In recent years, an increase in spouses of different nationalities battling to have their divorces heard in jurisdictions considered most likely to decide in their favour has given rise to a phenomenon known as “forum shopping”.
But it is another kind of shopping – online grocery shopping to be precise – that has been thrown into sharp relief by national news speculation on the looming divorce of one of the founders of the online grocery delivery firm, Ocado, Tim Steiner, and his wife of 16 years. Perhaps, they wonder, the divorce financial settlement will result in shares in the company changing hands.
According to various reports, Mr Steiner has filed for divorce on the grounds of his wife’s unreasonable behaviour, an assertion which she is said to be contesting.
One article, in The Times, has not only claimed that the dispute between the pair might adversely affect Ocado’s share price and image with customers but could force Mr Steiner to sell some of his stake to fund a settlement.
I believe that the issue might be fuelled by the very recent decision of a High Court judge that the founder of another online retailer, ASOS, should pay his ex-wife £70 million following their divorce (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3483635/Asos-founder-forced-pay-ex-wife-70MILLION.html).
The terms of that divorce financial settlement included deliberation on the division of shares in the fashion business.
Interest from the media and the money markets is not entirely misplaced. Just over a decade ago, the entrepreneur behind the French Connection store chain was forced to sell £38 million worth of shares in order to pay for his divorce (http://www.theguardian.com/business/2004/jun/30/highstreetretailers).
However, as eager as the courts will be to see Mr and Mrs Steiner come to a resolution and move on with their lives, they will be keen to avoid destablilising a successful business, not least because it could be the principal means of paying for a divorce.
In a number of cases which we have been involved with, businessmen and women unable to fund a divorce from their own assets will establish if it’s possible to borrow money before having to liquidate some or all of their shares.
Leaving aside Mr Steiner’s personal circumstances, he might well have spoken to his fellow directors because they would see their own shareholding affected by any sale.
As well as meeting the priorities of need and fairness, the courts always want to foster creative and equitable solutions. In Tim Steiner’s divorce, it might be allowing him more time to raise the money to achieve a “clean break” settlement, if, of course, he’s not able to do that already.
Whether it is in relation to spouses who have made their money in retail or other industrial sectors, divorce does indeed have the ability to affect business, both in terms of shareholdings and turnover, not least because it can distract directors from the job of running a company.
It is something which people looking to start firms are becoming more conscious of – for instance, taking out pre-nuptial agreements to limit the impact of divorce on their commercial prospects. Whether checking out online or of a marriage, payment details are to be ignored at your peril.
Contact Oratto on 0845 3883765 to speak with a family law adviser or use our contact form to arrange a call-back.