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Madonna's millions safe in divorce deal: experts

Guy Ritchie could claim a decent stake of his wife Madonna's mega-fortune, but has no chance of getting half even if it escalates into another celebrity divorce battle royale, experts said on Thursday.

music Updated: Oct 21, 2008 15:55 IST

Guy Ritchie could claim a decent stake of his wife Madonna's mega-fortune, but has no chance of getting half even if it escalates into another celebrity divorce battle royale, experts said on Thursday.

The US pop queen and her British film director husband announced Wednesday they are to split, sparking frenzied speculation about how much Ritchie could receive, as well as questions over their children's fate.

Newspapers believe Ritchie, 40, is worth just a tenth of the London-based couple's estimated 300-million-pound (520-million-dollar, 385-million-euro) fortune.

And with London having a reputation as the "divorce capital of the world," following a series of high-profile, big money splits, celebrity-watchers are salivating at the prospect of another giant showdown -- such as pop legend Paul McCartney's divorce from campaigner Heather Mills earlier this year.

Since 2000, English courts have awarded huge payouts to the ex-wives of businessmen and celebrities, making London a lucrative place to divorce a rich spouse.

But leading divorce lawyer Andrew Newbury, who has worked on a number of celebrity splits, said it was completely unrealistic to think Ritchie could get 50 percent of their combined wealth.

"There is no prospect whatsoever of him securing half of her fortune," Newbury, of Manchester-based law firm Pannone, told AFP.

Margaret Hatwood, a collaborative family lawyer from firm Thomas Edgar, told The Guardian newspaper: "A lot of Madonna's wealth was built up before the marriage. I don't think Guy Ritchie will benefit greatly from that."

Newbury said: "If he takes the matter to court, two main factors are going to govern what he'll receive.

"One is the court would potentially look at sharing the wealth built up during the marriage. He would have a good claim on half of that.

"And the court may look at a generous assessment of what he needs: housing needs on the basis of how they live, how much does he need to live on each year: a lump sum to provide that.

"That's how Heather Mills' award was worked out, purely as a generous assessment of her needs."

Press reports said Madonna had hired Mills' divorce lawyer Fiona Shackleton.

Most newspapers said the singer and Ritchie had no pre-nuptial agreement.

But even so, unlike in California, they are not binding in English law and, said Newbury, would be considered irrelevant after seven-and-a-half years of marriage.

In Britain, the couple have several properties and a stake in a pub in London, plus their Ashcombe House country estate.

In the United States, they own apartments in New York, plus a palatial mansion in Beverly Hills, California.

"She could try and issue proceedings there," Newbury said.

"But if there was a jurisdictional battle between the English courts and the Californian courts, the English courts would probably win out because this is where their home's been for the marriage."

The couple have two children together: son Rocco, eight, and David Banda, three, a Malawian boy adopted two years ago. Madonna also has a 12-year-old daughter, Lourdes, from a previous relationship.

Newbury said the children would not affect how much Ritchie could receive as he is independently very wealthy.

"The only major factor would be that the children should not see a big difference in their parents' lifestyles," he said.

The Sunday Times newspaper's Rich List 2008 estimated the couple's combined wealth at 300 million pounds.

The Sun newspaper, which broke the story of their divorce, alleged that Madonna thought he was lazy, tightfisted and preferred the pub to his family, while Ritchie thought she was a domineering control freak obsessed with her Kabbalah faith.

"There are worrying signs this one is shaping up to get dirty," showbiz editor Gordon Smart wrote Thursday.

"The last thing they need is for the situation to degenerate into an undignified mud-slinging scrap like the divorce between Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills," he added.