The financial result of the divorce between Heather Mills McCartney and Sir Paul is not, as has been widely reported, that Heather is to receive a payoff of £24.3million. She already had her own assets of £7.8million, so Sir Paul will have to give her £16.5million.
In the context of his total worth, assessed by Mr Justice Bennett at £400million, that is unlikely to cause him any problems.
And the award represents a significant departure from the thinking of the courts in recent big money cases.
When the income and assets of the parties to a divorce are on an average scale, the family courts often have to perform the daunting task of trying to ensure that each will have enough to live on and somewhere to live once the separation has taken place.
In making that calculation, the first consideration will inevitably be to prioritise the interests of any children of the family.
This is why you hear so many men complain that wives get preferential treatment from the law. The plain fact is that, in most cases, the children will be better living with their mother, simply because we still live in a society where mothers are more likely to be carers and fathers financial providers.
There are, of course, exceptions to this general principle where a father may be the appropriate carer, but the younger the children, the more probable it will be that the mother gets the home, at least until they reach adulthood. In those situations, the father has to wait for his share of the capital.
In cases where husbands are wealthy, these considerations do not apply. For many years, it was the wives who fared badly when divorcing rich men. The courts considered that all that was necessary was to calculate what a wife’s future needs were - often the result of that calculation gave the ex-wife a very small proportion of the husband’s assets.
Moreover, if the marriage had been a short one, that factor would be taken into account to reduce the award.
Recently, however, the pendulum appeared to be swinging in favour of women. Ex-wives of millionaires have been walking away from their marriages with lump sums which had the effect of making serious dents in their husbands’ fortunes, even in cases where those marriages had been of only a few years’ duration.
It seemed that judges were coming round to the view that division of the assets should be approached on the basis of equality, rather than an estimate of an ex-wife’s future needs.
This is why the outcome of the McCartney divorce could be such good news for monied husbands. £16.5 million is a remarkably small proportion of Sir Paul’s total wealth, even when you take into account that the marriage was a short one.
Family lawyers will be waiting with interest to discover whether this means that wealthy male clients who are contemplating divorce can now relax a little.