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Landmark Divorce Ruling In Britain

The body of Douglas Schantz, president of Houston-based Sequent Energy Management, is wheel down a ramp to a waiting van, in New Orleans Tuesday, March 9, 2010. Bob Young of the New Orleans police department says police believe Douglas Schantz drowned accidentally. The 54-year-old president of Houston-based Sequent Energy Management had been missing since early Friday, March 5. (AP Photo/Judi Bottoni)
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A landmark ruling giving a woman more than a third of her ex-husband's future earnings in professional soccer set off a fierce debate Thursday about divorce laws and the future of marriage in Britain.

The Court of Appeal ruled Wednesday that Karen Parlour, 33, who had three children with soccer star Ray Parlour during their seven-year relationship, is entitled to 37 percent of his $2.2 million annual salary to acknowledge the role she played in his team's success. That means she will receive $820,000 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 her ex-husband's career winds down.

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

Britain's tabloids clearly saw Parlour, a midfielder for Arsenal, this year's English soccer champions, as the loser in the ruling. "Fleeced," "Taken to the Cleaners," "Victory for Women" and "He Shoots, She Scores" were among the headlines.

Mrs. Parlour previously won a court decision boosting the 31-year-old athlete's maintenance payments from $220,800 a year to $460,000. 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.

On Wednesday, Lord Justice Thorpe ruled a huge excess of income was 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 same day the Court of Appeal made a similar ruling in the case of Julia McFarlane, a woman who divorced her husband, a top accountant in London.

Sandra Davis, a member of Princess Diana's legal team when she divorced Prince Charles, said Wednesday'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 like homes, automobiles and stock portfolios was undisputed.

In addition to her share of her former husband's future earnings, Mrs. Parlour received about 37 percent of the family's assets, including two mortgage-free homes and a cash sum of $462,000.

For her part, Mrs. McFarlane won a divorce settlement of $462,000 a year after her 16-year marriage to Ken McFarlane, a senior tax partner at Deloitte & Touche, who earns more than $1.4 million per year.

Mrs. McFarlane, who had given up her legal career to devote time to her family, also agreed to equally divide the family's capital assets of about $5.5 million with her ex-husband.

Both women successfully argued that their husband's future incomes were a "matrimonial resource" that they were entitled to share.

The implications for other millionaire sports stars and high-paid businessmen were obvious.

Emma Hartley, a divorce expert at the Withers law firm in London, said the rulings were the first to apply the "overriding principle of fairness" to income.

"It certainly means that wives are going to get a far greater share of husband's income where the income is more than they both need in order to live on," she said. "I am sure this will be another reason why more people will want to do prenuptial agreements."

The American idea of the prenuptial agreement already has gained ground in Britain because of other high court rulings in divorce cases. British courts are not legally bound to accept such agreements, but judges tend to adhere to them, if each partner has received independent legal advice when the contracts were drawn up.

By Thomas Wagner