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.
Senior divorce lawyer, Vardags
Posted on: Fri 13-Dec-13 12:11:31
(63 comments )
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
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.
Viva - you are so spot on. It is sick how even normal men devalue the contribution that women make to the family.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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.
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....
I wonder if MY will still be singing her lawyers' praises if she does not get any cash?
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!
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.
Agree that it is important to know about joint finances, but how do you find out when all Hs assets are offshore??
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 .....!
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.
I would like a psychological analysis of how and why the initial feelings of love turn to this bitterest of anger, hatred and revenge when some people divorce.
I guess it is largely the feelings of unfairness but gawd, it's all a bit extreme.
If the finances are offshore to avoid tax then there's not much chance of the spouse knowing what there is.
And if he's wanting rid of her just bung her the money FGS!
Also MY had loads of different lawyers -Vardags were just the last ...,
It is only a success if she actually sees some cashnwhich I doubt will happen. MY might otherwise find herself being bankrupted by her own lawyers ....
No, this behaviour is not just very wealthy folks. Can you tell I am quite bitter? Took me 2 1/2 years to get my share of my assets. "Luckily" for me that although ex is a lying whatever he still wants to see DC so paid over some. The marriage failure may well have been both parties ( in fact is most likely) but the sorting out of the assets is usually quite one-sided.
I think he hasn't paid anything except for that early period when he paid the rent. That is the only reason I feel sympathy for Mrs Y. He hasn't paid the interim maintenance he was due to pay and unless he has paid this month he has paid no lump sums either except that early £100k due back to her mother he paid just as they were divorcing.
He seems to live a pretty rich life with his girlfriend in the UK compared with his supposed zero income and being bankrupt.
I'm not particularly warming to either of them
Dreadful for children to be embroiled in it though
Has he actually paid up?
Indeed although having read the whole thing it is much more a case of MrY in the wrong, Mrs Y assuming he might be worth a lot more than he was (which is not surprising) and the fact she won indemnity costs means the judge clearly felt most fault lay on Mr Y's side.
Presumably the lawyers get none of their fees unless and until the money is recovered and kept away from his other creditors.
The judge commented on both behaved badly,the section relating to ms young is where judge elaborates on this. also,Extensive discussion of mr young evasive behaviours
Simon cowell not called to give evidence after all I see
It's eye watering in parts and certainly only representative of a v small group of wealthy folks
A salutary tale,don't become financially dependent upon a partner
I just read it actually. Fascinating. Interesting parts about what people buy and sell London property for, a lot of hints about unexplained property/assets which we will never get to the bottom of, fact judge found SY behaved so badly his wife will get indemnity costs but also the general comment that he gets £20m of £40m but will he pay later this month when due? As they are about to give him back his passport presumably he will then escape somewhere where no enforcement is possible, unless his wife has frozen assets of his which she can now seize.
They also say if she had wanted to claim additional properties she thinks others hold in trust for him she would need to have included those people in the proceedings.
Also something about his bankruptcy - presumably she can recover from him even though he is bankrupt? Or may be not.
I think it unlikely SY will now pay £20k plus costs and the late maintenance. He is getting his passport back. No more contempt of court orders will be made against him.
Having read that I suspect in effect he's won.
Moral never rely on men for money. Earn your own.
Thanks for posting that Mary, it's a v fair summation of complex case
Neither party emerges well IMO
Dreadful for the daughters to have lived with that disturbance
It is worth reading the whole judgment
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