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Dirty Divorce Tricks – Part 1

Covert operations to uncover your partner’s secrets

For certain people, divorce – or even the thought of divorce – brings their very worst qualities to the fore.

Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster. When people are really hurting, particularly if they have been “swapped” for somebody else, self-preservation becomes all-important. But for some, such a state of mind leads to all-consuming hatred, malice and a desire for vengeance.

After 25 years as a divorce solicitor, nothing surprises me anymore. Drawing upon my own experiences – some of them eye-opening – I have compiled a countdown of the top ten dirty divorce tricks.

The first five are below. I wish to stress that none of them are recommended; indeed, some of them are illegal!

  • 10. Moving the spouse to a different country, in order to obtain a more favourable divorce settlement. This may sound far-fetched but, as I have noted in a previous post, it happens more frequently than one might think.The trusting spouse does not realise that the promised life of sun and fun is never destined to materialise. Instead, a divorce looms in a country in which financial settlements are far more modest than in rainy England.
  • 9. Covert surveillance of a spouse by bugging the phone, the car, the office – or by employing an enquiry agent. When a spouse is suspected of having an affair, all sorts of surveillance techniques can be used. One client told me that her husband would wait until he was in the car to discuss his affair with friends, or with the Other Woman herself. The wife placed a recorder under the car seat, and recorded all his telephone calls. Although it gave her satisfaction, I question the need in law. It isn’t necessary for a divorce, and it is likely to leave the Judge wondering about the character of someone who goes to these lengths. Where discretion is needed for a financial settlement, this type of conduct can backfire.
  • 8. Secretly photocopying every scrap of financial information in the house and office. Also: downloading everything from a spouse’s computer, and later pretending that he/she didn’t realise what he/she was doing. This is very common, although most likely illegal. What often happens is that a piece of computer equipment is purchased with which to download the computer’s hard drive. Or an IT expert is surreptitiously called in. Either way, the spouse obtains information that, under the evidence rules in family law, should be disclosed to the other side. In my experience, however, much of what is obtained is either useless or irrelevant. Clients are left exposed in civil and criminal law. In any event, this information can be obtained legally, without personal risk, by a court-governed disclosure process.
  • 7. Salting away as much money as possible, ready for that “rainy day”. Many clients know that they are going to get divorced long before proceedings are set in motion. They decide to take pre-emptive action and hide their money. Wealthy people do this by shipping it offshore into untraceable bank accounts, owned via a warren of trusts and companies. The less well off do it by depositing funds in the bank accounts of relatives. The most extreme case I have come across was that of a spouse who had placed more or less everything the couple had into an untouchable offshore trust. He then began to borrow against all the rest of the non-trust assets onshore. Fortunately his wife became wise to his ploy. She was able to injunct him and put a stop to it. In other cases, companies are sold and the monies “squatted” long before the divorce takes place, or afterwards when it is too late to do anything more about it.
  • 6. Damage, destruction or sale of the household’s most valuable contents – particularly those that the spouse wishes to keep. Lady Graham Moon has gone down in English family law history for acting like a milkman, except that she was delivering to her neighbours the contents of her estranged husband’s valuable wine cellar. Cases I have personally encountered include:
  • A wife who sold the Steinway piano without the knowledge of her pianist husband.
  • A wife who sawed the legs off a Chippendale cabinet and delivered it – along with its removed legs – to her husband.
  • A wife who ran a bath of scalding water and bleach, in which she dumped all her husbands’ suits and ties.

Some clients claim to have sold assets at for remarkably low prices; miraculously, these same assets reappear in their ownership once the case is over. I have known this to happen with valuable jewellery, art – and even a yacht!

To be continued…

Update: this blog is continued in part two here.

The founder of Stowe Family Law, Marilyn Stowe is one of Britain’s best known family law solicitors and divorce lawyers. She retired from Stowe Family Law in 2017.

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  1. Antoniofww says:

    I’m so glad you are addressing these topics. We get questions like this all the time on our site. I’d love to speak with you about writing an article on our site that we can highlight. Let me know your thoughts.

  2. M Haystead says:

    in a divorce between two people together for 12 years and married for 10, aged 40 and 56 with no children involved, is the setlement of finance etc. a 50-50 split even though one party has contributed more by selling their house to buy one in joint names.

  3. Joan Morton says:

    I can only imagine that Marilyn you haven’t had this happen to you to imagine that bugging your husband is extreme. The need for the truth and closure on this chapter of life (25 years) can only be understood by a sufferer. I bugged my friends car as she was the new woman, it helped me enormously just to know for sure. Now I can move on.

  4. Relationship Problems says:

    Many of the ‘tricks’ you mention may seem dirty, but unfortunately, when you’re going through the emotional rollercoaster of divorce, human emotions don’t seem to pay any attention to what is right or wrong.

    Pre-meditated divorce tricks are another matter altogether. I guess it just goes to show you never truly know your loving partner as well as you think you do.

  5. Mark says:

    The first thing i did when divorce was looming was make a new Will. I don’t think i can stress the importance of this enough. Making a Will afresh is by no means a dirty trick i don’t think some may think otherwise.

  6. Divorce Techniques says:

    These are pretty underhanded by sound techniques, I must say. However, I do question the “destruction of household’s most valuable content.” Can’t your particular actions of destruction against his belongings be used against you during your divorce trial? It seems like actually destroying his or her prized possessions may prove counter-active in the long run. Or is there something that I’m not seeing about this point?

  7. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Yes you can obtain financial compensation for malicious damage caused by the other spouse. But that compensation doesnt physically replace the item that has been damaged or destroyed. The wife who destroyed the Steinway knew she would irreperably and deeply hurt her pianist husband. However, when he discovered what had happened, he declined to ask for financial compensation from her. He chose to let it go.
    Interesting isnt it?

  8. Alixandrea says:

    Ah, point 6… In my case, my husband sank the boat that was our marital hoome, and on which we still have outstanding joint finance. Well done idiot! Now he’s lost his job and is refusing to pay off any more of the loan, despite the fact that I let him stay on the boat when I left, didn’t expect to have any of the money I’d already paid towards it refunded to me, and currently cannot afford to take on the loan by myself now even if I was willing to, due to having my own life to live and pay for now…

    Financial advisers tomorrow. We’ll see what advice they have for me…

  9. Helen says:

    I’m going through a divorce, ancillary relief at present, and I have to say it’s been painful and yes an emotional rollercoaster. After almost a quarter of a century being married to the one person followed by the disillusionment and despair when the curtain lifts and you know the truth. I’m sorry but I have to say the dirty tricks, as you call them are sometimes justified and necessary. My husband lied in his affidavit, leaving it in 10 mins night before court date. He has then asked for adjournment after adjournment for holidays. He has ignored repeated requests for disclosure. He has blatantly ignored court directions.

    We were directors of our own company and when we split he started moving our business dealings into the new one. He has manipulated and issued false accusations and financial inconsistencies. If I were not the person I am, who takes on a challenge between her teeth, gathers necessary information to prove and disprove allegations and outright lies then I and my children would be destitute. Although I do not condone malicious damage etc…… I would hope the scales of justice would weigh up the personal and emotional damage perpetrated against the innocent party.

    I wish this was a post helping the victims of such people. Offering them productive advice on how to best protect themselves and their family! What they can legally do for themselves when the perpetrator continues to make a mockery of the court system without the fear of any repercussions.

    As for the Steinway perhaps that piano symbolised more than just a piano. Perhaps it represented years of neglect, financial and emotional. Im guessing by your comments that your legal team were working for the husband. Maybe the husbands refusal to seek compensation was due to the final realisation of his wrong doings. Although not acceptable behaviour and legally questionable……..Maybe morally justified?

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