Simon Thomas
Posted on 1 Aug 2016

Former model wins £75m divorce battle from Saudi billionaire

The High Court recently heard a case which was anything but usual. Some reports have claimed that this was the largest financial claim following a divorce ever decided in this country. The wealth of the parties was so spectacular that it is interesting to consider the figures, even if to do so is only to show how atypical the case was.

Interestingly, even with the large sums of money to be dealt with, the Judge, Mrs. Justice Roberts, did not approach the case with a “broad brush” approach. Rather, she undertook a forensically detailed examination of the background and current circumstances of the parties in her search for the “fair” solution, which is the standard set for all money cases, whether large or small.

The background

  • The wife, an American citizen aged 54, applied for a financial settlement for herself and the 13 year old daughter of the parties.
  • The parties had been married for 12 years. 
  • The parties were divorced when the husband pronounced, in Saudi Arabia, “talaq” (divorce) under Sharia law. 
  • The husband had been diagnosed terminally ill with cancer.
  • The wife had assets of £15 million in her own name, including properties in London and Beverley Hills.
  • The husband is aged 61. 
  • It was acknowledged that the husband was "extremely wealthy", although he claimed that he had personal assets of “only” £23 million and an interest in trust assets of £95 million. 
  • The husband accepted that his wealth had previously been significantly greater, but said that in 2013 he had entered into a “contract” with his three daughters from previous marriages under which he had “sold” his assets for £512 million. He was entitled to continue to receive the income on those assets, although he said he had not been paid either the capital or any income.
  • The wife said that she believed that the husband still had the ability to use the assets “sold” to the daughters. She also said that there had been reports that the husband had wealth estimated at £6 billion.

The wife’s claims

The wife claimed a lump sum of £197 million, to include a housing fund of £63 million. She also sought maintenance, capitalised to a lump sum of £127 million.

In support of her claim, the wife produced a budget for her estimated annual expenses in the future, which included:- 

  • £2 million for annual travel (partly by private jet).
  • £1 million for clothing, including £40,000 for a new fur coat (each year!) and £116,000 for handbags.
  • £495,000 for cars.
  • £336,000 for staff costs.

The husband’s response

In response to the wife’s claim for a lump sum of £197 million, the husband argued that a total of £20 million, to be paid immediately, with a further £17 million paid over 5 years, would be sufficient to cover the needs of the wife, to cover both capital and maintenance. In addition, he proposed £150,000 per year for the maintenance of the child.

The decision of the judge

The judge:- 

  • said that she considered the claims by the wife for her personal requirements were grossly inflated and unnecessary in the context of what could be considered adequate provision to cover her reasonable needs.
  • found that the proposal by the husband was neither proportionate nor reasonable having regard to the available resources and the luxurious lifestyle lived by the parties before the marriage broke down.

The judge ordered that the husband should pay:-

  •  £18 million as a housing fund for the wife (in addition to the £15 million which she already owned)
  • Maintenance for the wife at the initial rate of £2.5 million per year, reducing to £1.26 million by her 75th birthday. However, the judge ordered that the maintenance should be capitalised at the figure of £44.3 million, to be paid immediately.
  • Maintenance for the child capitalised and paid immediately in the sum of £1.2 million.

Who “won”?

It is often said that, in cases involving money after a divorce, neither party can claim to have “won”. There is usually just much less to go round.

Where there is a great deal of money, the consequences can be viewed differently from the average case. No general conclusions should be drawn from the very unusual circumstances of this case, except that the judge went to very great pains to assess all the relevant aspects to reach what she regarded as the fair result.

By most standards, the wife became a wealthy woman and, by most standards, the husband had been and remains a very wealthy man.

For preliminary, confidential advice, please contact Simon Thomas, Head of the Family Team by telephone +44 (0)1392 687360 (direct line) or by email simon.thomas@michelmores.com