Crikey



Murdoch gives lessons in how to divorce-proof a business

Wendi Deng Rupert Murdoch

After 14  years of marriage, Rupert Murdoch and his wife of the lightning-fast reflexes, Wendi Deng, are getting divorced. In an application for divorce filed in New York, the media mogul said the marriage had “broken down irretrievably”.

Murdoch and Deng were married in 1999, when he was 68 and Deng was a 30-year-old junior executive at News Corp’s Star TV in Hong Kong. Murdock had finalised his divorce from his second wife, Anna Torv, just 17 days earlier.

Murdoch’s numerous divorces (this is his third) provide plenty of lessons for other business owners keen to protect their assets.

Marriage breakup has seen the erosion of many a fortune. For example, actor John Cleese toured the world in 2009 with his comedy show, How to Finance your Divorce, no doubt inspired by his $US19.7 million payout to wife of 17 years Alyce Faye. Local billionaire Gerry Harvey paid Lynette Harvey a huge stake in Harvey Norman when the couple divorced in 1982. And just yesterday, oil tycoon Michael Prest lost his fight to keep his former wife from getting a share of the assets held by companies he controlled.

When Murdoch divorced his second wife in 1999, she was awarded $1.7 billion in assets. However, as the couple lived in California, a community-property state, she could have received half of the Murdoch fortune (then valued at more than $7.8 billion), according to The New York Times.

She didn’t, due to Murdoch’s preparations before they got married, precautions it’s believed he also took before his marriage to Deng.

But a pre-nuptial agreement isn’t enough. Even a solid pre-nuptial agreement can be overridden if a partner nonetheless contributes to a business on an unpaid basis, warns M+K partner Andrew Douglas.

If your partner becomes involved in your business, it must be on a proper contractual basis,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s a concept called ‘constructive trust’. If a person helps out with paperwork but isn’t appropriately remunerated for that, they can say they were a true partner in the business.”

But even so, the partner who is less involved in the business — even if they can get out of a prenuptial agreement — is often at a disadvantage when it comes to the dividing of assets, says Tindall Gask Bentley partner and divorce lawyer Jane Miller.

Say the husband’s the one who is the CEO and the wife’s role has been much more of a support one. She might not have a good understanding about the businesses’ income, and how much the business is worth, and that can affect how much she ends up getting.

While waiting for the property settlement, you sometimes see one of the business owners try to run down a business, or cook the books so it doesn’t look like it’s doing so well. There’s a lot of scope to manipulate the situation.”

In Murdoch’s case, it’s his third marriage breakup. We can expect him to have availed himself of the best legal advice money can buy, leaving Deng at a significant disadvantage.

But she might have one card to play. As Michael Wolff wrote in The Guardian this morning, she has been Murdoch’s closest confidante for years. No doubt he’s a man with much he’d rather be kept private. And Deng knows all his secrets.

*This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on SmartCompany

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Categories: Companies, Players

18 Responses

Comments page: 1 |
  1. Good move Ms Weng. It would be like living near North head in Sydney. You get used to the smell of the stuff leaving the sewer plant eventually, but its the view that is really hard to take.
    She deserves compensation for that alone

    by drmick on Jun 14, 2013 at 1:35 pm

  2. He may be every businessman’s role model at divorce-proofing his companies but is unable to divorce-proof himself.

    by zut alors on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:21 pm

  3. Where, in life, did I go wrong?

    by Venise Alstergren on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:26 pm

  4. Some are asking is Rupert gay?

    by Bill Hilliger on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm

  5. leaving Deng at a significant disadvantage.” I would think that Deng’s “disadvantage” would be very tidy indeed. Not bad work if you can get it.

    by mikeb on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:45 pm

  6. Rupert might be gay. Word is that those last two children were grudge pregnancies. A couple of her bodyguards had it in for him.

    by drmick on Jun 14, 2013 at 2:55 pm

  7. Of Course she doesn’t know all the secrets.
    What a silly thing to say.
    There are many more secrets he has been privy to or made over the years.
    I’m sure she will be happy with a decent amount roughly in line with the pre-nup.
    Murdoch is not one to be crossed.

    Amusing how his divorce didn’t even rate a mention on his twitter account.
    Just business as normal and another divorce maybe.

    Who will be his next wife?

    by sabina lokic on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm

  8. Drmick you must have been moving in the same circle of Hottentots who gave me the - word is… I await anxiously the dissection by the murdoxian press of this could be salacious saga. Will the muppets from skynews have wall to wall speculation on this matter?

    by Bill Hilliger on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm

  9. Yes Mr H. I can see the weekend edition of the mudrock daily talking about his over use of paid hookers aka his reporters and TV staff; but, as a concerned nurse, i also fear for Ms Wengs regularity.
    I imagine she would not have had any problems for the last 14 years. Rolling over each morning and seeing that would have soiled the satin everytime.

    by drmick on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:30 pm

  10. It occurs to me that Rupert Murdoch already has wife number four lined up. Why else would he bother getting a divorce?

    by Venise Alstergren on Jun 14, 2013 at 3:43 pm

  11. Dr - I’ve heard, that if you’ve eaten one prune you’ve eaten them all. Is that true?

    by klewso on Jun 14, 2013 at 4:00 pm

  12. Hahahahahaha

    by Venise Alstergren on Jun 14, 2013 at 4:37 pm

  13. Good point Klewso. If you eat it you don’t need it

    by drmick on Jun 14, 2013 at 4:41 pm

  14. Not mentioned here but a big issue was the role/share of the two Deng children in News Ltd. This was a huge issue for Wendy and she may have finally overplayed her cards. Of course the adult Murdoch children (and the whole family) were fighting it all the way too and it seems — with the passage of time Rupe may have agreed with them. In 2004 he lost out to the family over this issue. As part of Anna Torv’s divorce settlement he was forced to put 28% of the company into a family trust for the adult children and this is where the battles have been since it confers control of the company. Deng was extremely ambitious — this time for her children — and has fought hard to unravel this trust, without success, but possibly increasing corrosiveness over the years.

    Incidentally there are some off-key implications about this being his third divorce. It was Anna who became unhappy with the arrangement because he broke various promises about slowing down and perhaps moving back to Oz. (His first marriage was brief and when his first wife died young, he and Anna raised Prudence.) I’d bet this breakup will be mostly Deng’s doing (though ultimately probably reluctantly since she loses her main goal vis a vis the children). Her first marriage (and Green Card) was to her (married) American mentor. She is one determined woman but may have met her match in Rupert. She has ferociously networked with Murdoch’s pervasive contacts so it will be interesting to see if this survives.
    …………..
    Nice comment Bill at 2:38 pm but sabina didn’t get the joke.

    by michael r james on Jun 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm

  15. er… some say Tony Blair?

    by Bill Hilliger on Jun 15, 2013 at 6:11 pm

  16. BILL: Er…that’s what I heard too.

    by Venise Alstergren on Jun 16, 2013 at 6:11 pm

  17. we need to know more of why Wendi upset Rups - had she been up to old habits and caught spying on News ? um something pissed off the dirty digger!
    Deng had a history of a past before meeting Rups- that would be described she was connected to high people in Mainland China- and Richard lee is in that mix- from Hk, who was one of few people according to Murdoch , who got the upper hand in a deal with him- when News bought Star! so much mystery and questions here re why now Wenhi has to walk!

    by David Thompson on Jun 18, 2013 at 6:07 am

  18. Probably got sick of wiping his chin?

    by klewso on Jun 18, 2013 at 6:36 pm

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