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
I don't know Mumsnet have agreed to this blog. Frankly the sums of money involved are obscene and for those people who are experiencing financial hardship it may be impossible to 'ignore the zeros.'
The whole thing is pretty bland and trite. When getting divorced get quality legal advice and knowledge is power. No shit Sherlock. The whole thing is a pretty self-serving exercise for the solicitor, but considering what a messy and long-drawn out affair it was, I'm not sure what she has to be pleased about
Good for Michelle.
But can you please tell us whether HMRC and the other creditors who lost out as the result of this scumbag's fraudulent bankruptcy will also get the money they're owed? A bit off topic I know, but I'm curious.
How exactly do you avoid incurring huge legal bills?
Being able to access and afford legal advice is power.
This reads like an advertorial, As legal advice i find the sloganising really cringey and a bit Oprah
It's difficult to overlook the zeros given that was the premise of the ex-wife contention. That her ex was affluent and concealing his assets,which was subsequently proven
Final hearing is expensive,and that's a gamble Ms young could afford to take. As Ms Thomas says It's an expensive option
This reads like an advertorial, As legal advice I find this a bit sloganising, bit too much Oprah
It is hard to overlook the zeros,given that was the basis of the ex-wife contention,that her ex-husband was concealing his monies. I think this is pr that will appeal to disaffected ex-wives of affluent men
As Ms Thomas correctly assets final hearing is costly,and really limited to those who can afford
This is simply a big advertorial fir a magic circle firm. It's not exactly searing or revealing advice, I fear mn you've run a big advert for a private firm
when it comes to divorce,knowledge really is power Gosh who'd have thunk it mnhq
Apologies,two post.I didn't think first had submitted,so I reposted
However I see both posts now present
The lessons are important.
1. Never be a MY. Don't give up your career and stay ath ome. Instead build up your onw £45m of assets whilst Mr Young is at home washing your socks.
2. Own 50% of the shatres in all his companies. Be on all the boards. Have total disclosure from day 1 of the marriage. Look at each other's tax returns. Go to the meetings with accountants. Do tax, not your nails.
3. Remember so far MY I think has not got a single penny - so this case could instead be headed total failure unless and until Mr Young produces any money.
I think it's a really important case for women. Too often on musmnet you see threads where women don't even know what their husband earns, don't know what a P60 is, have never seen his tax return, have no clue about pensions and have lots of secrecy on his side as to what he makes and what assets, shares and other capital he has.
I think the key thing is to know where the money is. Women on this forum often have no involvement and don't even feel they have any claim to their husbands assets. We all hope that marriage will last, but there is more than an outside chance it won't, knowing your rights seems a sensible thing.
Both parties, Ms young and Mr young were subject to criticism by Mr Justice Moor summarising the bitter costly divorce. Her legal fees were £6.5million
Ms Young made claims against many (inc senior lawyers, Philip Green,simon cowell) that were unsubstantiated. justice Moor said he also found that Ms Young was also at fault, concluding: “She sees conspiracy everywhere.”
Later he added: “I have to be highly critical of the way in which the case has been conducted at various times by both parties. In many respects, this is about as bad an example of how not to litigate as any I have ever encountered". The judge also expressed astonishment that the case had cost Ms Young £6.5m – although he said her estranged husband should pay £5m of that figure as his failure to provide “full disclosure” had been the cause of the delays.
I genuinely cannot say this is a great victory for women as ms young asserts.i didn't feel a sisterhood glow reading it
Seven years. It sounds Biblical. Imagine spending seven years pursuing, or evading, a financial deal through the courts. How bitter and warped both their personalities must be by now, even if they weren't at the start. Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.
Ooh I was thinking jarndyce too! Proves money doesn't buy happiness cliche etc
But this bastard had gone to extreme lengths to conceal his assets from his ex wife. He'd also defrauded the UK government and his other creditors by going bankrupt. The judge, by making an extraordinary costs order, clearly felt that he deserved to be hauled through the courts.
Obviously her primary error was in marrying Mr Young and having his children, but once she'd done that, and he'd decided he wanted to defraud her - what was she meant to do? Say "oh I'll just let him keep the 20 million quid because it's too much bother?" Let's face it, unless you're Beyoncé, there aren't many other ways you can earn 20 million from7 years work. It's hardly a Jardynce situation, because for Mrs Y, the benefits massively outweighed the costs.
Must be a very Bleak House to go back to.
She was right to pursue the money. She has his dds to look after, why should they suffer. Talk about a man punishing a woman and his own children for having the balls to leave him.
I don't think anyone could argue that she was wrong to pursue the money. But I wonder if married couples could do more to avoid getting to this point. I have shared assets with my husband, they don't amount to much but I know how much money he has and where it's kept, we budget jointly. I have read of women on here who feel it's ok for them to contribute 50% to everything even though they earn half as much as their husband and thus leave him with access to much more money. I wonder if giving financial advice to couples at the point of marriage would be wise. The law is pretty clear I believe, but lots of couples don't seem to be aware that when you marry the law sees assets accumulated during marriage as jointly owned.
wonderstuff is right.
Also this case is a very rare one - it is not a husband disputing his wife's entitlement which is fairly common. It is a husband who refused to provide information at all. He was ordered to supply documents and refused. He was jailed and still refused. That is very rare. He says he has no money and I think still says so despite taking his pretty younger girl friend to some pretty expensive restaurants on a regular basis and yet has not been able to prove it or give documents to prove it. So a very unusual case.
Certainly the lessons are to keep up your own income and know each other's finances inside out.
Her children are now grown so surely any monies for them would be back sums? She doesn't need money to maintain them unless she wants them to grow up like her?
Both parties emerged from this badly IMO
1.dont give up working,make sure you're solvent and not dependent on man
2.dont be passive about finances,yes do take an interest in what goes on
Essentially the enactment of stereotypical roles
He was male affluent provider,worked. He maintained overview and control finances
She was consumer,spender and didn't work. She did not maintain overview or control finances.
As for the children I am not sure if Mrs Young has gone back to work full time to give them that good example, but they probably do need some funds to help them with university. It will be interesting to see if the forensic accountants/investigators have been able to trace the hidden money.
I thought he originally offered her a substantial sum which she turned down as she wantec a £20m property plus a lot of cash.
She could have had that money 7 years ago whereas as someone else said, she has not seen a penny yet of this£20m and racked up £5m legal costs.
He was prepared to go to prison rather than pay her. I cant imagine the feuding and bitterness their children have witnessed.
Not really. He did make an offer but would not have paid it in my view. It as not really a proper offer. I cannot remember all the details.
He was also ordered at the start to pay maintenance for the children and that wasn't paid either. I think he just decided not to pay a penny of everything.
I'm watching Lucan (about Lord Lucan ) at the moment and it feels a little similar - a husband determined his divorcing wife will get nothing.
I think the children will have suffered more from watching this unedifying bunfight for SEVEN YEARS, including a period where their father went to prison in order to avoid supporting them, than from watching their mother walk away, get a job and earn her own money. Presumably she's had to anyway, or has she been living on air for all that time? What an utterly pyrrhic 'victory'. The only positive is that the children will have learned that you can watch two people behave despicably and evilly and still realise that in fact they are just imperfect human beings and they love them.
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