When a marriage goes sour, the process of divorce becomes increasingly more complicated when the couple's net worth is in the stratosphere. The absence of an official prenuptial agreement, differences in international law and the circumstances surrounding of the breakup can result in large sums being paid out in the divorce settlement.
In 2012, perhaps the most high-profile divorce announcement was between celebrity couple Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Although Cruise has stated publicly that he is “deeply saddened” by the divorce filing, there may be a silver lining for the “Mission Impossible” star. With some estimates place Cruise’s net worth at upwards of $250 million, he may only stand to lose a small portion of his wealth in the divorce, thanks to a prenuptial agreement.
According to publicly available details in the agreement, Holmes is only eligible to get $3 million for every year she was married to Cruise, which would be between $15-$18 million. On top of this, Holmes is likely to get the couple’s Beverly Hills mansion, worth approximately $35 million, along with potential child support and a share of the income generated from projects the couple worked on together during their marriage. Without the prenup, Cruise may have been on the hook for half of his wealth, depending on the state in which the divorce proceedings occur.
Some high net worth individuals, however, aren’t so lucky: although the divorce of Cruise and Holmes will be quite expensive, some of the world’s most wealthy people have seen their net worth cut in half by a divorce settlement, with some passing the billion-dollar mark.
Although most settlements don't get finalized until well after the divorce takes place, there is always speculation when a high net worth divorce is on the horizon, as was the case when Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren went through their highly-public divorce. In the case of Woods, there was originally speculation that the settlement could reach $750 million, although in the end, the actual figure was considerably less.
So, what are the biggest divorce settlements and who has paid the most? There have been several in the past 12 months that have cracked the top list, although they all leave the Cruise-Holmes divorce in their dust, as far as divorce settlements go.
1. Rupert and Anna Murdoch
Settlement Amount: $1.7 billion
The most expensive divorce in the world to date is between Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his former wife, Anna Murdoch (now Anna Murdoch Mann). After a marriage of 32 years and three children together, the couple split up in 1999. Under the settlement, $1.7 billion of Rupert's fortune (which included $110 million in cash) went to Anna.
A mere 17 days after the divorce was finalized, Rupert wed Wendi Deng, 38 years his junior, while Anna married investor William Mann several months later.
2. Bernie and Slavica Ecclestone
Settlement Amount: $1-1.2 billion
The 2009 divorce between billionaire Bernie Ecclestone and his wife Slavica was at the time thought to be the most expensive in history - in the range of $4 billion. However, the final settlement is estimated by various reports to be in the range of $1-$1.2 billion. The settlement has not been made public, but experts from across the globe believe the latter number is more realistic.
Since the settlement, Slavica, a former Armani model who stands nearly a foot taller than her ex-husband, has been buying some new toys with her wealth, now estimated to be £743 million ($1.16 billion) by the Times of London. Part of her recent shopping spree is a new $60 million private plane.
3. Adnan and Soraya Khashoggi
Settlement Amount: $874 million
For almost two decades, Saudi billionaire entrepreneur and arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi held the record for the most expensive divorce settlement in history. Although they filed for divorce in 1974, it took Soraya until 1979 to sue - for a sum of $2.54 billion - her ex-husband for the rights to cash in the wake of their breakup.
In 1982, the couple agreed to a settlement that landed British-born Soraya (originally Sandra Daly) $874 million. At one time, Adnan was estimated to be worth $4 billion, but lost his billionaire status in 2007, with no help from his costly divorce.
4. Craig and Wendy McCaw
Settlement Amount: $460 million
The Seattle-area businessman and founder of McCaw Cellular, Craig McCaw and his wife Wendy split up, in 1998, just a few years after selling the company to AT&T for between $11-$12 billion. The divorce settlement saw Wendy receive most of her $460 million settlement in Nextel stock, which eventually allowed her to purchase the Santa-Barbara News-Press from the New York Times. When the settlement was finalized, it put her on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans, but she soon dropped off after a short run.
5. Mel and Robyn Gibson
Settlement Amount: $425 million
In what is the biggest celebrity divorce of all-time, Mel Gibson reportedly handed over half of his $850 million fortune when he split with his wife of 31 years, Robyn. The divorce was finalized in December 2011 after being filed more than two years earlier, following the release of photos showing the actor in an embrace with Russian singer-songwriter Oksana Grigorieva.
As a result of the divorce, it was reported that Robyn was entitled to not only half of Gibson’s wealth, but also any future residuals from Gibson’s films. Not only did Gibson lose half his fortune (he too did not have a prenuptial agreement), but soon after his relationship with Grigorieva hit the breaks. In a highly publicized breakup that included recorded phone conversations and restraining orders, Gibson was also ordered to pay child support to the tune of $750,000, plus a multi-million dollar settlement.
6. Robert and Sheila Johnson
Settlement Amount: $400 million
Robert Johnson, the co-founder of BET and America's first African-American billionaire, also has one of the biggest divorce settlements in history. After a marriage of over 30 years, the couple split up in 2000 and Sheila received an estimated $400 million in the settlement. Both have continued their business dealings, owning majority stakes in professional men's and women's basketball teams. In 2005, Sheila married William T. Newman Jr., the judge who presided over her original divorce case.
7. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver
Settlement Amount: $250-$375 million
In another highly publicized divorce, movie star and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife of 25 years, Maria Shriver, split after it was revealed that Schwarzenegger had fathered a child with a member of the couple’s domestic staff.
Since the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement, Schwarzenegger was required under California law to hand over half of his wealth to Shriver, reports indicated that that he was willing to give an even more generous sum in order to demonstrate that he was taking responsibility for his actions. Although the final figure was never made public after the 2011 announcement, it was estimated that Schwarzenegger’s wealth was between $500 million and $750 million, placing the settlement between $250 and $375 million.
Click here to see the full list of Most Expensive Divorces of All Time.