“Will my client ever forgive her? It is unlikely.”
Some years ago, a client came to see me about his wife. He was a consultant at a hospital. She was a medical researcher at a university. According to him, their sex life was good and there had been no signs of any problems. Then one day, like a bolt from the blue, the wife announced that their marriage had gone stale – and that she wished to “move on”.
The couple had attended two counselling sessions, but these had failed to throw any light upon his wife’s decision. She denied that a third party was involved, and my client was adamant that she was telling the truth. The couple both worked extremely long hours, and shared the care of their children with a live-in nanny. The nanny had been with the family since the birth of their youngest child eight years previously.
I asked him about his wife’s work pattern. He told me that she travelled fairly frequently; sometimes, when he was working nights or weekends, they passed “like ships in the night”. They had both agreed that children would not adversely affect their careers, but he had made considerable sacrifices. He had declined lucrative private work, to better assist with the childcare arrangements. He felt such sacrifices keenly and described how his wife had spent the previous evening with a “girl friend” at a pop concert, while he had stayed at home to babysit.
From a legal perspective, the case seemed relatively straightforward. I advised him that there was no reason why a shared childcare arrangement could not continue as before, but from two homes. I did point out that if the nanny went to live with the mother, it was likely that the children would spend more time away from their father.
The finances could also be split equally, as both husband and wife earned similar incomes and were likely to reside in similar properties. The couple’s pension arrangements were slightly imbalanced in pension in the husband’s favour, but this was unlikely to make any significant difference. Both parties had healthy parents, so inheritance prospects were not relevant. My client would probably have to pay agreed child support and contribute equally to school fees.
On the face of it, there were no major problems. However, my client hadn’t listened to a word. He explained that he had come to see me because, as a woman, I might be able to make some sense of what had happened to turn his life upside down.
I asked him if, when he made diagnoses, he ever gave his opinion without being absolutely certain. When he admitted that this was frequently the case, I told him that I suspected his wife had begun an affair. I advised him to go home and ask her again, because the cost of false hope was tormenting him. His wife needed to tell him the truth, to put him out of his misery.
A few days later he telephoned to arrange another appointment. I had been right: another person was involved. His wife was conducting an affair with a work colleague – another woman.
This situation is not uncommon and the law does not differentiate between same sex and heterosexual relationships to any great degree. It is always difficult to advise clients when a third party is involved, particularly the perceived impact on the children. In this case, my client also had to consider the prospect of his children living with two women in the same house, who shared the same bed. He was adamantly opposed to this. However, the courts are dealing with an increasing number of same sex relationships, and civil partnerships, (marriage between same sex couples) have been recognised in law since 2005. Same sex couples may adopt and foster children. It was likely that at some stage, the court would give the go-ahead for the children to reside with the mother and her new partner.
It was important to tread carefully. It is not my function as a lawyer to make moral judgments; rather, I assist clients to arrange acceptable settlements. Acting on my advice and what he felt to be his children’s best interests, the doctor rethought this plans. The nanny agreed to stay with him and he was able to reduce his working hours, so he could demonstrably become a full time carer for the children. He made a claim for residence of the children and suggested a pattern of contact with their mother, which would not involve them staying overnight with her and her new partner for the foreseeable future. He looked to his wife for child support.
He also proposed that his wife would only obtain her share of the equity in the house once the children had left home for university. I advised him that it was unlikely the court would tie up the equity in the house for so long. I also thought the court might make orders for the children to stay with their mother in the near future.
His wife made counter proposals. Following negotiations, we settled:my client bought out his wife for one third of the agreed equity in the property on a “clean break” basis, with no come backs on either side. She is contributing maintenance payments. She pays more towards school fees; he pays the nanny. The children remain in the family home with their father and the nanny, and are adjusting to the trauma of their mother’s departure and her relationship with another woman. Both parents have taken positive steps for the sake of their children, who are also being assisted by supportive teaching staff at their schools.
Will my client ever forgive his former wife? I think it unlikely. Recently I heard he had remarried. He married the nanny.