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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.

Catherine Thomas

Senior divorce lawyer, Vardags

Posted on: Fri 13-Dec-13 12:11:31


Lead photo

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

scottishmummy Sat 14-Dec-13 23:29:57

I'm genuinely bemused this is chosen as topic of mn blog.hardly edifying
Great to gave a solicitor on,let's see more of that.could do a clinic on FAQ
I hope lesson women take from this is don't give up work to be idle rich wife

edamsavestheday Sat 14-Dec-13 23:48:00

'earn her own money'? I think she did earn a share of the money during the marriage. Scott Young would not have been able to go out to work and build up all that money if he had had to do the childcare and housework as well. Her work at home enabled him to focus on making shedloads of cash.

Any man who fails to support his children is despicable IMO and that includes S Young.

scottishmummy Sat 14-Dec-13 23:54:52

Err ms young has extensively alluded to their affluent life and staff as she put it
So the staff,the nanny,the cook et al facilitated mr young going to work

joanofarchitrave Sun 15-Dec-13 00:04:13

Oh I totally agree he has behaved despicably, and of course I agree that a parent staying at home is an equal contributing partner to the household income.

I suppose what I don't know is whether she would have been able to have some sort of life - i.e. a place to live, funds to restart her life/retrain as needed, resources for the children. I see no point in fighting beyond that, but perhaps he literally would have paid nothing at all and she had no choice.

But to spend years in his world, fighting on his terms, for what a man like that considers the only thing that matters - bleargh. What misery.

scottishmummy Sun 15-Dec-13 00:06:48

Awful that the daughters were caught in the melee.he should have supported the daughters adequately

Oblomov Sun 15-Dec-13 08:28:39

I too can't see the point. Or can't see that we have learnt anything in particular from her specific case.
They were very rich and he was very clever to hide it.
Can't believe he made the mistake of giving his girls his old laptop. Why didn't he just buy the girls a new one?
Will she actually get the money? The 20 million? 7 years. For 20 million.
Maybe she just caught up in the trying to prove a point , because she was in the right, and she knew he had fine wrong.
Is it worth it? We'll have to ask her.
I have got caught up in fights: DVLA for my licence back, my work where I won / my 2 grievances were upheld. But I still left with a pitiful amount.
And I've fought for 4 years, to get my son diagnosed , then to get him any help. Of which I have achieved nothing, got no support.
All if which has almost crushed me.
So I can't see that my fights were that fruitful. Even with her 20 million, I can't see that hers was either.

TheWomanTheyCallJayne Sun 15-Dec-13 11:46:01

It's hard isn't it oblomov because I feel the same, is it worth it. On the other hand if she didn't fight he would walk away with everything and no responsibility towards his children too. Kind of gives the green light to all men of this sort to act like he has because xw won't think the fight is worth it. At least it shows that type of arsehole that he's not going to get away with it.

scottishmummy Sun 15-Dec-13 11:58:57

Legal blog great idea,I think it could be v interesting and well suited to mn
However this case,whilst it's coup for the representing firm isn't fantastic example Both parties emerged badly

Mary2010xx Sun 15-Dec-13 12:53:05

I think he n ot she has behaved badly. Now it may be some of us think divorce law giving those who haven't earned the money at lot of money is wrong but that does not mean every has to do a Nigella Lawson and not claim a penny from a richer spouse. It is not wrong to claim what the law allows you. It is wrong to be Mr Young and ignore court orders and not pay anything.

This is only part 1. I want to see if Mr Young pays and if the investigators have been able yet to trace where the money currently is and who is holding it for him. The court found he did have money despite his saying he does not.

Fimbo Sun 15-Dec-13 14:21:24

Scott Young and I grew up together as my parents were friends with parents. He came from nothing and left school with nothing, so where all this money has come from remains to this day this biggest mystery ever.

tiredandsadmum Sun 15-Dec-13 17:38:56

There are some dreadful comments on this thread. Those were marital assets built up during their marriage - of course she was entitled to some of them - they were HER assets too, How has she behaved badly? He has tried to cheat her out of them. I hope he gets sent to jail again and this time for a lot longer. Regarding her children and what they may have seen - their dad trying to cheat their mum. I hope they don't have much respect left for him.

wonderstuff Sun 15-Dec-13 17:43:23

Completely agree tired

HappyCliffmas Sun 15-Dec-13 18:34:11

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Mary2010xx Sun 15-Dec-13 18:38:50

Happy, I agree. I also support MY's financial claims. She has had nothing. Her children haven't even been housed by their father. I don't particularly agree with spouses getting more than reasonable needs met rather than 50% of assets earned by the other spouse and way beyond their reasonable needs but MY has not had a thing yet. You might say more fool her and it will teach women a lesson never to give up full time work and earn their own money, but I would imagine most of us think she should receive something.

If Mr Young really had lost all his money he could easily prove that by producing all the documents the costs have requested. Instead he's just flouted the court orders.

Mary2010xx Sun 15-Dec-13 18:39:43

It is worth reading the whole judgment

scottishmummy Sun 15-Dec-13 19:40:18

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

Mary2010xx Sun 15-Dec-13 19:45:45

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.

scottishmummy Sun 15-Dec-13 19:51:39

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

Mary2010xx Sun 15-Dec-13 20:12:20

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.

scottishmummy Sun 15-Dec-13 20:17:05

I'm not particularly warming to either of them
Dreadful for children to be embroiled in it though
Has he actually paid up?

Mary2010xx Sun 15-Dec-13 20:25:34

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.

tiredandsadmum Sun 15-Dec-13 20:27:41

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.

babybarrister Sun 15-Dec-13 22:31:10

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 ....

babybarrister Sun 15-Dec-13 22:32:03

Also MY had loads of different lawyers -Vardags were just the last ...,

dozeydoris Mon 16-Dec-13 06:55:26

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!

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