The process of divorce can be fraught with animosity but it’s important to focus on the endgame – parting ways and starting anew – rather than getting wrapped up in antagonistic pettiness, as proven recently by a wealthy UK couple who have already spent a third of their assets on their ongoing divorce battle. The estranged couple, Barbara Cooke and Michael Parker, have been fighting over joint assets worth over £6 million in a case that has been described as a ‘scandalous waste of court time’ by the judge, after spending over £2 million on lawyers’ fees.
Judge Holman claims that the couple have ‘completely lost touch with reality’ over their divorce settlement, which includes a business that supplies luxury goods to hotels and spas, and has urged them to negotiate before the case turns into a ‘catastrophe’. Should the case go to trial, it is estimated that a further £200,000 will be spent on solicitors’ fees to resolve their dispute.
“Sometimes one can see cases where people are just absolutely determined to go on and on and on,” Judge Holman stated at a hearing in 2017, “If there is nothing left at the end, there is nothing left at the end. It won’t be Maseratis, will it? It will be a beaten-up old Ford if you’re lucky.”
Financial negotiations are often the most complex part of the divorce process and can act as a flashpoint for disagreements between separating couples, but engaging in a potentially lengthy and expensive battle over assets is not the ideal way to approach proceedings. There is always room for cooperation and understanding, and there are several alternatives to court divorce that foster communication and positive negotiation – such as mediation, arbitration and collaborative family law – all of which help to make the process quicker, simpler and less costly. And even if a cooperative approach is impossible, there are still practical steps you can take to ensure that your dispute resolution doesn’t devolve into endless squabbling. For example:
- Focus on the outcome, not the process. There are obviously many complicated emotions involved in divorce, but remember why you’re doing this – separation should be about making a new life for yourself, not punishing your ex. Try to detach yourself from the personal aspects of divorce and treat it like a business negotiation; don’t allow yourself to be drawn into petty disagreements and keep your eye on the final outcome.
- Be flexible and prepare to compromise. It’s unrealistic to expect to get exactly what you want from a divorce settlement, so it’s important to take an objective view. By all means keep a bare minimum in mind when you enter into financial negotiations but don’t cause delays and pointless arguments over a point that could be easily be conceded and help your case move along.
- Ensure you both provide full disclosure of assets. We’ve talked about the dangers of non-disclosure before but it’s vital that you declare both your assets and liabilities honestly and openly to avoid further legal difficulties down the road. If you suspect your ex of hiding assets, notify your solicitor as soon as possible and provide them with as much information on your joint and individual finances as possible so that they can determine whether further action should be taken.
And while most of us don’t have assets in the millions, frittering away your hard-earned money on legal fees is no joking matter. Stretching out the divorce process by refusing to cooperate serves to benefit nobody, and any satisfaction you might be imagining when you get your way will only end up bitter when you realise how much time and money you’ve wasted along the way.
Your first port of call when deciding to separate is a trusted, experienced family lawyer who can advise you on the best course of action for your unique circumstances. Ideally, the separation process should involve cooperation rather than animosity – after all, you’re both after the same outcome: to move on with your lives.
To speak to a family lawyer and find out more about options for mediation, arbitration, collaborative family law and court divorce, visit www.franceslindsay.co.uk or call 01628 634667 to book an appointment with our Thames Valley-based solicitors.
divorce, divorce advice, finances