High profile divorces: when celebrities split

Stowe Family Law news placeholder logo
March 18, 2008

Millions of spectators round the world have been following the divorce battle between the McCartneys. Even compared to other high profile divorce cases, this one has grabbed media attention like no other, at least since the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

It was vicious. It was played out for all it was worth. On the one side: the abhorred but greatly distressed wife, who acts and speaks before she thinks. On the other: a tight-lipped phalanx of the most expensive black-suited lawyers in the country, out for a big win.

And now that it is over, it seems clear to me that there are no winners. Instead, everyone has come away humiliated.

McCartney publicly dumped Heather Mills. He issued proceedings against her based on her. Knowing her as well as he did, what did he expect her reaction would be? Deeply wounded, she emerged to fight back in every way she could – and the parties went to war.

If ever there was a way not to conduct a divorce it was this.

In this divorce case, as in many others up and down the country, the wife had reasonable needs that the husband was obliged to meet. Although McCartney is known for his frugal lifestyle, the parties nevertheless enjoyed a high standard of living during the marriage, with multiple homes and expensive trips overseas. More importantly, they have a child. The figures involved in this case are stratospheric, but the needs of the couple’s daughter Beatrice come first. English law recognises that McCartney and Mills share care of her, and will continue to do for the rest of their lives.

Even so, Mills had no hope of sharing jointly in her husband’s wealth. According to the law, she was entitled to provision for her housing and associated needs, and maintenance that would be “capitalised” – given to her as one lump sum.

What was needed was a pragmatic, ego-free settlement. This could have been concluded a year and a half ago, and would have allowed both parties to walk away with a private, dignified deal. They should have negotiated a commercial settlement. Instead, each one sought victory at the expense and humiliation of the other. The result: a horrible, prolonged court battle.

Mills has been vilified and has not succeeded in cutting a sympathetic figure – despite her best efforts. When she made a spectacle out of herself on GMTV, I found it difficult to pity her. Mired in a soup of anger and self-righteousness, she was out of control: “on a frolic of her own”, as lawyers are wont to say. When she walked into the high court last month, determined to represent herself after dispensing with the services of a top London law firm, I described her as a deluded fool. Her proposal for