Earl Spencer and his former wife Caroline have opted to settle their bitterly contested divorce out of court to avoid details of their lives being revealed in the press.
The pair and their lawyers made the decision overnight after a High Court judge told them that if they wanted him to help divide up their assets, he would do so in public.
It came after parliament passed new legislation which instructed that all family court hearings should be open to public scrutiny in the same way as criminal proceedings.
The judge was told that as well as the details of the couple's wealth, assets, financial commitments and lifestyles, the court would hear "allegations of conduct on both sides which it may be necessary to explore in evidence".
The 41-year-old Countess was granted a decree nisi of her six-year marriage to 44-year-old Lord Spencer in March 2007 on the grounds of his "unreasonable behaviour".
Lord Spencer, who was previously married to Victoria Lockwood, left Caroline, their four month-old daughter and two year-old son nearly three years ago and shortly afterwards is alleged to have begun a relationship with a US television reporter.
The pair have not yet had a decree absolute because of wrangling over the division of their assets, including the former family home overlooking the Regent's Canal in Little Venice, West London, which Lord Spencer bought from Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.
On Tuesday, Earl Spencer and the Countess attended London's High Court court to hear their lawyers ask Mr Justice Munby for a blanket ban on media coverage of the case, despite the change in law opening up the family courts.
Mr Justice Munby declined, saying such a ban would suggest there was one law for celebrities and "another law for those who live their lives in tranquillity and anonymity" when really theirs was simply another "big money case".