Law Society President Nicholas Fluck has been in the news recently on the subject of the so-called ‘quickie’ divorces apparently bestowed on the rich and famous. I have to agree that the reports in the media can be more than a little misleading: the divorce process in England & Wales is exactly the same for everyone. There is no backdoor, fast-track solution, even if you do happen to be in the public eye.
So often we hear about marriages which are ended ‘in seconds’, the latest being that of chef Nigella Lawson and her (not yet former) husband, businessman Charles Saatchi. As recently reported in The Telegraph, a High Court judge took just ’70 seconds’ to end the 10-year marriage. The truth is that the judge made an order of Decree Nisi which is a provisional, not final, and simply confirms that the court is satisfied with the grounds for divorce set out in the petition. Although the timeline from Ms Lawson filing her divorce petition at court, to the judge pronouncing Decree Nisi, was undoubtedly shorter than usual, it is untrue that the marriage was ‘ended in 70 seconds’ (although it does make for a a good headline).
Another common feature of reports on celebrity divorces is that neither party was present in court to witness the end of the marriage. In the recent case, the judge’s audience consisted wholly of journalists. Yet anyone who has been through the divorce process knows that, for the overwhelming majority, there is really no need to attend court for the pronouncement of Decree Nisi. Nor for that matter is it necessary to be there for the Decree Absolute which is the order actually dissolving the marriage.
In reality, Ms Lawson will have to wait a further six weeks (and one day) before applying for the final decree. Not so quick after all then.
For me, the more interesting aspect of the Lawson/Saatchi divorce is that the former couple have agreed to abide by the terms of a pre-nuptial agreement made prior to their marriage in 2003. Often the delay couples experience in their divorce being processed does not relate to the divorce itself, which is itself fairly straightforward, but the related financial settlement. If this has already been agreed upon the whole process will certainly be faster than for those couples locked in dispute over money.
The existence of a pre-nuptial agreement does not in itself give rise to a financial order; if they have one, then after Decree Nisi is pronounced a divorcing couple can apply to the court for a financial order to be made by agreement (or consent) in the terms set out in their pre-nuptial agreement.
Ms Lawson’s pre-nup is a relatively early example; it was not until the Supreme Court decision in Radmacher vs Granatino back in 2010 that pre-nuptial agreements were to be given the decisive weight they have today (in the right circumstances). By agreeing, prior to their marriage, what would happen to the assets, income, liabilities and pensions in the event of a divorce, Ms Lawson and Mr Saatchi have most likely saved themselves a fortune in legal costs. Given the reports of the respective wealth of the parties, this could have been a difficult and complex business giving rise to substantial legal costs on both sides.
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