MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Fri 13-Dec-13 12:11:31

The lessons of the Michelle Young divorce case

Michelle Young spent seven years chasing her 'tycoon' ex-husband through the courts, in pursuit of what she considered to be a fair division of the family assets. After finally winning £20m, she has called for a change in the law "to protect women like me with children by men who conveniently find they suddenly have no assets when they want to go off with a younger woman."

In this guest post, Michelle Young's lawyer Catherine Thomas says there are lessons in the case for women living in more humble circumstances.

Read the blog, and tell us what you think on the thread below.

Lead photo
Catherine Thomas

Senior divorce lawyer, Vardags

Posted on

Fri 13-Dec-13 12:11:31

(63 comments)

Michelle Young won a 20m settlement from her ex-husband, who initially claimed he had lost his fortune

Michelle Young's divorce from her husband Scot Young attracted media attention around the world, because the sums involved were so extraordinary.

But despite the unusual and substantial nature of the case, there are lessons which can be learned by all women dealing with divorce - a difficult process, no matter how much money is involved.

The numbers involved in Michelle’s case reflect the magnitude and complexity of the case: it lasted seven years, included 65 separate court hearings, involved hundreds of thousands of documents and culminated in a four week trial at which 24 witnesses gave evidence.  Even the experienced and specialised High Court Judge based in London, the so called 'divorce capital of the world', called it "as complicated a case as has been dealt with before in these courts."

Her husband - described widely as a property tycoon and a 'fixer' for the wealthy - claimed that around the time the marriage was ending his multimillion-pound empire imploded, leaving him in debt to the tune of £28m, and declared bankrupt as a result of action by HMRC. 

Michelle was unconvinced and, using information pulled from the hard drives of laptops her husband gave their two children, she began to draw together evidence to support her case that he in fact retained many millions of pounds stashed away.

The more you know about your family's finances, the stronger position you will be in if you separate. Whilst it might be tempting for one person to manage the household singlehanded and for the other to manage the money alone, if the relationship fails the homemaker can be left, in the short term at least, facing even more uncertainty and instability.

The documents she found provided support for applications for search and seizure orders at homes and offices which further built her case.  When the husband failed properly to engage in the case, we obtained an order seizing his passport, and pursued an application which led to him serving three months in prison - a power which is rarely used in the family courts.

After a painstaking review of the evidence, which included Sir Philip Green and Richard Caring in the witness box, the judge concluded that the husband was not £28 million in debt as he had claimed, but rather that he had assets of £45 million and debts of just £5 million.  A 17-year marriage and two children entitled Michelle to half the net assets - £20 million.

Usually the family courts order that each side has to bear their own legal costs, but such was the unique nature of the case, the court ordered the husband to pay an additional £5m to Michelle for her costs, thought to be the largest costs order ever made by a family court in this country.

The case was undoubtedly extraordinary; but it doesn't matter how many zeros are involved, the lessons are the same:

Always get quality legal advice early on.  You don't need to incur huge legal bills, but you do need to know from the start what your rights are so you can make informed decisions.  However painful the separation, it will be all the more difficult if you are operating in a fog of confusion while trying to decide what to do next.

Despite the fear of many divorcing wives, the family courts will look beyond the case put forward by their businessman husbands in order to try and get to the bottom of the finances.  In fact, England is sought out as a forum for their divorce by some women because of its generosity to non-working wives when compared to most other jurisdictions.

Taking a case to a final hearing where a judge makes a decision for you can be expensive so talk to your solicitor about alternatives to court such a meditation, arbitration and collaborative law.

The more you know about your family's finances, the stronger position you will be in if you separate.  Whilst it might be tempting for one person to manage the household singlehanded and for the other to manage the money alone, if the relationship fails the homemaker can be left, in the short term at least, facing even more uncertainty and instability than if they understood how the money worked. 

When it comes to divorce, knowledge really is power.

By Catherine Thomas

Twitter: @Vardags

Mary2010xx Mon 16-Dec-13 07:56:11

If you are 100% involved in your other half's finances however then you make sure you are on the board of his companies, attend the meetings, have the minutes, set up the trust with or for him, know the trust's lawyers, are a beneficiary of the trust. This is what happens in equal marriages.

You are right that is what the judge is saying - you may well have loads more money hidden so pay the £20 million and it will all be over. I think Mrs Y might have sufficient details of where the assets are to recover them particularly those dodgy properties put into the name of his colleague. I suspect her lawyers would not have taken this on without being reasonably sure of recoveries but we shall see.

babybarrister Mon 16-Dec-13 08:23:28

I know the lawyers - th judgment suggests that the solicitors were mainly paid up front - it is Counsel that did the trial on a wing and a prayer - let's face it, it is a good case to be involved in .....!

RadioSilenceGirl Mon 16-Dec-13 09:35:53

Agree that it is important to know about joint finances, but how do you find out when all Hs assets are offshore??

Mary2010xx Mon 16-Dec-13 10:06:37

Ah, so if the new lawyers were paid up front there must be a litigation funder or a lender to the wife who stumped that up.

babybarrister Mon 16-Dec-13 10:15:25

judgment refers to various litigation funders ....I know some of them....

wonder if any of them will get paid or dear Scot will spend Xmas 2013 behind bars? I suspect that the figure of £20 mill is as asbestos proof as possible so that there will not be room for any argument when MY issues her judgment summons and SY tries to say he cannot rather than will not pay ....

must be coming up for paytime v soon!

babybarrister Mon 16-Dec-13 10:17:59

I wonder if MY will still be singing her lawyers' praises if she does not get any cash?

The moral of the story is just know where the money is be it £65 or £6.5m. But yes, too many threads here where one person does money and one does home.

Making me think too....

Mary2010xx Mon 16-Dec-13 10:59:19

There seem to be 3 or 4 properties listed in the judgment which the judge thought may well be being held for SY, the ones his friend holds. However the friend might dispute that. Then there were the shares £6m? or £12m? which he and the lawyer who was struck off said were being held by the lawyer and were used to obtain the large bank loan and then apparently either SY took the certificates from the lawyer or else they never existed. I suspect the latter although that means the lawyer lied when he undertook to hand them to the bank which the judge thought unlikely.

The bottom line will be will they recover any cash. They might have frozen some assets of his I suppose. It seems very unfair on the wife that her husband is to be handed back his passport before he is due to pay. Presumably he will just skip the country and never pay anything. The court is always giving him the means to avoid paying.

babybarrister Mon 16-Dec-13 11:08:08

I think that that was a major error giving the passport back as it is probably the only thing that would concentrate his mind .... still the lure of the Ivy etc may be too much for him!!!

Mary2010xx Mon 16-Dec-13 15:43:38

I think his fiance whom he wants to marry is American so they might well want to settle over there particularly as he used to live in Miami with his first family. I believe the court felt all these years, longer probably in any other cases, where he's not been free to travel really has been unreasonably long.

VivaLeBeaver Mon 16-Dec-13 15:49:35

Sadly I doubt she will see this money, hope she does.

I was put out by the reactions of male friends and relatives of mine. Every single one called her a greedy gold digger! After a long marriage and kids! They all said that she doesn't need that much money, isn't entitled to it, hasn't worked for it like her ex has.

I argued that as she'd been looki g after the kids she had enabled I'm to earn the money, etc but they weren't having it at all. This is from intelligent "new age" men who I'd have expected better of.

Did make me wonder if this is a sad sign of how men perceive womens' contribution to marital assets.

HappyCliffmas Mon 16-Dec-13 20:26:08

Yep I bet they all called her a greedy gold digger. Were they aware that they started life with nothing, living with her parents and that the assets were built up through the marriage? Or to put it another way, if you won the lottery tonight and then divorced them next week, would they expect to walk away empty handed? I doubt they'd be that magnanimous!

I've just read the judgment in the link provided above - it's 40+ pages so not a quick read, but very interesting. MY gets a bit of a pasting from the judge for getting tunnel vision. The amount she spent on forensic accountants and expert advice is truly frightening.

tiredandsadmum Tue 17-Dec-13 01:29:26

Viva - you are so spot on. It is sick how even normal men devalue the contribution that women make to the family.

Mary2010xx Tue 17-Dec-13 09:04:57

Well some of us women pay our husbands on divorce by the way so contribute to family financial assets by earning a lot more than the men! Let us not assume it is always the Mrs Youngs claiming money. Mr Youngs these days too and was in our case. I don't like feeling like a category not even recognised - women who pay to men on divorce as the women earn more. We are out there and in growing numbers.

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