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Footballers’ Wives (briefly)

Christmas is over, it’s January, and it’s grey and cold out there. So you can imagine that when a case came through this week that gives us a bit of a glimpse into the glamorous world of the Premier League footballer, we thought you might like to hear about it. In social terms, it’s a story of boy-meets-girl, a whirlwind romance and marriage followed swiftly by a baby, that isn’t so unusual. In legal terms, it’s interesting as an example of how the courts treat a very short marriage where a child has been born, the standard of living was very high, there are no assets, and where one of the spouses has a significant earning capacity.

A health warning: we don’t know who this footballer is, nor indeed who his wife is. There’s a child involved so it’s important that there is no speculation about the parents’ identities. This child is entitled to some privacy: he’s not responsible for the choices his parents have made that have eventually seen them arrive in the High Court. That aside, the judgment is public, in the interests of transparency in the family court.

He is a footballer, she was a beauty therapist. The marriage lasted only 19 months, and ended when the child was only 4 months old (he was just under 2 by the time the case came to court). There is very little liquid capital. The husband’s income is about £900k pa, taking into account post-Brexit currency fluctuations, as he now plays in Europe. However, this income is time-limited: few footballers have everlasting careers, and he may just have another four or five years at this level.

The court’s job was to decide what the wife was entitled to. The situation at trial was that the husband was paying the wife £30,000 per month – £15,000 for her living costs and £15,000 for her legal costs. In fact she owed nearly £200,000 in costs, payable from any settlement she received. There were no assets, only income – the court notes that the husband had to sell his Ferrari to make one of the payments. He owns property but with little equity, and he rents his current home. The wife has nothing. So how should the wife and child’s accommodation needs be met after divorce?

The wife’s barrister produced schedules to show that the two of them managed to spend about £1.4m per year during their relationship, with literally nothing to show for it – they never owned a property together. The wife wanted to buy a house worth £1.8m, and demanded £318,000 per year maintenance for herself and their son (about a third of the husband’s net income), justified by producing a budget at way above even that level. The husband offered the wife £120,000 per year to fund the rental of a property and all her living expenses for herself and their son, reviewable in seven years’ time when his playing career is likely to be over, and a lump sum of £150,000 with which to pay the lion’s share of her solicitors’ fees. Later in the day, he conceded he had no issue with her purchasing a property, as long as the housing fund was reasonable.

The result? It was clearly a case where the wife and child’s needs had to be met, but her view of her needs was, the court said, unrealistic. The case was full of unknowns, particularly in relation to the husband’s future ability to earn money (what if he got injured? What if he got a better contract?). The court considered adjourning the wife’s claims to be heard fully in 2018 when the husband’s playing future would be more clear, after a contract change or renegotiation, but decided enough was enough: everyone deserved a final answer now.

The court was clear that the wife should work towards her own financial independence, and that the two parents should do their best to deploy the income at their disposal for their son’s long-term benefit. When the husband has a lump sum available from a sale of property in 2018, the court ordered that it be paid to the wife to put down a deposit on a property. It decided that about £700,000 would be adequate for her to have a nice house in North London, near to her family. She would be able to pay down the mortgage from her maintenance (‘stockpiling’ in legal terms) and so obtain some security for her future. As for regular payments, the husband was ordered to pay £120,000 per year for the wife and son’s maintenance, and about £80,000 for mortgage costs. The net effect on the husband, even at his lowest projected level of earnings, was still to have available over half a million pounds a year, so the court considered this fair.

The husband’s barrister was sure that this wife thought she had won the jackpot by marrying a footballer, and was seeking to live at that level going forward despite the brevity of their relationship and the lack of anything, really, to be shared apart from income. The court was also pretty scathing of her evidence regarding aspirations and spending. It seems that no more a footballer’s wife means no more unfettered access to that lifestyle. We hope that she manages to adjust without too much trauma. If you have any questions about anything you’ve read here, or any other aspect of family law, do give us a call on 01223 443333 and make an appointment to speak to Tricia, Adam, Sue, Gail or Simon.

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