London — When he's 64, Paul McCartney may well be on a long and winding road - through the courts - in one of Britain's most expensive divorce cases.
With Wednesday's announcement that the former Beatle and his second wife, Heather Mills McCartney, have separated, speculation immediately turned to the financial settlements surrounding the end of their four-year marriage.
"She could get a huge chunk of his wealth," said Patricia Hollings, a divorce specialist with the London legal firm Finers Stephens Innocent. Hollings said that Mills McCartney's relatively young age - she is 38 - and the fact that they have a child, combined with McCartney's "staggering" wealth and celebrity status, have the potential to push the settlement into the stratosphere.
On Wednesday, McCartney, who turns 64 next month, posted a message on his personal Web site saying that he was upset over suggestions that Mills McCartney had simply married him for his fortune, estimated to be $1.5 billion. The couple did not have a prenuptial agreement, Mills McCartney said in a Vanity Affair interview in 2002.
"It's been suggested that she married me for the money and there is not an ounce of truth in this," McCartney said in the posting. "She is a very generous person who spends most of her time trying to help others in greater need than herself. All the work she does is unpaid so these stories are ridiculous and completely unfounded."
Earlier in the day, the couple issued a joint statement insisting their split was friendly - but said that intrusions by the media made it difficult to sustain their relationship. "Having tried exceptionally hard to make our relationship work given the daily pressures surrounding us, it is with sadness that we have decided to go our separate ways," the couple said. "Our parting is amicable and both of us still care about each other very much."
McCartney and Mills McCartney married in June 2002, four years after his first wife, Linda McCartney, died of breast cancer. Linda and Paul McCartney married in 1969, and had three children - Mary, Stella and James.
McCartney and Mills McCartney met at a charity event in 1999, and their relationship immediately made tabloid headlines, not simply because of the difference in their ages but also because of the supposed disapproval of McCartney's children. There were also stories about rowdy arguments between the pair.
Mills McCartney has also been accused of meddling in her husband's career - such as the dismissal of his longtime publicist Geoff Baker - and even of influencing him on issues as diverse as dying his hair and plastic surgery.
At one point, McCartney felt forced to defend his wife publicly. In a statement on Mills McCartney's personal Web site, McCartney posted a note blasting the media and denying the rumors, including suggestions that his children disliked their new stepmother.
Mills McCartney is a former model and a vociferous animal-rights campaigner who recently traveled with McCartney to eastern Canada to fight that country's seal hunt. On that trip, they appeared happy and professional, a reporter who accompanied them said.
In 1993, Mills' left leg was amputated below the knee after a motorcycle accident.