Take a leaf out of Amy Winehouse’s songbook with a clean break divorce
Life can be ruthlessly efficient when it comes to punishing us for our mistakes. Just ask Amy Winehouse’s family.
In her 2007 hit Valerie, Winehouse asks: Did you get a good lawyer? Twelve years on, and eight years after her death, we may be about to find out whether she asked herself the same question when she decided to divorce her husband.
Winehouse’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it marriage to the quite inaptly named Blake Fielder-Civil, which began three months after the singer got to within touching distance of the top of the charts with Valerie, ended in an uncontested divorce 19 months later amid claims by Winehouse that the whole relationship had been built on their mutual drug habit.
Fielder-Civil – or not so civil, as it has now emerged – was awarded £250,000 in the divorce settlement and you may be forgiven for thinking that the whole sorry affair ended there.
For twelve years that certainly seemed to be the case. Winehouse’s flame would burn white hot for four more years before her growing substance abuse extinguished it forever at her Camden home in 2011.
For his own part, Fielder-Civil slipped quietly back to the life of well-funded anonymity that had been his existence before he ended up on Winehouse’s arm.
Until a few weeks ago, that is, when he re-emerged into the spotlight to lay claim to a sizeable chunk of his ex-wife’s estate.
And this is where her forward planning and the quality of the legal support and advice she received during her divorce will be crucial.
When Amy Winehouse died, her estate went to her parents. At the time probate was granted, it was estimated to be worth a little shy of £3m. Since then, received wisdom suggests posthumous royalties from her music have served to significantly swell that fund.
In ordinary circumstances, Fielder-Civil would no longer have a claim on the estate. But the nature of the divorce settlement negotiated by the legal teams representing the couple means there could be a case for him to pursue.
Ultimately, some experts argue, the success or otherwise of his claim a few weeks ago could come down to whether his quarter of a million-pound divorce pay-out was defined as a ‘clean break’ settlement.
Clean break settlements effectively draw a line under the marriage and prevent one spouse making a financial claim against the other at some time in the future.
They’ve become increasingly common in recent years and tend to be favoured by the courts, which are keen to encourage a resolution that allows both parties in the divorce the opportunity to move on with separate lives and no ties to their past.
It seems likely now that Fielder-Civil will push his claim to the courts, much to the distaste and ire of his former wife’s family, who face the possibility – however remote – of having to share their finances with the man who has previously admitted introducing their daughter to heroin and who, they claim, spent vast amounts of her money while they were married.
If there has been a clean break settlement, which may not be determined until trial, he’ll be ‘stuck’ with the £250k he got during the divorce. If there has been no clean break settlement, he’ll seek a lump sum (and according to sources, perhaps maintenance too).
It’s not just about the terms of the divorce, either. It seems that Amy Winehouse didn’t leave a Will, and this may now have a role to play in the outcome of Fielder-Civil’s claim since the courts will now have to decide not only whether the divorce was a clean break, but also whether a claim can be made against her estate out of time.
Divorce doesn’t revoke a Will but for inheritance purposes your ex-partner is treated as having died when your marriage was dissolved. That said, this rule doesn’t stop the ex-partner from making a claim against the deceased’s estate – and this is where this case could get tricky.
What’s certain is that the legal arguments around the validity of his case will be long and complex.
Not being privy to her affairs, it’s impossible to say what legal advice was either sought by the singer or given by her lawyers following her divorce. However, one would hope that, if asked, the kind of ‘good lawyer’ mentioned in Valerie would have strongly advised her to make a Will once her marriage was formally over.
Regardless of the outcome of this specific case, which is likely to run and run, the moral of the story is that if you’re ending your marriage, it’s wise to consider ensuring you push for a clean break settlement and, once finalised, make or change your Will to reflect your new life.
Having that good lawyer to advise and support you is key to ensuring that there will be no nasty surprises for you or the people you love further down the road.