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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 May 2006, 17:37 GMT 18:37 UK
Ex-wives win key divorce rulings
Julia and Kenneth McFarlane
Julia McFarlane will receive maintenance for life
The Law Lords have ruled two ex-wives are entitled to their former husbands' millions in landmark rulings.

Melissa Miller can keep the 5m she was awarded out of her ex-husband Alan's 17.5m fortune, said the lords.

Julia McFarlane is entitled to 250,000 a year from her ex-husband Kenneth for life - not just the five years decided by the Court of Appeal.

The House of Lords' decisions could have far-reaching implications for future big money divorce settlements.

'Stay-at-home mothers'

Mrs McFarlane had argued she gave up a high-earning career when she married 18 years earlier.

After the ruling, she said: "Obviously I am very happy."

The judgement recognises her sacrifice and that marriage is a partnership
James Pirrie
Lawyer for Julia McFarlane

Her lawyer James Pirrie described the judgement as "groundbreaking".

"Until today, maintenance for stay-at-home mothers was going to be based purely on living expenses.

"Now judges must consider as well contribution and compensation. For people like Julia this is only fair.

"The judgement recognises her sacrifice and that marriage is a partnership," Mr Pirrie said.

He said it had been a joint decision with her husband that she give up her career to raise their children, which enabled him to increase his earning power.

An absurd judgement, basically a charter for scorned women
Matt Munro, Bristol

"Isn't it fair that she should receive a fair share of that?," he said.

He said the ruling was at odds with divorce law in the rest of the world, but the Law Lords' ruling showed that the world was now out of step.

Mr McFarlane said: "Whilst I am glad that the judgement of the House of Lords today brings these matters to a close, I preferred the Court of Appeal's recognition that the achievement of financial independence at the earliest opportunity was a vital part of a fair outcome.

"I now look forward to enjoying life, once again, away from the media spotlight, with my lovely wife and family."

His lawyer, Jeremy Levison, said there was "some optimism" in the "extremely complicated judgements" as they did not necessarily mean that Mrs McFarlane would continue to receive payments for life.

"The court says that as and when the children are a bit older and her child-looking-after obligations diminish, they rather expect her to return to work to help herself."

High standard of living

In the Miller case, Mr Miller challenged an earlier court order that he pay his ex-wife the 5m after their brief marriage failed.

Alan and Melissa Miller
Alan Miller had disputed the 5m settlement for Melissa

The Millers, who lived in Chelsea, London, were married for two years and nine months and had no children when they split.

A judge had decided Mrs Miller was entitled to a substantial settlement because she married with "reasonable expectation" of a future wealthy lifestyle.

The judge had also cited Mr Miller's adultery as a factor in the award.

The Law Lords dismissed Mr Miller's appeal but said the courts should not have taken into account the husband's behaviour.

After Wednesday's ruling, Marcus Dearle, a family lawyer who works at the firm representing Mrs Miller, said: "What actually happened, at the end of the day, was that the judge focused on the high standard of living that Mrs Miller and Mr Miller enjoyed, and also the fact that a lot of money was earned in that very short... marriage."

Significant rulings

Family lawyer Alan Kaufman said one key issue arising from the rulings was that conduct would not be considered in dividing assets, unless it was extreme conduct.

However, Mr Kaufman said: "These cases are very limited to the big money cases, except the issue of conduct applies to all divorces.

"Lawyers are going to be very happy with what the House of Lords have said because nobody wanted to go into any divorce situation, going back over the past with recriminations and who was to blame for the breakdown.

"We don't like doing it and thankfully in most cases we won't be doing it in the future."

The rulings are being seen as the Lords' most significant on divorce in five years.

Observers have speculated on the importance of the rulings to any divorce hearing between former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and his wife Heather Mills.

Martin Loxley, of law firm Irwin Mitchell, said the Miller ruling was likely to "significantly increase the cost of divorce settlements off the back of short marriages".

"As Paul McCartney is rumoured to be worth in excess of 800m and earning up to 650,000 a day, he will no doubt feel the impact of the Miller decision in the sum sought by Heather Mills after their four-year marriage," he added.

Julia McFarlane's solicitor reacts to the ruling

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