British Court Upholds Large Divorce Pact

By ROBERT BARR
The Associated Press
Thursday, May 24, 2007; 9:58 PM

LONDON -- Britain's Court of Appeal upheld a $95 million award to the ex-wife of an insurance tycoon on Thursday, the largest judgment ever in a contested divorce in England and Wales.

The court rejected businessman John Charman's argument that a lower court's award of just under 37 percent of his assets for his wife of 29 years, Beverley Charman, was "grotesque and unfair."

John Charman, 54, who built up his fortune during his marriage, is president and chief executive of Bermuda-based Axis Capital Holdings Ltd., and former senior deputy chairman of the Lloyd's insurance market.

The couple divorced last year and have two adult children.

In the lower court ruling, Judge Paul Coleridge said the Charmans had "a long marriage where the parties started with nothing," but in which John Charman eventually earned vast sums.

A 2000 judgment by the House of Lords in a case known as White v. White substituted a standard of "fairness" in determining British divorce awards for one that required assessing the "reasonable requirements" of the former partners.

"In big money cases the White factor has more than doubled the levels of award and it has been said by many that London has become the divorce capital of the world for aspiring wives," the Court of Appeal said. "Whether this is a desirable result needs to be considered."

The Charman ruling could be dwarfed by former Beatle Paul McCartney's split with his second wife, Heather Mills McCartney. Paul McCartney's wealth is reputed to be around $1.6 billion _ but he was already very rich before his second marriage.

Another case that may be more relevant to McCartney is that of Melissa Miller, an American who won a $9.9 million settlement after a 33-month marriage _ or about 15 percent of her ex-husband's assets.

Lord Nicholls, one of five judges who heard that case, noted that Melissa Miller had enjoyed a pampered lifestyle, and "that was not a standard of living the wife would be likely to achieve for herself," he said.

Despite the appeals court's concern about London becoming a divorce capital, there are richer pickings in the United States.

Forbes.com speculated last month that the McCartneys will come in at No. 6 on the most expensive celebrity divorce list, at $60 million.

The top five were all American cases, with No. 1 on the Forbes list going to Michael and Juanita Jordan, a breakup which could cost the basketball star more than the Neil Diamond-Marcia Murphey split, which cost an estimated $150 million.

Charman said he hoped to take his case to the House of Lords, the final appeal court.

"English family law is in a mess," he said.

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On the Net: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2007/503.html


© 2007 The Associated Press