Should you marry someone not as rich as you?

Family Law|Stowe Family Law|July 11th 2016

When couples marry it’s not unusual  for one spouse to be better off than the other – especially is if it is a second marriage entered into later in life.

But once that marriage certificate is signed and the ‘I do’s have been pronounced, the poorer party acquires well-established rights in English law. If the new marriage eventually stumbles into divorce, our law dictates that the contributions of the poorer spouse to the richer one’s home life and success must recognised in the settlement – even if they never made much money or even never went out to work. Their future needs post-divorce must be met as much as it is possible and reasonable to do so.

In many cases (although not all), that may mean a straight 50-50 division of the assets available. In certain circumstances the poorer spouse may be  awarded more of the assets available than the richer one! I wonder how many wealthy people really think about this when caught up in the emotion and excitement of a marriage proposal?

In this new video I take a look at two recent examples of wealthy spouses divorcing poorer ones. The Estrada case generated plenty of headlines – fashion models and Saudi billionaires make good copy. Secondly, there is the much quieter but still interesting case discussed by our legal correspondent John Bolch in his column today.

So have a listen ask yourself: should you marry someone not as rich as you?



Video Transcript

Hello, welcome to my video blog. Today I thought I would ask this question:

Should you ever marry somebody who is not as rich as you?

If you do and if you get divorced, you may not feel happy with the outcome, especially if you earned all of the money long before the marriage ever took place.

There have two rather spectacular cases out recently about this and I thought we would take a look at them.

The first has been in all the newspapers and it is the case of Christina Estrada who was divorced offshore by her billionaire Saudi husband and he remarried. She was able to bring an application to the court under what is called Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. Providing the court is satisfied that there is jurisdiction to act and it is appropriate for an English court to hear the case, the court can make an award where there has been no or an unfair financial settlement offshore. Otherwise, she would have been thrown on to the mercy of her husband and would have had to take whatever he chose to give her. As it was, the court took the view that overall she was entitled to over £70 million; £53 million of which, he had to give her, the rest was her own assets. That is not the end of the story because she has actually got to get paid out. But it does show that the court will make an order in some circumstances in first sight it looks as though they don’t have jurisdiction but provided you can come within the rules, the court will act.

The second case is a case which has not received much press coverage, if at all, involves two quite elderly people. My colleague John Bolch has written about it today on the blog and the facts are there for you to read. Essentially it is two people, the husband was in his 60’s when he met and ultimately married his second wife. His first wife of 50 odd years had died and several years later he met this lady who became his second wife. She was in her late 40’s and she came into the marriage with next to nothing. The marriage lasted 16 years in which they worked because he had two care homes and the court found that at the end of the marriage there was about £10-£11 million in assets but most of it being acquired pre-marriage and the marital acquest, that means the money that was earned during the marriage came to about £2.4 million, so £1.2 was undeniably belonging to the wife. She said that wasn’t enough. She said that she was entitled to a share in everything else and she put in a claim for nearer £5 million. The court made an award of £2.3 million to the wife; the husband was left with over 75% of the matrimonial assets.

It is a lot of money to pay away and I wonder whether, in hindsight, given everything that he said during the case, whether he really appreciated that if the marriage broke down he would have to pay several million pounds to the wife. On the other hand, she was with him for 16 year and that has to count for something. But all of the basic assets were provided long before the marriage took place. In less esoteric levels that is what we find, we find that second marriage are more likely to break down and people who do get married later in life often find themselves disappointed. People complain that they married a spouse who is a gold digger who has got married for security and who hasn’t got married because she is madly in love with them, rather she is madly in love with their money. It happens but the law is clear. Needs have to be met and while the court will certainly take into account assets acquired pre-marriage, they will also take into account the needs of a spouse going forward. So marrying somebody who is in their 50’s or 60’s when you marry them, means that the court may well say that you have got to maintain them for the whole of the rest of their life, even if they bring nothing into the marriage.

So, let me ask the question again, should you ever marry somebody who hasn’t got as much money as you? Because on divorce you may not be happy with the outcome.

Thank you.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Spinner says:

    Could you do another one like this but titled “if you are a man should you get married”.

  2. Luke says:

    The answer to your question Marilyn is of course NO ! I am sure though that you would be aware that that would be my answer 🙂
    The 2 cases you talk about are not egregious, it is hard to be sympathetic to a stupid billionaire and although in the other case she got far more than she appears to have contributed at least he is still financially very comfortable.
    The cases that are far more disturbing are where the future of the wealthier person is seriously compromised by the courts taking half (or more than half) of the assets.
    I would go further as well, if you are earning most of the money in a relationship then marriage is a bad idea. You will not only lose half or more of the assets built up (which might or might not be fair), your pension will also be up for division and you could be paying spousal support forever – on top of child support if there is any. That is a hefty financial burden to be lumbered with and in many cases lives will be effectively destroyed – I’ve seen it.
    The truth is marriage creates financial uncertainty and for the wealthier party all of that uncertainty is bad – it’s far better to strike out that uncertainty by not getting married.

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