March 13, 2008 / 11:28 AM / 10 years ago

Judge to rule in bitter McCartney divorce case

LONDON (Reuters) - Former Beatle Paul McCartney is expected to find out on Monday how much of his fortune he must hand over to estranged wife Heather Mills when a judge rules on their acrimonious and highly public divorce.

British singer Paul McCartney performs at the Brit Awards at Earls Court in London February 20, 2008. McCartney is expected to find out on Monday how much of his fortune he must hand over to estranged wife Heather Mills when a judge rules on their acrimonious and highly public divorce. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

With the world’s media poised to pore over every detail of any judgment, it is unclear whether judge Hugh Bennett will make public all or part of his decision, due to be handed out at London’s High Court.

The ruling will not necessarily spell the end of one of the most bitter and high-profile break-ups in British legal history.

If either side is unhappy, they can apply for permission to challenge the ruling in the Court of Appeal. Unlike the closed hearings so far, those proceedings would be in open court.

“I don’t think there’s ever been a divorce case that has attracted so much publicity, certainly in Britain, and there probably won’t be ever again,” said Alan Kaufman, family lawyer at Finers Stephens Innocent.

McCartney, 65, married former model and charity campaigner Mills, 40, in 2002, but they split four years later, blaming media intrusion into their private lives. They have a daughter Beatrice, aged four.

Press and public attention intensified in the following months, with tabloid newspapers printing lurid stories about Mills’s past and generally casting McCartney, seen as an icon in Beatles-mad Britain, as the innocent party.

At one point, though, McCartney vowed to defend himself in court against accusations published in newspapers that he physically attacked Mills during their marriage.

Mills issued strongly worded statements, threatened to sue newspapers and held a series of emotional live television interviews last year in which she accused the media of branding her a “whore” and a “gold-digger.”

Her main PR adviser quit over the interviews, and days later she parted ways with her lawyer. In recent court hearings Mills has represented herself.


Since the split was announced in May, 2006, newspapers and commentators have speculated about the size of any settlement.

Initial reports put the bill at up to 200 million pounds ($404 million), or a quarter of what McCartney’s fortune is estimated to be worth.

Recent figures have been closer to 50 million pounds, which would still be the largest divorce settlement in British legal history, surpassing the 48 million pounds paid by insurance magnate John Charman.

Kaufman said the size of McCartney’s fortune, itself the subject of debate, meant the divorce case was unprecedented.

On the one hand, experts say, the marriage was relatively short, limiting the amount Mills should expect, but on the other McCartney must provide for Beatrice as she grows up.

“Another big issue the judge must decide on is how far she has the right to a stake of McCartney’s wealth before the marriage and a stake of anything amassed since they separated,” Kaufman added.

He said Mills would almost certainly be in court on Monday and that McCartney was likely to show up for the key judgment.

Editing by Paul Casciato

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