There does appear to have been a spate of high profile divorce battles in the news recently. The one that has really caught my eye this week is that involving Margie Hanley and estranged husband Michael, and their “titanic” struggle over a holiday home in rural Ireland.
The Irish couple, married for 33 years, built the luxury isolated pad in the village of Cornamona, County Galway – Mrs Hanley’s “ancestral home” – 16 years ago. But since divorce proceedings started following her alleged affair, Mr Hanley has set up home there and they have been fighting tooth and nail in the courts over it.
Then there was a breakthrough after two days in court when it was announced the couple were finally negotiating – then a deal was struck. Finally sense prevailed. Mrs Hanley will get the disputed property – but at what cost? Certainly significantly more than its 600,000 Euro value when you add in all court and legal fees.
The case has been an interesting one, as much for the pure bloody-mindedness of it as for the riches involved (they have somewhere between 10 million and 14 million Euros in assets to split). Mrs Hanley, 56, alleges her 60-year-old husband was simply staying in the home and fighting for it to “punish” her. If that is the case, it is a very costly way to do so.
The reality also though is that the law isn’t interested in “punishing”. It is not set up that way – nor should it be in family law – but is merely a tool to help couples through the legal ending of their union. If individuals decide to dig their heels in during that process, all it does is add time and zeros to the end of the bill, cutting into the assets which ultimately need to be divided.
The case beautifully highlights why it is so important that a couple does everything possible to reach a settlement without involving the courts. Digging your heels in is counter-productive and is often simply down to point scoring or old-fashioned stubbornness. It has little relation to what the individuals actually want. Having respect for each and reaching an amicable resolution can save time, money and heartache – particularly if children are involved.
It also, again, highlights what an important role pre-nups and post-nuptial agreements can play in helping smooth the waters if a couple splits up. Pre-nups can set out before a couple gets married what they walk away with in the event of a breakdown. Maybe that could well have helped the Hanleys in this situation. It certainly serves as a cautionary tale to urge people to do what they can to reach an agreement before getting to court.
In the end, the couple should be applauded for finally negotiating but it went so far before they did that there is really no winner.
Divorce & family solicitor, Burton upon Trent