An Italian court has said divorce settlements should no longer guarantee spouses their previous standard of living but rather simply make sure they were financially independent.
The top appeals court ruling could bring an end to the huge settlements seen in some break-ups, such as the $1.5 million (1.4 million euros) a month that former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has to pay his ex-wife, Veronica Lario.
On Wednesday, the court ruled in a case brought by the ex-wife of Vittorio Grilli, a former economy minister. But rather than back her request for more alimony, the judges said times had changed and the approach to divorce needed to be updated.
The judges said in a written verdict that getting married was “an act of freedom and personal responsibility”, that it should not be seen as “a definitive settlement” and that alimony should not be based on any previous “standard of living”.
In this context, it said courts needed to review the work prospects of a separated spouse and simply safeguard their future “economic independence or self-sufficiency”.
“This is an important decision,” said the head of Italy’s association of matrimonial lawyers, Gian Ettore Gassani.
“The court has ruled that marriage cannot be a business or a way of climbing up the social ladder (through big payouts),” he told Radio 24 on Thursday. Existing divorce settlements could also now be challenged in court, he said.
“My phone has been ringing off the hook,” he said.
Divorce did not become legal in Italy until 1970. Originally, the law imposed a mandatory five-year separation period intended to make couples reconsider. In 1987, this was reduced to three years and slashed to just six months in 2015.
Gassani said in the 1970s, most women did not work, meaning divorcees depended utterly on their alimony to survive. “However, times change and this ruling reflects that.”
In contrast to the Italian ruling, a London court ruled on Thursday that a former trader had to pay his estranged wife $584 million (453 million pounds), in one of the biggest divorce settlements in English legal history.