As readers will know by now Boris Johnson does not normally do austere articles. He says today: ” We don’t do sex scandals. We don’t dabble our fingers in the stuff of people’s souls. I would not normally dream of citing a divorce case now unfolding before the courts; and therefore I will keep the details to the minimum before we come to the point at interest.
Let us say that there is a certain glamorous blonde in the throes of parting with her husband. She claims that he is worth £400 million and that under the laws of England she is entitled to half of his assets. He claims that this dosh has all but vanished. As soon as she lost that loving feeling, she found that his cash was gone, gone, gone and could not now be retrieved.”
Boris feels that if anyone’s going to make money out of misery, it may as well be us: “I have no idea who is right. It may be that the husband never had the £400m, or it may be that he left it in the back of a taxi or accidentally mixed it up with the dog food.
But the crucial point is that the search for this cash is causing the wife a fortune in legal bills. She has therefore done a sensational deal – and this new development is causing people to besmirch the morals of our great capital city. A firm called Harbour Litigation Funding has announced that it is now bankrolling the wife in her search for the missing £400m – in return for a share of Eldorado if she is successful.
Top lawyers tell me they have never seen anything like it. Some posh banks may have traditionally offered to lend rich people the cost of their divorce, on the usual terms, in the hope that this may allow them to build up a lucrative relationship with the client. But this is possibly the first time a divorce has been treated as a joint-stock venture. This is the first example of a Divorce Fund, in which both the backers and the aggrieved spouse intend to share any recovered funds, and it is of course encouraging the critics to claim that London is the “divorce capital of the world”.
Oh dear, oh dear. Is this the reputation we want? It is one thing to be known as the financial capital of the world, the cultural capital of the world or the world’s leading centre for health sciences. But divorce? Before we all despair, we should be clear that we are not here talking of the general rise in divorce and family breakdown. We mean, in this context, the attractions of London to the folk who winter in Verbier and summer in Palm Beach, and who come to London to get divorced, darlink, because they have a residence here, and because of the famous 2001 case of White v White. It was then that the House of Lords ruled that divorcing spouses should receive a settlement that did not merely reflect their reasonable financial requirements.
Being a partner in the marriage, supporting a spouse by staying at home and taking care of children and domestic matters, was enough to entitle you to half the other person’s wealth. If you want an example of the impact of this ruling, think of the case of a much-loved British musical genius; and if you can’t guess it may jog your memory if I say his ex-wife has one leg.
In one sense the ruling has been seen as pro-equality, since it insists on marriage as an equal partnership. It has been seen as pro-women, in that it is making some rich ex-wives much richer than they might otherwise have been.
Others have seen it as sexist and paternalist, encouraging young girls to think that they need only use their charms to hitch themselves to some footballer or pop star, and then take them to the cleaners when love dies. Baroness Ruth Deech of the Bar Standards Board has condemned White v White for “sending the wrong signal” to such girls, encouraging them to hurl themselves at rich men.
As it happens I am not sure that the Baroness is right to call the ruling sexist, since it is increasingly benefiting young men who find themselves splitting from very rich women – such as another global pop star I can think of (clue: she used to have a kind of conical bra). The new Harbour Litigation divorce-funding scheme seems to be specifically targeted at the rich, and before you say that the financiers are still bloodsuckers profiting from the misery of others, let me add the clinching argument in favour of this new financial instrument.
These zillionaires are going to get divorced, whatever we do. And if they are going to get divorced, isn’t there a cynical economic logic in encouraging them to do it in London?
Far from being a sign of moral malaise, I am inclined to see this Divorce Fund initiative as the latest evidence of the resilience of the London economy. Just as the financial services industry is reeling, they come up with a new and inventive offering. Rich wives and toyboys across the world can see the prudence of pestering their spouses to maintain an address in London – just in case it all goes wrong.
Yes, it is a sad title, to be known as the divorce capital of the world. But in one sense it is not without its economic compensations.”
The full article appears in The Daily Telegraph