Anger over £1.2m divorce award

Romsey Advertiser: In a bitter divorce battle, a judge ordered that an estranged husband was entitled to about 1.2 million funds from his wife. In a bitter divorce battle, a judge ordered that an estranged husband was entitled to about 1.2 million funds from his wife.

One of Britain's wealthiest men has reacted angrily to a High Court award made to his son-in-law - despite prenuptial agreements.

In a bitter divorce battle, a judge ordered that estranged husband Frankie Limata was entitled to about £1.2 million funds from his wife Victoria Luckwell to give him a home and pay off his debts following their split.

The judge warned his decision could mean Miss Luckwell having to sell her home in London's exclusive Connaught Square where neighbours include Tony and Cherie Blair.

Victoria's father is Mike Luckwell, 71, who was the director of the media company which created children's programme Bob The Builder and is estimated to have a £135m fortune.

He made a gift of the Connaught Square property to his daughter and said he was "disgusted" that Mr Limata, 45, had gone back on three pre-marital agreements that he would not make claims against family assets.

But High Court Family Division judge Mr Justice Holman ruled proper provision must be made for Mr Limata - despite the agreements - particularly to avoid the divorce having a damaging impact on the couple's three children.

He said the children could find themselves living with their 37-year-old mother "in relative luxury" and then staying with their father, who was in debt and lacked assets, "in relative penury".

The judge said: "If all the facts were the same but the genders reversed, it is inconceivable that the agreements would outweigh making a substantial award to the wife, even if the children were primarily living with the husband and only intermittently staying with her."

Today's ruling followed six-and-a-half days during which the judge was told that self-made millionaire Mr Luckwell had threatened to disinherit his daughter if she broke a promise not to sell her home to benefit Mr Limata.

The judge said the father had also said "with absolute clarity and firmness" on oath that if his daughter were forced to break her promise he would not continue to pay either her allowance or the school fees for his grandchildren.

Mr Justice Holman said he believed the father was "not bluffing". He did not trust his son-in-law "an inch" and clearly regarded him as lazy and workshy. He had been told that Frankie had had a number of girlfriends "who were rich or the daughters of very rich parents".

The judge said: "He had always regarded Frankie as a gold-digger who had married for money and from whom Victoria's money and the assets he proposed to give Victoria had to be utterly protected."

The judge described the court hearing at which both sides gave evidence a s "an exceptionally bitter hearing which was very painful to behold".

The judge predicted that the outcome of the case was "likely to be controversial with some polarised public reactions to it".

Miss Luckwell, who now uses her maiden name, married Mr Limata in Mayfair in July 2005 and they have three children. They split up in 2012 following rows over money.

The judge said: "The two sides are now very entrenched indeed. Many hurtful things have been said.

"Caught in the cross fire are three adored, innocent but vulnerable children."

The row over money had already cost some £550,000 - "and rising". Other aspects of the divorce litigation had cost a further £107,000 "with more to come".

The judge added: "It did not have to be like this." The "tragic fact" was that there was scope for a negotiated settlement last summer, "assisted by the generosity of the father", which had now all been lost.

The judge said he had repeatedly urged the sides to settle. "But alas there has been no settlement and the wife's primary open position remains that there is not a penny on the table."

The husband had no assets at all. His net debts, including all he owed in costs, amounted to about £226,000.

Miss Luckwell was property rich and owned the £6.7m house she lived in, but she had no free assets.

In July 2005 the couple had signed a pre-marital agreement, and then two supplementary agreements. The judge said he was sure the marriage would never have taken place without the initial agreement, even though Miss Luckwell was already pregnant.

When Frankie signed it he was a mature man of normal intelligence, though with just two O-levels and knew exactly what he was signing.

"He was keen to demonstrate to Victoria and her family that he was marrying her for love and not for her money."

The judge said that Mike Luckwell had accused Frankie in court of "lying" when he signed the agreement and said he had no intention of being bound by it, or by two supplementary agreements.

But the judge ruled that Miss Luckwell must fund a house or flat for the use of Mr Limata not exceeding £900,000. When their youngest child reaches the age of 22 that property must be sold, unless the court amends the order.

The judge said 45% of the net proceeds of the sale must go to Miss Luckwell and the balance reinvested in a home for Mr Limata to use for the rest of his life.

The judge said Miss Luckwell would also have to produce in the near future funds to rent a property until Mr Limata has a new home, further funds to pay off his debts and cover other costs including him buying furniture and a second-hand car.

The judge stressed he was expressing the outcome of his judgment "only broadly", and many details remained to be worked out, but the total she would have to find would be about £1.2m leaving her about £5.5m from the sale of Connaught Square.

Later Miss Luckwell said she was "distressed" by today's ruling. She said: " Frankie contributed nothing to my marriage in terms of capital, all of which came from my family on the basis that Frankie entered into three separate agreements.

"He also made repeated oral promises, to my parents and me, on which we relied, that he would never make any claim against my family's assets, which he has broken.

"My father's stated position that it would be outrageous if the Court ordered Frankie anything is entirely understandable. We are all distressed that today Frankie was given a financial award at all, given the unforgivable breaches of his promises.

"Regrettably, the court order also means that I am solely responsible for funding the upbringing and education of our three young children, from the proceeds of the sale of our family home."

Mr Limata's solicitor, Miranda Fisher of law firm Charles Russell LLP, said: "Mr Limata has never sought a share of his wife's wealth.

"He sought and was given sufficient funds to meet his real financial needs, including a home in which to live, having made financial contributions himself during the marriage from employment and his own inheritance.

"Marriage brings with it important legal and moral obligations to care for the other spouse in a time of need, including if a marriage breaks down.

"Whilst those obligations can be properly regulated and defined by a pre-nuptial agreement, it cannot be right for it to remove entirely the obligation to provide for real need."

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