Divorce ruling outcry

July 9, 2004 - 10:48AM

Karen Parlour ... to get a third of husband's future earnings. Photo: AP

A landmark British divorce ruling giving a former wife more than a third of her ex-husband's future earnings in professional soccer has set off a fierce debate.

Some praised the court today for finally rewarding a woman for the valuable contributions she had made as a wife and a mother in a wealthy family. Others said rich men will now have little choice but to demand prenuptial agreements to protect themselves from "gold-digger" women.

Britain's tabloids clearly saw Arsenal midfielder Ray Parlour as the loser in yesterday's ruling by the Court of Appeal.

"Fleeced", "Taken to the Cleaners", "Victory for Women" and "He Shoots, She Scores" were among the headlines.

The court ruled that Mrs Karen Parlour, who had three children with Parlour during their seven-year relationship, is entitled to 37 per cent of his $3 million annual salary to acknowledge the role she played in his success at Arsenal, the English soccer champions this year.

Mrs Parlour previously won a court decision boosting his maintenance payments from $A309,000 a year to $643,750. The judge in that case said she deserved much credit for persuading Parlour to "grow up" and drop out of the hard-drinking "laddish" culture of some Arsenal players.


That means she will receive $1.1 million a year for four years, when the settlement will be reviewed.

During that time, she was encouraged to save "a nest egg" under the assumption that payments will dwindle as his career winds down. His contract with Arsenal ends a year from now and is unlikely to be extended.

In his ruling, Lord Justice Thorpe said there was a huge excess of income left over after taking into account Mrs Parlour's maintenance needs. It would be "discriminatory and wrong" for the ex-husband to have sole control over that surplus during the next four years, he said.

The Court of Appeal also made a similar ruling yesterday in the case of Julia McFarlane, a woman who divorced her husband, a top accountant in London.

Sandra Davis, a partner at Mishcon de Raya who was part of Princess Diana's legal team when she divorced Prince Charles, said yesterday's court decisions had "massive" social and legal implications.

"For most people divorce is about drawing a line under a partnership that has gone wrong, allowing those involved to move on and start again, although obviously supporting any children from the marriage," Davis said.

"In the case of a claim on future earnings to such a significant level, there will be little desire or need for a woman to marry again and endanger her income stream, unless the man is hugely wealthy, and certainly no incentive for men to marry for a second time, as it could be just too expensive," Davis said.

In both cases before the Court of Appeal, the division of the family assets such as homes, automobiles and stock portfolios was undisputed.

In addition to her share of her former husband's future earnings, Mrs Parlour received about 37 per cent of the family's assets, including two mortgage-free homes and a cash sum of $643,750.

In the other case, Mrs McFarlane won a divorce settlement of $643,750 a year after her 16-year marriage to Ken McFarlane, a senior tax partner at Deloitte & Touche, who earns more than $1.93 million per year.

Mrs McFarlane, who had given up her legal career in order to devote time to her family, also agreed to equally divide their family's capital assets of about STG3 million ($A7.72 million) with her ex-husband.

Both women successfully argued that their husband's huge future incomes were a "matrimonial resource" like family homes in which they were entitled to share. The possible implications for other millionaire sports stars and high-paid businessmen were obvious.