This week in the high court Justice Holman, a judge in the family division, heard a battle between American lawyer Richard Fields, 59 and his fifth wife Ekaterina Parfenova, the former 42 year old beauty queen. They have been married 10 years and are arguing over his multi-million pound assets, in particular his Steinway baby grand piano. The cost of the case was estimated at £1.2 million before it was nearing its end this week. Mr Fields offered £80,000 for his wife’s share of the contents of their three bedroom New York apartment but his wife wanted the Steinway as well. Mr Fields said he had purchased the Steinway prior to their marriage to replace an identical one he had given to his third wife and wanted to retain it. Mr Fields doesn’t play the piano but his wife was an amateur pianist and their seven year old son was learning to play. In his decision the judge said children do not need to play Steinway’s and accepted that it would be ridiculous to ship the £64,000 piano from New York to England resulting in Mr Field retaining ‘custody’ of the Steinway.
Mr Fields’ lawyer suggested that Ms Parfenova ought to find work in a jewellery store or estate agents rather than rely on Mr Fields, who was her second husband, to keep her for the rest of her life. She had remarked that she would rather find another husband. The couple, who have two children, were married in 2002 and granted a decree nisi in 2013.
The courts have power to make decisions in relation to contents, known as chattels. Frequently, parties reach an agreement about dividing these up to avoid increasing legal costs. Judges have been known to order contents to be sold at auction where parties haven’t been able to reach an agreement. The costs incurred in this case are substantial and one wonders if some of the legal fees could have been better spent on buying another piano!