Counting the cost of divorce


If there is one thing that attracts even more media attention than the rich and famous getting married, it is when they get divorced. Last week, an acrimonious battle between a millionaire couple that has been ongoing in the family court for months on end was branded “a scandalous waste of court time” by a judge.

While the sums of money might seem far removed from the average man or woman in the street, the underlying message is one that will resonate with anyone: In a messy legal battle, the only winners are the lawyers.

Millions spent in legal costs

Fans of classic literature, or indeed the TV adaptations, will see more than a passing connection with the Charles Dickens masterpiece Bleak House. Michael Parker and Barbara Cooke are an estranged couple who, in 2001, jointly established a company called BC Softwear, which supplies high quality towels and bathrobes to luxury spas and top end hotels. Since the break up of their marriage, they have been fighting over their joint assets, worth in the region of £6.6 million.

There are several bizarre aspects to the case, including allegations of either or both committing acts of arson in an attempt to perpetrate insurance fraud in 2012. But the most astonishing thing of all is that so far, they have spent almost £2 million on legal costs – and it is still at the stage of pre-trial hearings. The judge estimates that at least another £200,000 will evaporate if the matter proceeds to trial.

Mr Justice Holman said that the warring parties have “completely lost touch with reality.” He added: “Sometimes one can see cases where people are just absolutely determined to go on and on and on. I don’t know on which side the fault lies; it’s probably shared.”

When heart overtakes head

That last comment is one that will almost certainly strike a chord with anyone who has been through a divorce. Whatever the rights and wrongs, even for the most pragmatic of couples, divorce is never easy, and it is all too easy for amicable negotiations to rapidly collapse into recriminations.

The key to keeping the process of divorce as pain-free as is humanly possible is to remain objective and not to try and do it all yourself. Professional support and advice will not just guide you through the legal minefield, it will also give you the support of someone who is on your side but at the same time is not emotionally involved in the case.

Work through the emotions

That is not to say there is anything wrong with being upset, angry or emotional. You might claim to be as tough as old boots, but the fact is that divorce is emotionally draining for both parties. Regardless of whether you did everything you could to save the marriage or you could not get out the door fast enough, it is still a time of immeasurable change. Feelings of anger, loss and depression are only natural.

Don’t do anything silly

In Bleak House, the protagonists in Jarndyce vs Jarndyce finally got their resolution, but for the winner, it was a hollow victory, as the vast fortune in dispute had been consumed by the lawyers. Parker vs Cooke might well end up going the same way, and serves as a real life modern day take on Dickens’ cautionary tale.

It is easy to see how these situations can arise, so our advice for anyone going through a divorce is to get some independent professional assistance at the earliest opportunity. At Hylton-Potts, our team has helped thousands of people negotiate the legal and emotional minefields that divorce brings, and to come out on the other side with body, soul and bank balance in the best possible condition. Give us a call on 020 7381 8111, or get in touch via email at law@hylton-potts.com.

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