Bernie Ecclestone and his wife Slavica have today divorced after almost 25 years of marriage, following what has been described as a 'quickie' 58-second court hearing - but the Formula 1 supremo could now be forced to pay out up to ?1 billion to the statuesque, Croatian-born former Armani model in terms of a settlement, what would make it the world's most expensive separation.

The Principal Registry of the High Court Family Division in London granted Mrs Ecclestone the decree nisi she had requested on the grounds of her husband's 'unreasonable behaviour', with the 50-year-old claiming that his workaholic nature 'has caused me stress and anxiety' and adding that they had not lived together for six months, the Daily Mail reports.

Judge Berry ruled that the marriage had 'broken down irretrievably' as a result of the Formula One Management (FOM) chief executive having 'behaved in such a way that the petitioner cannot reasonably be expected to live with the respondent'.

The couple met at the 1982 Italian Grand Prix when Mrs Ecclestone was modelling, and they were married less than three years later, at Kensington and Chelsea Register Office in July 1985. They have two daughters, 24-year-old Tamara and 19-year-old Petra, who have a yacht named jointly after them.

Though there was a fleeting reunion at Christmas which showed the Ecclestones seemingly back together, the divorce would ultimately prove to be inevitable, with Mr Ecclestone electing not to defend any of his now ex-wife's 25 petitions and undertaking to pay all legal costs. Neither was in attendance at the short court hearing.

Aside from their ?10 million Chelsea home and yacht, the couple own a private jet and a hotel in Switzerland, but the greatest problem for Ecclestone is that he placed ?1.9 billion of his ?2.4 billion fortune in off-shore trusts in Slavica's name for tax purposes ten years ago.

Mrs Ecclestone hired leading divorce lawyer Liz Vernon - who secured a third of all ex-England and Arsenal footballer Ray Parlour's future wages for his wife in a landmark ruling in 2004 - to fight her corner. Should a private agreement not be reached, a separate hearing will need to be held to determine just how much of his fortune Ecclestone will be forced to concede.



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