For once it’s Damien Hirst who’s in a spin rather than his paintings. It’s been announced that his partner of nineteen years and the mother of his three children, Maia Norman, has left him for a former mercenary. What makes this relevant to Spear’s readers is the question of how Hirst’s £200 million wealth will be split given that they were cohabiting, not married
by Freddy Barker
For once it’s Damien Hirst who’s in a spin rather than his paintings. It’s been announced that his partner of nineteen years and the mother of his three children, Maia Norman, has left him for a former mercenary. What makes this relevant to Spear’s readers is the question of how Hirst’s £200 million wealth will be split given that they were cohabiting, not married.
Traditionally, Hirst would only have had to provide Maia Norman with child maintenance. But if she puts up a battle, a test case – in which the family pot includes gems such as Toddington Manor and Hirst’s extensive collection of paintings – may well change that.
Successive governments have found the issue of cohabitees’ rights too sensitive to touch, which has put increasing pressure on the courts to work out how assets should be split when the couple wasn’t married.
Action is imperative, however, as cohabitiation is one of the most important trends of our generation: in the 1960s, fewer than 1 per cent of Brits under 50 cohabited; today 16 per cent do.
The recent Supreme Court case of Jones v Kernott made some headway into developing the law, and Miss Norman would do well to read up on it. Arguably the most important family law breakthrough of the past twelve months, it confirmed the Court’s ability to divide property based on the couple’s life together, in the absence of a marriage contract.
That chips away at the cardinal importance of written agreements in property law, and allows a hitherto unprecedented degree of judicial creativity in those cases where ascertaining actual intentions is impossible. What’s more, the popularity of cohabitation and the much more informal manner in which intimate relationships are conducted in 2012 means that going forward there is a strong probability that these cases will be the majority.
No one knows what pillow promises Britain’s richest artist made to his partner over nineteen years, but, like many wealthy cohabitees, Hirst may well live to regret his words.
‘It’s high time the law changed,’ says Nigel Shepherd at Mills & Reeve. ‘But despite positive feedback from reforms in Scotland, recommendations from the Law Commission and campaigning from Resolution, legislation looks as far away as ever. Hopefully, the publicity of this particularly high profile case will encourage politicians to realise that, while they sit on the fence, an ever-increasing number of people are suffering real injustice.’
Victoria Francis of Speechly Bircham says that because there was no marriage, there are none of the rights you get with marriage, even after twenty years, meaning Hirst will probably get away lightly: ‘Messy disputes of a property or trust law nature can arise on the breakdown of a cohabiting relationship where one of the couple claims to have acquired a beneficial interest in the other’s asset, normally a house. There are also financial claims that an unmarried parent can make for child support and to enable that parent to house the children and maintain them properly, but that’s it. Mr Hirst’s alleged fortune will remain basically intact.
‘In the circumstances of this particular couple, actual financial hardship seems unlikely. Imagine, however the end of a 20-year “quasi-marriage” where the unmarried “wife” has been the homemaker throughout, she has no assets in her name and the children are now fully grown. She could find that she has no claim at all, which is hardly fair.’