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Family Law Blog

Comment on divorce & family law

John and Sarah’s divorce

We all hear, it seems daily, about yet another “celebrity divorce” or the make believe “quickie divorce” they often claim to obtain. We hear about the agonising over whether the settlement should be £200million or £300million. What a hard life and tough case that must be!

Let’s have a look at a more normal case, we’ll call them John and Sarah and make them Mr & Mrs Middle England, perhaps our typical client. It is Sarah who comes in to see us.

John (we are told by Sarah….)
49, first marriage
Sales Director on £90k pa
Maybe has some shares
Has a large pension
Having an affair with the MD and will move in with her
He has stopped paying all the bills and is getting physically aggressive when Sarah won’t agree the settlement he proposes

47, 2nd marriage.
1 child from first marriage and 2 from this
Children at private school
Runs garden design business, making about £25k pa net
Expects to inherit about £600k from her widowed mother who is in good health
No pension
Family history of Parkinson’s disease at about age 55 to 60 and she is worried about some symptoms but thinks they may just be caused by this stress.

I could add much more detail. But these are the main issues to come up:

Domestic violence injunction
We would talk this through with Sarah. Does she think he might be violent, how scared is she, does she want an injunction? Court is best avoided–always–but sometimes a person who is just starting to get violent needs a quick warning.

Reconciliation or mediation
This doesn’t take long as Sarah says she will not contemplate getting back together again. We explain that this feeling can some times fade but she is adamant. Sadly, he is the type who will totally refuse to see anybody “like a counsellor” and in his eyes that includes mediators and she thinks will also mean he’d refuse to get involved in collaborative divorce with one of our collaborative lawyers. That is a great pity, for that was to be our next suggestion!

Paying bills meanwhile (legal system calls this “maintenance pending suit”)
She should contribute to the bills of course but he has the main ability to pay them. This is a major issue as if he keeps her short she won’t be able to afford legal and financial help whereas he will. We will contact him (as it seems he doesn’t yet have his own divorce lawyer) and try to have a calm discussion with him. She tells us he’ll just be abusive but we’ll try anyway. Water off a duck’s back to someone who has dealt with divorce for over 25 years!

She wants to divorce as soon as possible. “Quickie divorce” is mentioned. We discuss the grounds for divorce. Adultery is the obvious one but we have no evidence. We proceed on unreasonable behaviour and/or adultery as really she’d like to get him to admit the latter. As she is upset today, we feel pleased we can give her the link to our video on How to Get a Divorce

Legal costs
We explain these carefully and confirm them in writing. They will be less if we can avoid Court but so might the settlement be so it is a value judgement. But we think about 95% of our clients do not have to physically attend Court for their settlements, i.e. we negotiate and mediate almost all.

Financial settlement
Of course it’s too early to say but she will no doubt end this with a decent house and enough money to pay all the bills. There may not be enough money though for the children to stay at private school and two homes to be paid for. That might depends upon whether he does move in with his MD. We’ll need to take a good look at his pension fund and his shareholding. She will need a pension. Divorce and pensions is a complex area and even we may well need expert advice from an actuary if it looks worthwile.

Medical and stress
It is normal for the person who thought the marriage was good, to be devastated and very emotional. But Sarah seems to be losing some touch with reality. We need a medical report anyway to consider her fears of Parkinson’s and look at whether she might need more funds as a result. We ask for a medical report. We talk carefully to her about seeing a divorce counsellor or coach. (We are glad we have been trained in how to discuss this sensitive subject). She will see a counsellor. We are hopeful this might help restrain the anger and thus help a negotiated settlement.

Of course, I could go on. But this is a typical start to a divorce. See how much more Mr and Mrs Middle England have to cope with than poor old Mr and Mrs “£ Many Millions” Celebrity?

Andrew Woolley
Divorce Solicitor

Blog Author - Andrew Woolley

Andrew WoolleyAndrew Woolley

Andrew is the owner and managing partner of Woolley & Co. He regularly offers comments and views on a range of family law issues.

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