As British courts make it harder for wayward wealthy spouses to protect their assets, a top divorce lawyer said a startlingly high proportion of banking divorces are driven by problems with addiction.
“A significant minority of the bankers who come to me are getting divorced because they’re addicts,” said William Healing, a family law partner at Kingsley Napley in London. “Addiction is an issue in at least 25% of the banking divorce cases I come across. Bankers are addicted to all sorts of substances and their demanding careers combined with high-pressure lifestyles can often lead to marital breakdown.
“Addiction is the one thing that can’t be resolved easily in a marriage breakdown,” added Healing. “Couples can resolve communication issues, but it’s much harder to resolve a cocktail of addiction and communication problems.”
Divorce lawyers said bankers make up a large proportion of their clientele. “Around 20% of our clients come from the investment banking industry,” said Julian Lipson, head of the family law practice at Withers. Banking divorces have become more complicated as the amount of money available for allocation between the separating partners has dwindled, added Lipson. “People are usually less satisfied when you’re splitting a smaller sum – it makes divorces more acrimonious.”
The UK has long been known as the ‘divorce capital of the world’ due to its generous treatment of wives in divorce cases. However, following a British Supreme Court ruling today, wealthy bankers with foundering marriages will find it harder to protect assets from their spouses. The Supreme Court ruled today that Yasmin Prest, wife of oil trader Michael Prest, is entitled to receive millions of pounds of assets kept in offshore properties owned by her husband.
The big issue in banker divorces is not so much offshore assets as deferred bonuses, said Lipson. Deferrals are often split between spouses based upon the amounts that will be available when bonuses vest.
Both Lipson and James Ferguson, head of family law at Boodle Hatfield, denied that addiction is a disproportionate issue in banker divorces, citing stress and long working hours as far bigger causes of marital breakdown in the sector. “Usually people just don’t invest enough in the relationship,” Lipson claimed.
However, Mark Dempster, a counsellor who works with bankers on addiction issues, said addictive personalities are rife in the financial services industry. “I see bankers who are addicted to strip joints, who are compulsive gamblers, alcoholics and cocaine addicts,” Dempster said. “Alcohol and cocaine addiction create fertile ground for promiscuity. All addictions have potential to destroy relationships – the key relationship becomes with the drug or behavioural pattern and the intimate relationship is deprioritised.”