, perhaps. Fairer for the stereotypical “WAG” who spends the majority of their time shopping and partying as this exert from The Secret Footballer suggests:

‘I haven’t worked for a club that hasn’t had a player caught out by his girlfriend or wife. But there are plenty of footballers’ partners who turn a blind eye to indiscretions because they know that the life they enjoy would disappear if they walked out. I know wives who have walked in on their other half when he’s in full swing, gone shopping, come home and had his dinner on the table as if nothing had happened. They simply cannot do without a designer wardrobe, two weeks in Dubai and half of Tiffany’s every Christmas and birthday, and so look the other way.’

The full, and quite revealing exert from The Secret Footballer can be found here for those that are interested and I must say that it is an extraordinary read even though one must accept that it is a one-sided account of anecdotal events written anonymously with anonymous protagonists throughout.

Since the Parlour case there have been many more high-profile divorce cases involving footballers and their wives. In 2008 Thierry Henry reached a divorce settlement with his ex-wife, Claire Merry, reported to be worth around £8 million. The couple had received a fast track divorce on the basis of Henry’s “unreasonable behaviour”, which is a rather ambiguous term that can cover a variable multitude of supposed sins from controlling behaviour, selfishness, lack of interest of an intimate nature, not helping with chores and preferring company of male friends, to being addicted to Football Manager.

Henry’s fortune was then estimated at approximately £25 million. A similar result as to the Parlour case would have meant Ms Merry would have received £2 million a year during the course of Henry’s four-year contract with Barcelona due to his wage increase to £130,000 per week, as well as a large share of the personal fortune he had already accumulated during his career. Henry had argued that he had been working in top-level football long before they met and unlike the Parlour case their money had not been owned or created jointly or with her support.

Then of course there is the Ashley Cole and Cheryl Cole divorce saga following his frequent alleged infidelities (Cheryl, most Arsenal fans could have told you the likelihood of this back in 2006/07. The lad had form when it came to cheating on those he supposedly had affection for). In 2010 the couple agreed to a divorce settlement in the High Court although actual figures were never fully disclosed. Both were estimated to have an approximate fortune of £10 million each and it was surmised that Mrs Cole received £4.5 million from her ex-husband. If this is true it raises interesting questions as to who was seen to have the greater earning power or celebrity longevity, a footballer or a pop star?

Divorces will continue to occur whether they involve the average couple in the street or a highly paid footballer. I know I have named a number of former Arsenal players here but I am sure there is no direct correlation between leaving Arsenal FC and having one’s marriage breakdown (although one might note that since leaving Arsenal a certain Dutchman’s Twitter bio has gone from ‘proud dad of two amazing kids with my beautiful wife’ to just ‘Manchester United & Holland player’. Trouble in paradise, old chap?)

 

There are of course plenty of other footballers at other clubs who have or are going through divorce, for example, it has recently been reported that Queen’s Park Rangers striker Djibril Cissé and his wife of seven years, Jude, are set to divorce. But is there a ray of hope for footballers who want to protect their vast wealth from their possibly soon to be ex-wives?

In 2010 the UK Supreme Court ruled that a pre-nuptial agreement was binding in the case of Radmacher v Granatino [2010] UKSC 42, which involved a German paper company heiress and her ex-husband. Katrin Radmacher’s ex-husband Nicolas Granatino went to the Supreme Court after appeal judges slashed his divorce settlement from more than £5m to £1m. The Supreme Court said it agreed that in the right case such agreements can have decisive or compelling weight. The case was seen by lawyers as a test of whether pre-nup agreements were applicable in law in England and Wales. The justices dismissed Mr Granatino’s appeal by a majority of eight to one. They said that following their ruling, which was published on the Supreme Court’s website, “it will be natural to infer that parties entering into agreements will intend that effect be given to them”.

So a note to all you young footballers out there who are considering getting married to your childhood sweethearts, or in the case of Raheem Sterling one of your “baby mamas”, why not get a pre-nup drafted and save yourself an awful lot of time and money in the High Court in the future.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the writer and this article does not constitute legal advice.

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