Thursday, October 16, 2008

Madonna/Ritchie: The legal issues

OK, I was going to resist the temptation to mention the Madonna/Ritchie separation (and, presumably, divorce), but it's been getting so much media attention that I've decided to do a post on it, confined to the legal issues. Before I start, however, I would just like to say that I very much hope that the couple are able to resolve their differences amicably and privately, and that this doesn't turn into another McCartney/Mills media circus.

So, what are the legal issues? Well, these are the main ones that spring to mind:

Children - Firstly, and most importantly, the couple have three children: Lourdes, Madonna's 12 year old daughter from a previous relationship, Rocco, their eight year old son and David Banda, aged two, the Malawian boy they adopted in 2006. Now, if they are not able to sort anything else out by agreement, they must make sure that they agree arrangements for the children - any sort of contested proceedings will be an absolute disaster. In particular, will Madonna want to take the children to the US? If so, she will need either Ritchie's agreement, or an order of the court.

Jurisdiction - It has been suggested in various quarters that Madonna would be well advised to issue proceedings in an American court rather than in London, which has acquired a reputation in recent years for being extremely generous towards the 'poorer' spouse. Of course, this is assuming that Ritchie doesn't first issue over here, and whether she can issue in an American court depends upon whether that court has jurisdiction to deal with the matter, which in turn depends upon domicile. Jurisdiction could well become a serious preliminary issue. Having said that, it has been reported that Madonna has engaged the services of Fiona Shackleton, which suggests that she is preparing for matters to be dealt with in England.

Prenup - It is not yet clear whether the parties entered into a prenuptial agreement. If they did, then the relevance of the agreement will depend upon where the divorce takes place. In this country, the prenup is not binding upon the court, but is merely one of the factors that the court would take into account when deciding the financial settlement. In view of the length of the marriage and the children, an English court may not give any prenup a lot of weight.

Settlement - Huge figures have been bandied around, which would make the settlement the largest in British legal history (assuming the divorce takes place in this country). Legal commentators have distinguished the case from McCartney/Mills, where the assets were virtually all acquired prior to the marriage, and have suggested that an English court could award Richie as much as £100 million, out of the estimated joint assets of £300 million. Having said that, it has also been reported that Richie has made it clear that he doesn't want any of his wife's wealth - his fortune is reported to be a modest £20 million.

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