Divorce and the Roman Empire: Art, Abramovich and Asset Division 

Published on 11 August, 2017 | Stephanie Chen

Although it now seems routine, the undoubted fascination of media in divorce is a relatively recent phenomenon.

In decades past, marriage splits involving celebrities or royalty were far more likely to cut the mustard with newsdesks.

Now, countless column inches are racked up by accounts of couples who – with all due respect – have rather more mundane domestic circumstances. For instance, the efforts of a Worcestershire wife to exit what she argues is a “loveless” marriage have generated several bursts of coverage this year alone (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/wife-tini-owens-appeals-to-supreme-court-for-divorce-from-husband-hugh-lqwzqf00s?shareToken=18841d5d43c8e3b0d02dc1f2ce61b69f).

However, in an age when it’s not just the appetites of traditional print and broadcast outlets but social media too which have to be satisfied, there remains a particular interest with the finer those failed relationships featuring extreme wealth and glamour.

The implosion of motor racing tycoon Bernie Ecclestone’s 24-year marriage to the Croatian former model, Slavica Radič, and the reputed billion pound settlement which concluded it occupied both broadsheet and tabloid title alike (https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2008/nov/21/formula-one-ecclestone-divorce).

Even though that apparent record divorce happened nearly a decade ago, there have been echoes of it in recent days in news reports that Roman Abramovich’s third marriage is drawing to a close.

Mr Abramovich, a Russian oligarch, investor and politician whose massive wealth eclipses even that of Mr Ecclestone, is best known to a British audience, of course, as the owner of Chelsea Football Club.

There has been speculation that the end of his marriage to art dealer and magazine editor Dasha Zhukova may possibly result in the largest divorce payout ever seen in England and Wales (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4767782/Russian-billionaire-Roman-Abramovich-wife-separate.html).

The couple, who have been married for nine years, have two children and have issued a statement outlining that their split will be amicable.

As well as applauding the attempt by a couple which has been in the spotlight since they wed to conduct a low-key divorce, I reckon that the financial figures involved may also be significantly lower than some estimates have made out.

That depends, in part, on whether they had agreed a prenuptial agreement before their marriage.

Such a document would not just consider the respective sums with which they might leave their marriage if it failed but what assets they entered it with.

According to one estimate, Mr Abramovich’s wealth has fallen by an astonishing £11 billion since Ms Zhukova became his third wife (https://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/10/billionaires08_Roman-Abramovich_DG3G.html).

His second divorce in 2007, from former air stewardess Irina Malandina, ended with a reported £150 million settlement despite his apparently being richer then than he is now (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2619158/Billionaire-ex-wife-Roman-Abramovich-seen-time-Chelsea-winning-150-million-divorce-settlement-FOUR-homes.html).

Ms Zhukova is also said to be independently wealthy. As well as being a success in her own right, her father is, like Mr Abramovich, a billionaire businessman.

Whilst the amounts involved might appear dizzying to the vast majority of us, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the principles of the divorce process in this country – fairness and need – are the same for billionaires as for those of modest means.

Most of those going through divorces also crave privacy, regardless of wealth and celebrity. This is a very delicate and sometimes painful process.

Bearing all that in mind, I suspect that the size of any settlement in this divorce will be much smaller than initial red-top reports suggest, not that we will ever probably know the exact terms involved.

After all, individuals don’t become billionaire entrepreneurs by letting the rest of us know their business.

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