Last weekend ‘Gladiator’ actor Russell Crowe took the unusual step of appearing personally on stage at Sotheby’s in Sydney Australia to auction off over 200 personal possessions to mark his divorce from ex-wife Danielle Spencer. Entitled ‘The Art of Divorce’, the items for sale attracted a great deal of attention as they included many costumes and props from Crowe’s popular film back catalogue, including Gladiator. But what of the ‘divorce auction’ itself?
Family partner Ed Floyd shares his thoughts:
You see a lot of wealthy international divorce cases – have you ever come across a ‘divorce auction’ before? No, I must admit I haven’t come across a wholesale divorce auction quite like this before. Of course occasionally individual items or collections are offered at auction, but usually things like furniture – when items from a larger property are sold because they wouldn’t be suitable after post-divorce ‘down-sizing’. And sometimes of course funds need to be raised urgently, and auction can be one way of achieving this.
Russell Crowe has raised £2 million from his divorce auction. Is it something for others to consider? Mr Crowe has certainly capitalised on his celebrity to great innovative effect. But for most ‘normal’ people this approach would be seen as a fire sale. Auction prices, particularly for jewellery, can often be lower than insurance values and a private sale can achieve a higher price. It’s important to get realistic valuations. In most cases, a divorcing couple can amicably divide up their possessions, i.e. each party retains their own family heirlooms or personal jewellery they use, or by taking turns at picking items from collections such as paintings from a list. Where a husband and wife can’t agree, the Family Court can adjudicate.
Is it significant that the auction was held in Sydney rather than in London or anywhere else? Not necessarily. Whilst the terms of the financial settlement would be confidential, a divorce in England can deal with assets held worldwide. But it’s interesting that under English law, for any items that were acquired during their marriage, the starting point would be that the proceeds of the sale should be shared with Mr Crowe’s ex-wife, Ms Spencer.
Is there an ‘art’ to divorce, as the title of the auction suggests? Well, there can be very intricately argued cases and creatively structured settlements. However, I would say it is more of a science – the first step is to calculate the assets: the second is to work out a fair division.
How do your clients usually mark the end of their divorces? It varies. The ending of a marriage is never easy, but most of our clients rely on us to guard their privacy very carefully – the thought of more than 200 of their personal possessions being paraded on the international media circuit for open bidding would appal them.
So do you think Russell Crowe, like his Gladiator character, was exacting vengeance? No. Divorce can certainly create a storm of emotions on both sides, but focusing on revenge alone benefits no one. My job is to steer a smooth course through all that and support my clients to achieving their long-term aims. We also have to remember that this couple, like many couples, has two young children to think about and their futures to plan for. The lawyers on both sides of a divorce, however complex, should be focusing on what is best for the family as a whole.