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Last Updated: Wednesday, 25 October 2006, 23:14 GMT 00:14 UK
The real cost of divorce
By Claire Bothwell
BBC Money Programme

Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills McCartney
The McCartneys' acrimonious split-up is filling the newspapers' pages

With half of all marriages failing and the payouts getting bigger, Britain's divorce industry is booming.

London is the newly titled divorce capital of the world, with top lawyers claiming that divorce tourists are now coming to the UK hoping to cash-in on our favourable divorce laws.

Recent cases have forced the stars and super-rich to pay multi-million pound divorce settlements to their ex-spouses.

And what the rich and famous do in the courts is setting precedents for the rest of us.

Landmark cases this year alone have made divorce a lucrative option for the poorer spouse.

This is what housewife Melissa Miller found when the House of Lords decided to award her 5m after less than three years of marriage.

Big names

Raymond Tooth
Having done it for so long, I am quick
Raymond Tooth, lawyer

Top lawyer Raymond Tooth, nicknamed Jaws by the press because of the way he fights for millions on behalf of his super-rich clients, has some controversial advice.

"A rich man in my view should not marry a poor woman. If he does, then he must have a pre-nuptial agreement," he says.

Mr Tooth's list of celebrity clients include Sadie Frost, Cheryl Barrymore and Eimear Montgomery, for whom he won a 15m divorce settlement earlier this year.

His services do not come cheap at 450 per hour.

But he believes he is value for money. "Having done it for so long, I am quick," he says.

But it's not just the ex-spouses and the lawyers who are making big bucks out of divorce.

Private investigators

Couples divorcing have no real idea up front who is going to get what

There is a whole industry waiting to jump on new divorcees, from party organisers who will help you plan the divorce party of the year to private investigators who can track down that secret Swiss bank account.

With so much at stake for the super-rich in the divorce courts, finding your ex's stash of cash is crucial.

Private investigators are the latest people to benefit from the divorce industry boom.

Their methods are often clandestine, one private detective told The Money Programme.

"The majority of information that is obtained is obtained illegally - by blagging," he says.

"Blagging is a term generally accepted within the industry which means that you make phone calls to the other party or to organisations to obtain details on the pretext of the person making that call being the account holder."

Track record

At the other end of the price scale, divorcee Jo Gideon has managed to go through her latest divorce on a shoe-string budget.

A successful entrepreneur and business consultant, Ms Gideon's track record with relationships is less successful.

She has just gone through her fourth divorce.

One small consolation to her is that she has managed to make this her cheapest divorce yet, spending a mere 1,130.

"I was very efficient, I have to say. I was quite proud of myself," she says.

"I did a spreadsheet of all my indebtedness and tried to break it up into what I perceived as being joint indebtedness and my ex's, and to look to see reasonably, going forward, who could be expected to pick up what."

'Different society'

Ms Gideon estimates that she has spent about 15,000 on her four divorces.

In fact she has been comparatively lucky.

The average cost of ending a marriage through the British courts is about 13,000 per divorce.

"We are in a very different society now than we were in the 70s and 80s, and the reality is you're very lucky if you marry in your 20s or 30s and you're still there in your 80s," she says.

Ms Gideon is not alone. There were more than 150,000 divorces in the UK last year.

The man who should be most worried about current divorce trends is Sir Paul McCartney.

With top lawyers predicting that Heather Mills will profit handsomely from the divorce perhaps he will heed the advice of Mr Tooth in the future.

The Money Programme - The Real Cost of Divorce. BBC2 at 1900 BST on Friday, 27 October.

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