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Ecclestone v Stunt the largest financial settlement ever?7th July 2017 Family Law
Another day, another celebrity divorce. Petra Ecclestone (daughter of former Formula 1 chief executive Bernie Ecclestone) and her husband of six years James Stunt announced last week that they were separating. The case has piqued interest for the high value of the assets involved, even in the celebrity world of high net worth couples and individuals.
There are rumours that the assets to be divided between the couple could be worth around £15 billion. This extravagant figure starts to seem more plausible when those assets are examined in more detail: a 100-room mansion in Los Angeles, for instance, is rumoured to be on the market for around £158 million, whilst the former matrimonial home in Chelsea is valued in the region of £75 - £100 million. On Friday, a judge ordered that James Stunt should vacate the Chelsea property, to enable Petra and the couple's three children to return to the family home.
The division of financial assets can be the most acrimonious element of any separation, and this is often the case where the assets are very substantial. The courts of England and Wales have a wide discretion when dividing assets between divorcing parties. They apply certain statutory factors, with a particular emphasis on the needs of each party, to determine the appropriate division in the particular circumstances of the case. The law in England and Wales has a reputation for being particularly generous to the party bringing a claim against the wealthier spouse, which has led to London in particular being referred to in some circles as 'the divorce capital of the world'.
Where the division of assets is not dealt with at the time of the divorce, the powers that the court has could come back to haunt the wealthier party in years to come. In 2016, the UK Supreme Court in the case of Vince v Wyatt confirmed that there was no statutory time limit to bring an application for financial provision upon divorce. Kathleen Wyatt was given permission to bring financial proceedings against her ex-husband, Dale Vince, whose green energy company had amassed a worth of at least £57 million since the parties divorce in 1984. A final settlement between the two has yet to be reached.
One thing that could make the Ecclestone-Stunt situation clearer is the fact that the couple reportedly entered into a pre-nuptial agreement before their marriage. Whilst pre-nuptial agreements are not strictly legally binding in England and Wales, the judgment of the UK Supreme Court in the 2010 case of Radmacher v Granatino means that the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement will stand in the event of a divorce unless it would not be fair to the parties to hold them to that agreement in the circumstances.
If you have any queries in relation to the distribution of financial assets upon divorce, myself and my colleagues in the family team would be happy to assist. We regularly act for high net worth individuals and can provide advice on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial agreements as well as applications for financial provision.
To discuss any family law related issues please do ot hesitate to contact the team.