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Divorce in the public eye

News of Adele’s separation from her husband, Simon Konecki, has dominated the media over the last few days. Whilst, perhaps, given her success, this is no surprise but ti did make me pause and think, how often do any of us ever stop to think what it must be like for those involved?

The breakdown of any relationship, marriage or civil partnership, is one of the most stressful experiences any of us will ever have to endure.

How much harder it must be to live out that experience under the glare of publicity.

Figures vary as to how much Adele’s fortune might be worth, ranging from US$200million to US$180million and £145 million. There is frenetic speculation as to whether Adele will need to agree to share that equally with her husband.

In reality, we will probably never know but the case does raise a number of important and interesting issues.

The first of those is whether the divorce will take place in England and Wales or in California where the couple has lived and where they have property, even though both are British.

If a divorce were to take place in California, there may well have to be an equal division of their net assets.

The choice of jurisdiction is increasingly an issue which couples must deal with immediately after or even before they decide to separate. It is vital that they receive expert advice from lawyers who specialise in international family work.

If a divorce were to take place in this country, it does not necessarily follow that there would be an equal division.

One point that seems to have been overlooked by the media is that the Court would look at the total capital which had been built up during the marriage not just by Adele but by both parties and then decide how that should be divided.

The “starting point” might be equal division but might not be the result.

The reasons for that are various:

Firstly, English law is based on achieving a fair resolution which does not always mean equality.

Secondly, the couple married in 2016 and appear to have separated towards the end of 2018. Before they married, they had been together for 4 or 5 years.

A relationship of 7 years or so is quite substantially less than the average length of a marriage in this country which is between 11 and 12 years. That might be a reason why an equal division would not be fair.

Perhaps the most important reason why an equal division would not be fair is because of the enormous success which Adele has had, very largely through her own efforts.

She may well be able to successfully suggest that she has made such a special or “stellar” contribution building up a substantial wealth in a very short period of time through her own talent and ability that an equal division would simply not be fair.

Finally, the situation in which Adele and her husband now find themselves could quite easily have been avoided if they had entered into a prenuptial agreement. Such an agreement could have been drafted so it was binding no matter where the couple lived during the marriage and no matter where they might choose to get divorced.

It would set out clearly what they each wished to happen in the event of a separation and divorce.

Prenuptial agreements have a growing status under English law, although judges are not automatically bound to enforce them. They do carry an enormous amount of weight. Apart from setting out what the couple would like to happen regarding their finances and the arrangements for any children they may have.

Graham was based at the firm's London family law office. His career as a family law specialist has spanned three decades. He is an experienced advocate, mediator and arbitrator who has worked in all areas of family law.

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