Pauline Chai, the ex-wife of Dr Khoo Kay Peng, a wealthy Malaysian businessman and a non-executive chairman of Laura Ashley Holdings, is arguing for a divorce settlement of more than £100 million after 42 years’ of marriage. She is asking for almost half of her ex-husband’s fortune based on equal contributions; her husband says she is entitled to only £9 million. Dr Khoo says he should keep the rest because his business genius meant he had made a special contribution. The former Miss Malaysia had been a stay-at-home traditional wife and mother to their five children and claims there had been a sharing agreement in place given his recurring comment: “What’s mine is yours.” Ms Chai claims she had made an equal contribution by shouldering the domestic burden.
What makes this divorce settlement stand out? In the process of making the claim, the parties’ private lives will be open, not only to the scrutiny of the court, but also to the media given the parties’ high profile and the huge sums involved. Many people do not realise that the media were given access to financial/divorce settlement hearings some years ago and they can now choose which cases they wish to report on. Further, the legal fees will be enormous.
How could things be done differently?If the parties had chosen mediation instead, there would be no public reporting (unless one of the parties wanted to involve the press) and the couple could have kept their marriage and its breakdown private. A settlement could have been reached between themselves and a mediator without everyone else knowing the ins and outs of their private lives. The costs would also have been miniscule by comparison.
Does the high level of claim make mediation less likely to succeed? No, not really. Whether there is a multi-million-pound fortune involved, as in this case, or the marital pot is much smaller, the issues are similar and mediation could help to move the parties towards an outcome they can live with and which is fair, without incurring huge legal fees. It also means their personal affairs would be kept private as mediation tends to be confidential and there would be no press presence, unlike what will now happen in this case.