The Court of Appeal has thrown out a husband’s demand for more money from his ex-wife. Yes, you read that right. In this recent case, the wife was far wealthier than the husband.
The stereotype of the wealthy husband being ‘taken to the cleaners’ by his vengeful ex is deeply embedded in our collective imaginations but as every family lawyer will confirm, the shoe is sometimes on the other foot. Men are just as entitled to a substantial settlement if their former wife was the breadwinner or wealthier partner.
This case concerned Saudi nationals Mohamed Salim Alyami and his ex-wife Nora Ali Musallam. They married in 1998 and lived in Jeddah before moving to London so the husband could study.
Mrs Musallam was the daughter of a multi-billionaire who had been an advisor to Saudi King Fahd and when her father died in 2004, she received a large inheritance. Mr Alyami, by contrast, had no money of his own and had worked as a public relations manager for a shopping mall owned by his wife’s family.
In London the couple lived in Holland Park and led a well-heeled lifestyle with servants and a full time driver. But the relationship broke down in 2008 and the couple promptly embarked on a rancorous divorce, during which, as the wealthier partner, Mrs Musallam contributed to her former husband’s legal costs.
When the case came up before Mr Justice Coleridge, he ordered Mrs Mussallam to buy her former husband a £450,000 house and pay him a lump sum of £50,000. The house would improve his contact with the couple’s three children, as he was by then living in a bedsit, and the money would help him to pay off his debts. Once the children had reached the age of 19,. the house would be sold, with the assets split between the partners.
Neither of the former couple were happy with the ruling. According to a report in the Telegraph, Mrs Musallam was “outraged” and Mr Alyami appealed, hoping to increase the lump sum payment to £320,000.
But the Court of Appeal was unimpressed, describing his case as “unpersuasive” and “without merit”.
In his ruling, Lord Justice Thorpe said Mr Justice Coleridge had been correct in his calculation of costs, adding:
“It seems to me it is impossible for the husband to identify any point of principle or practice that would come to his aid to circumscribe [Mr Justice Coleridge’s]’s discretion.”
Lord Justice Thorpe was pretty forthright about the amounts of money both Mr Alyami and Mrs Musallam have spent wrangling in the courts – and this is where, in my opinion, we come to the nub of this particular case. He noted:
“There is a measure of profligacy in the bills on both sides”.
Profligacy seems like a fair word to use. Mrs Musallam is reported to have spent more than £800,000 on the case, while Mr Alyami’s legal bill is now almost £500,000.
In Lord Justice Thorpe’s words:
“The reality of the case is that the husband has run up a bill of nearly half a million pounds without having any assets with which to discharge it other than the £60,000 he managed to scrape together,”
“This situation ought never to have developed. The costs in this case are quite disproportionate to the issues that had to be decided.”
Undoubtedly. No doubt Mrs Musallam will be able to pay her bill but £500,000 is a very large legal bill for a man of limited means. You cannot help but wonder why common sense does not seem to have intervened at any point.
Of course emotions often run high in divorce, and if it is a bitter separation, emotions are likely to be even rawer. In such situations, some people just cannot resist the temptation to strike out at out the person they once loved through the courts and legal system, even when there is little to be gained and the chances of success are slim. But once litigation fever sets in, it gets ever harder to step back, take a deep breath and see the situation clearly.
Perhaps Mr Alyami had become so used to a wealthy lifestyle that he had lost any sense of the reality of money. But that bill will still have to be paid.
Photo of Jeddah by toyohara via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence