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If you've built a business empire should you marry or keep it for yourself?

Byline: By Lyn Rutherford

On reading the recent House of Lords decisions in the cases of Melissa Miller and Julia McFarlane, you may wonder whether it is a charter for "gold-diggers" to get rich by marrying for money.

Should business owners therefore protect themselves by avoiding marriage or pushing for a pre-nuptial agreement?

It could be interpreted that these two women have gained a substantial victory. However, you really do have to look closely at the particular, and peculiar, facts of each case. In Mrs Miller's case, she had been married for less than three years. There were no children, but she was given pounds 5m in assets, including a house worth pounds 2.3m.

Part of the rationale for that was to do with the husband having an affair ( although the House of Lords made it clear it was a flawed decision to consider that the conduct was of such a nature to penalise Mr Miller.

However, they did take the view that assets accumulated during that brief marriage, and the fact he had total assets of pounds 32m, meant an award of pounds 5m was reasonable.

Although many believe this was exceedingly generous, in the case of McFarlane it was a much longer marriage ( 16 years ( which produced three children and where the husband was a high flyer.

At 43, he was earning pounds 750,000. At the time of the divorce, he was 46 and his income more than pounds 1m. In the Court of Appeal she was awarded pounds 250,000 maintenance for five years.

The Lords have overruled that decision and said she is entitled to that figure for joint lives.

Bearing in mind her age and her life expectancy of 40 years plus, people may think that is a very comfortable position for a wife to be in.

The judges in the Lords made comment on general principles, including the fact that even in a short marriage you could look at attempting to achieve equality of assets. Again, that is a very worrying position for a man or woman of means coming into a marriage with a spouse who is less well off.

Overall, it has to be a worrying time for wealthy men or women considering whether they really should be married.

After all, if you'd spent time and energy building a business empire, would you be prepared to give it up that readily?

Lyn Rutherford, partner Dickinson Dees
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Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 6, 2006
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