Ireland Calling by John Spain
If Ronan Keating divorces, will he join broke kids on the block?
Posted on Wednesday, May 26, 2010 at 10:22 AM
- "Greed is good", especially in Ireland it seems with pillars of society on the take
- Vintage pamphlets offer a glimpse at the rules of 50s-era Irish Catholicism
- A leap of faith by Ireland, the exit from the IMF/EU bailout
- A temporary detour from ecomic issues to Irish soccer madness
- Give Britain a break after decades of Irish emigration to the UK
It's not a question that keeps me awake at night -- and I'll explain why in a minute -- but how much should a wife get when she divorces her husband? Half of everything? Or only half of what she helped him earn?
The question is prompted by the blanket coverage given in Ireland over the past few days to the separation of Ronan Keating, the lead singer of the original Irish boyband Boyzone, and his wife Yvonne Connolly, a former model.
Keating, who ironically has been striving for years to carve out a hard rocker image for himself but always looked like an altar boy, may have finally got what he wanted. As they say, be careful what you wish for.
Keating had secretly been doing the naughty with one of the dancers in the recent Boyzone reunited tour of Britain. When he was off playing golf last week, his wife discovered a mobile phone in his things that she did not know about.
Of course she could not resist the temptation to have a look through the messages. As partners do. And there it all was, a steamy other life.
Or at least that is what we were told by the pages and pages of coverage in the papers here last weekend. Keating may have got his philandering rocker image at last, although he spoiled it straight away by begging for forgiveness.
She threw him out anyway. And not out of just any old house, but out of the palatial modern mansion they own in a gated community of massive mansions in Malahide, an upmarket seaside town north of Dublin.
It's called Abbington (these naff, neo-classical developments always have slightly British names) and it's a small development of huge houses that cost at least two or three million each. It's mockingly referred to in the Irish media as millionaire's row.
Given that the media here are sick to death of writing about our economic problems (last week it was the threat to the euro and how the economic paranoia across Europe is hitting Ireland), they are only too happy to write about poor Keating for a little light relief.
There's nothing new in that. One of the less edifying aspects of the boom in Ireland was the way the media here created a celebrity circuit, comprising minor TV personalities, musicians, models, property developers and so on.
It was very much a B- or C-list celeb circuit and given the size of the country, the same faces cropped up in the gossip pages all the time. It was always faintly ridiculous because the "stars" were people who had been to the same school as yourself, or used to go to the same pubs as everyone else before they were turned into celebs by the media. It was all part of the boom.
So it was just like the old boom days here at the weekend. The country may be going down the drain, but all the media were interested in was the collapse (so far) of Keating's marriage. That and how much a divorce is likely to cost him.
According to "close friends" of the couple, there is still a chance the marriage can be saved. Keating has cancelled all his Boyzone stuff this week to spend time in Dublin to try to work it out with his wife.
But the cost of a possible divorce is still the subject of fascination here, with one paper saying the end of their 12-year marriage would mean "the biggest divorce payout in Irish showbiz history."
The Sunday Independent estimated Keating’s personal fortune at close to ***12 million, and said he would lose two-thirds of that in a divorce settlement.
As you probably know, divorce is something relatively new in Holy Catholic Ireland, having only come into law here in the mid-1990s. So we're still getting used to it and still getting our heads around things like alimony, the division of assets, who gets the family home, access to children and so on.
Because the court decisions in divorce cases are confidential, there has been very little reportage of what is happening. But the law generally is similar to the situation in the U.S. and the U.K. where the assets are divided equally and alimony or maintenance and child support are part of the deal. The main difference here is that people who want to get divorced have to be living apart for at least four years.
The ban on divorce in Ireland had been in de Valera's 1937 Constitution, so it had been part of our culture for 60 years when it was lifted by a referendum in 1995. I remember that referendum debate well (and the previous failed one in the 1980s) and the fears expressed by so many people.
One of those fears was that a farmer who was divorced by his wife could lose the land that had been in his family for generations. It was emotive stuff and the arguments for and against were fierce. But in the end the referendum was carried, largely due to the vote in urban areas.
Maintenance and who gets what has remained an emotive topic here, however. There have been bitter fathers on phone-in radio shows complaining that they have lost the family home, have very heavy maintenance payments set by the courts which barely leaves them enough to live on in a cheap rented apartment, and are allowed only minimal contact with their kids.
They can't have another permanent relationship because they can't afford it. I heard one man in this situation break down and weep on radio a couple of years ago.
One in five or six marriages here now ends in divorce, so we're catching up on other countries. With the end of the boom here and many people in financial trouble, the pressure on divorcing couples is greater than ever now. Some divorcing couples end up sharing the family home because the property collapse means it can't be sold.
In most divorces here between ordinary people, especially in cases where there are young children and a wife who either stays at home to look after the kids or works only part-time outside the home, the husband ends up carrying a very heavy burden. And that's how it must be, since the kids have to come first in these situations.
But the situation gets more complicated the more money there is involved. Why should Yvonne Keating get more than half the wealth that her husband has accumulated?
She didn't write the songs, manage the band, sing backing vocals on tour (maybe she should have!) or do anything else that built up the Boyzone fortune that I can see. Should she be allowed to keep the Abbington mansion just because she and the three kids are used to living there?
Why would a comfortable but slightly less expensive home outside millionaire's row not do? How much is a reasonable settlement in such cases?
One accepts the need to provide generously for the children's welfare and for support for the wife if she is looking after the kids full-time, but why must it go beyond that, and for how long?
A more extreme case which raises similar issues is that of Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal who is divorcing his wife Justine, a novelist. They live in California, which means that she is entitled to half his billions, even though as a writer she probably knows as little as I do about computers and the intricacies of secure Internet payments. It's all over the Internet at the moment if you want to look them up.
Does she really need that much to bring up their kids? And why does she deserve to get it? What is the logic of this legal presumption? I'm just asking!
In my own case, I happen to be married to a woman who now earns twice what I do (she's in the fashion business), which just makes up for all the years I earned twice as much as she did when she was a young designer. If we divorced we would, I hope, divide what we have on a fair basis. And both look after the kids.
But if I had earned a few hundred million writing thrillers I'm not sure I would be happy to share it 50/50. I don't cut cloth. She doesn't pound the keyboard. So I just don't see the logic.
One of the few glimpses of the wronged wife that the press pack outside the Keating mansion got at the weekend happened when a van pulled up outside and Yvonne emerged from the house. The van doors were opened and Yvonne's two newly-groomed Bernese mountain dogs leapt out into her arms. They were just back from the dog groomer.
And you know how much that costs. Need I say more?