Summer Competition: What next for the Chocolate Box Family?

Divorce|Relationships | 15 Aug 2011 85

A recent post – The Perfect Divorce: Can this husband do it? – attracted some colourful opinions and ideas from readers. So in keeping with the theme, here’s a summer competition.

It’s a fictitious scenario, with a puzzle at the end, which centres upon a rocky marriage. The wife is shying away from the truth. The husband is consumed with the guilt of an illicit affair. Their eldest child has guessed, and is threatening to reveal all.

I am asking you to give your opinion of the outcome. You don’t need to be a lawyer to take part and, although it’s a puzzle, there are no right or wrong answers. Why ‘Chocolate Box Family’? Because the best answer received before Monday 29 August will win a box of chocolates and a bottle of champagne!

Tom and Gwen are in their late 40s. They married 20 years ago after living together for three years. They have three children: William, 17, is about to begin a gap year. Sally, 14, attends a local private school. Rupert, 7, is also at private school.

The family live in the (fictional) town of Middleswich. Their comfortable, detached home is close to a commuter rail link to London. The house is worth about £950,000.

The house has a mortgage of £350,000. Tom purchased the property in his name 10 years ago, because he provided an additional deposit of £200,000. This was an inheritance from his late father, without which the house could not have been afforded. The mortgage is high because extra money was borrowed only recently on the mortgage, to pay for a large dining kitchen area and patio with a bedroom above.

Tom commutes daily to London, a 50-minute journey each way. His fare is paid by his employers. Tom works in corporate finance and has steadily progressed up the career ladder. He earns about £180,000 per annum gross, about £95,000 net. His pensions are now worth about £400,000. The perks of his job include free, private healthcare for all the family.

Tom and Gwen have managed to save about £100,000, in Gwen’s name for tax reasons.

Gwen used to be a high-flying corporate executive herself. When William was born she gave up her job by agreement. Every day she takes the children to their respective schools, in her rundown estate car. She co-ordinates the children’s after-school activities and helps them with their homework. She cooks, does the housework and looks after the family dogs. Three mornings a week, Gwen does voluntary work at the local hospice.

Gwen is dependent on Tom for the household income. She can’t imagine going back to her previous work. Technologically and professionally, she is years behind. Sometimes Gwen resents giving up the corporate life, but mostly she is content looking after their family and their home. She spends about £3,000 per month on herself, the children and some household expenses. Tom pays the mortgage and school fees direct.

Tom hates his daily commute, but for the last eight months he has enjoyed the company of another London commuter. Sonia is 38. A high-flyer, she is a married mother-of-two. Her husband is a musician. During the day he stays at home and cares for their young children. He talks of fame, but it has never happened and Sonia has become bored with him.

Somebody who does interest her is Tom. He is everything her husband is not. He is steady, dependable and a high earner. Very soon they are having drinks together after work and one thing leads to another and…

Tom comes to see you, for urgent advice about a divorce. He sits with his head in his hands, and tells you that he doesn’t know what to do. Sonia has made him feel alive again. He can’t stop thinking about her. He can’t imagine giving her up. Yet he admits that he still feels terrible about Gwen. He thinks of her more as a friend nowadays. She is too wrapped up in the children. She never bothers about how she looks. She cares more about the dogs than about him. It will break her heart to move house, he is sure, but he thinks it has to be done.

He is also sure that Gwen will be able to manage without him. Now that Rupert is at school until 3.30pm, couldn’t she go back to work and earn a decent living? Ideally Tom would like his £200,000 inheritance back and at least a half-share of the house, plus his pension. Gwen could keep her £100,000. He doesn’t mind paying generously for the children, but doesn’t see why he should share his inheritance or pay long-term maintenance to Gwen. It doesn’t seem fair.

The main reason he is here, he confesses, is that William saw him get off the train with Sonia. William, no fool, keeps asking embarrassing questions. He has informed Tom that if anything is going on with “that woman”, William will never speak to his father again. William is also threatening to tell Gwen, Sally and Rupert. He says that if he does so, they will all hate Tom forever.

Sonia is pushing Tom to leave. She says that if he does, so will she. She will leave her children with their house-husband father, and Tom and Sonia can move to an apartment in Central London.

Tom is in a panic. He needs to decide what to do and feels that it is all running away from him.

He tells you that Gwen is aware of a problem, but has convinced herself that his recent mood swings, absences overnight in London and general change of attitude are all caused by the pressure of the daily commute. In Tom’s words: “Typically, she thinks it’s better to say nothing and hope all will blow over”. Even when Gwen received a note through her letterbox from a local musician, alleging a relationship between Tom and his wife, she quickly tore it up and dismissed the incident as mischief-making.

So, what is YOUR advice for this family?

For example, can this marriage be saved and if so, how?

If the couple does divorce, what do you think would be a fair financial settlement and why? How should they best prepare the children?

What do you think?

 

Enter now, by leaving your comment below. Good luck!

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UPDATE: This competition has now closed.

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

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Comments(85)

  1. Cat says:

    Of course the marriage can be saved. All it will take is a quick trip to the local mediator is that not right con-dems?

  2. Graham says:

    Sell the house while she isn’t looking – get her to sign the transfer when she is busy with something – then take the money and go and live abroad with the girlfriend making a new start.

  3. rachel says:

    Better still, just go and live abroad with the girlfriend and leave the family to make a new start in the comfort of their own home.

  4. Graham says:

    Rachel, no offence, but you are a bit of a Divorce virgin 😉 , please take this as a tongue in cheek compliment, or something like that.

  5. dipak says:

    It is all about choices—Choose the lesser evil–better to be with the devil you know than the one you are about to know.

  6.   Summer Competition: What next for the Chocolate Box Family?|Untouched Smile says:

    […] Summer Competition: What next for the Chocolate Box Family? is a post from: Marilyn Stowe Family Law and Divorce Blog […]

  7. rachel says:

    Graham, no offence taken. Bearing in mind my divorce was initiated in 2008 and has been dragged out by the intransigence and obstructive behaviour of the other side and so far I have experienced every application/hearing/procedure, I would consider myself a veteran rather than a virgin but thanks for the compliment! This post wont win me the bubbly but thought it was polite to reply!

  8. Graham says:

    Technically, I think you are a divorce virgin up until you get your decree absolute.

  9. andrew petrie says:

    My advice is keep it cheap and get on with it.

  10. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Thanks Andrew but you havent explained how…….!

  11. Graham says:

    How about, divide everything 50:50 (inc. selling the house) and 3 years maintenance of 1/3 of salary (cm+sm) to the ex wife, and introduce her to a nice new single man (or pay one for her withou ther knowing :-)).

  12. Graham says:

    If this were real, I would advise as per Cat (and Dave) on a trip to councellors, individually and as a (dysfunctional) couple.

  13. Danielle says:

    I think that the marriage could be saved if they attend marriage counselling and try and re-kindle the love they once had. Tom and Gwen could also spend some time away without the children to see if there is anything left worth fighting for. If they do decide to divorce, the house should be split 60:40. This will provide Gwen with approximately £360,000 and Tom with £240,000. Gwen would need a bigger share in order to find alternative accommodation for her and the children. However, Tom should be able to keep his inheritance and Gwen to keep the £100,000. The pension Tom has should be split 50:50 as Gwen gave up her job to look after the children. Therefore she hasn’t been able to build up her own pension. I think Gwen should also receive maintenance as she has been out of employment for 17 years and will find it difficult to gain decent employment. Tom should also continue to pay the school fees as he does earn a large salary of £95,000 net. As for the children, Tom and Gwen should sit them down and discuss their divorce together. Of course it will be upsetting for the children no matter how you break the news.

  14. rachel says:

    Danielle, I think you just won yourself some bubbly! You very succinctly expressed my views on this particular scenario which incidentally very closely mirrors my own real life situation. I suspect the men who subscibe to this blog will be unified in their dissenting views! And that is why so many cases end up in strongly fought and bitter court room battles. I think the solution might be to introduce a more formulaic approach which is clear to both parties from the outset and there is no room for uncertainty or protracted legal proceedings. Of course I realise this has been discounted as an idea by many learned judges but I will continue to dream of Utopia!

  15. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Yes it’s a very good and neat answer but…
    I’m going to throw a spanner in the works……
    How much do you think suitable rehousing for both of them, Gwen in particular would cost?
    Should Toms Inheritance get used up to meet increased housing need?
    Should there be an alternative division of capital and pension?
    If so how would you divide it up?
    And as for income,
    Should Gwen go out to work? Should she receive lifetime maintenance?

  16. Rachel says:

    After a 24 year marriage I would expect the inheritance and the savings would all go into the pot giving a total of £900k of which Gwen should receive 60% or £540k. This would allow her to buy a decent home for herself and the children. Tom has the earning capacity to raise a mortgage. The pension should be shared 60/40 in Tom’s favour. Gwen should get maintenance for herself for 5 years to give her time to improve her job prospects but as she will be in her fifties by then, it should be reviewed in 2016. The youngest child will only be 12 and if Gwen is working part time she may still need financial assistance.

  17. Marion says:

    Gwen should stay in the martial home with the children and Tom should either continue to pay the mortgage, bills and school fees, or allow Gwen additional monies to pay for these. She should have maintenance of £40,000 (what she normally spends on the children plus a bit extra) and half of the £100,000 savings. Tom’s pension should be split 50/50. As Gwen is in her late 40’s and has not worked for many years, it is unlikely that she will find a job with sufficient income to maintain herself, or the life-style she previously enjoyed.

    Now, as to Tom – well, he has ‘high-flying’ Sonja who is about to leave her boring husband and their two children. Hubby can probably earn a few bob at night doing gigs, provided he can find a suitable baby-sitter, however, Sonja should pay maintenance for the children and perhaps divvy up a lump sum and/or maintenance for boring hubby. You dont say Sonja’s position re house, mortgage etc.

    Yes. poor Tom and Sonja are going to pay dearly, financially but remember they will be adequately compensated many times over because they are in lurrvvve,,,,,,,,Dont they just deserve each other? In time, Sonja (who is in the prime of life) will be returning home at night to the company of ‘dependable Tom’ who will be entering his 50’s and has now become mega boring. Sonja will then deeply regret leaving her musician husband who at least could play her a good tune on his fiddle. Meanwhile, Gwen has met a wonderful younger man. She has had a face-lift, taken up Pilates and become a Relate counsellor. The children are doing well.

  18. Marion says:

    Oops, sorry …..previous opening line should say marital home, not martial home. Maybe a freudian slip

  19. Beverley says:

    I would adivse them to try and save the marriage via counselling first. Perhaps all they need s a break together, which can be accomplished now the kids are old enough to stay with grandparents for a weekend.

    If they both feel that there really is no future, Tom should realise that Gwen has given up a lot to care for him and his children and home. She has lost her earning potential through doing this and he can’t be expected to walk away with the lion’s share. He may have supported her, but how much would a cleaner, cook, full time nanny, gardener, hostess, laundress and so on have cost him over the years they’ve been married?

    On the other hand, it’s not fair that he should lose his entire inheritance. Perhaps he should take the savings and leave Gwen in the house with his children until the youngest is 18. He should support his minor children and give Gwen a small allowance until she is on her feet. She has done volunteer work, so she’s not entirely out of the market, and of course she has many skills simply by virtue of running a house and bringing up children. Part of his pension should be given to Gwen, who gave up her pension to raise his children and care for him.

    Sonia and her husband should enjoy a similar arrangement; she should pay maintenance for the children until they are of age. It’s a sad situation all round and one which can hopefully be worked out by simply talking and getting to know each other again, whether through Relate, some other mediator or by themselves.

  20. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Another Couple of spanners……!
    I’m interested firstly in the comments about Gwen’s maintenance payments from Tom.
    After a twenty three year relationship, Gwen having given up her high flying job by agreement to have a family, and Tom conversely earning a high income, do you not think there is a case for life time maintenance for Gwen or until she remarries or even cohabits permanently with another man? Is a term order appropriate?
    She’s also used to spending £3k per month and the major property outgoings are also paid by Tom. Would Gwen argue that at her age with her lack of experience in the job market, she couldnt ever expect to earn the same? And why should she lose out?
    And is there a case for the court to recognize and in some way compensate her for her own lost career?
    Or doesn’t this matter? The couple are getting divorced and both of them need to move on as best they can and she needs to be self reliant at the earliest juncture?
    Second, regarding Tom, if the house is unsold, how does he manage financially if a large proportion of his income is spent running the home and maintaining Gwen? Is he not entitled to his own home so the children can come and stay with him? How can he raise a mortgage if the house is unsold?
    What do you think?

  21. Danielle says:

    I think term maintenance is more appropriate with the option to extend if Gwen has been unsuccessful in re-building a career that will adequately provide for the three children. While she has been married to Tom for over 20 years, she still has over 10 years of working life. It may be that maintenance may need to be extended but at a lesser sum. Life maintenance has the disadvantage that there is no clean break for the couple to start a fresh. In respect of the £3,000 that Gwen is used to receiving, Gwen will need to make adjustments as inevitably both her and Tom’s standard of life is going to be lower than what they have previously been used to. As for the house, i do think that would need to be sold. Tom also needs to be able to finance a new home that is suitable for him and the children when they come to visit. The cost of re-housing both Tom and Gwen will depend on the area. This should be taken into consideration when deciding whether a 60:50 split on the house is suitable.

  22. Graham says:

    I like that 60:50 slip. Reminds me about the story of why women can’t parrallel park, because they are always being told that 4 is 6 inches. Except from the woman’s POV, with the man being told that his 40% is really 50% ;-).

    Mrs. Gump: Well, I happened to believe you make your own destiny. You have to do the best with what God gave you.
    Forrest Gump: What’s my destiny, Momma?
    Mrs. Gump: You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself. Life is a box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re gonna get.
    Forrest Gump: [narrating] Momma always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.
    Mrs. Gump: I will miss you, Forrest.
    Forrest Gump: [narrating] She had got the cancer and died on a Tuesday. I bought her a new hat with little flowers on it. And that’s all I have to say about that.

    ——————————————————————————–

  23. Rachael Egan says:

    The couple should be advised to seek counselling before making a final decision to divorce. If the couple decided that the marriage couldn’t be saved then the following should be considered;

    Joint Assets:

    £950k marital home (£350k mortgage leaving £600k equity) – this being the main asset it will need to be sold. On the basis in the case of White, the yardstick of equality of division should be departed from and that “the objective must be to achieve a fair outcome”. Further noted in the case of Miller and MacFarlane the general principles to apply when making financial awards are ‘needs, compensation and sharing’. Taking into account the probability that Gwen will relocate with the children, her need for larger provision will be taken into account. Also with Tom climbing the career ladder, he will be more than capable of raising another mortgage whereas Gwen will find this pretty much impossible. If in the circumstances the marital home is not sold, Gwen may need to reduce her entitlement to the liquid assets available i.e. £100k savings. The home, however, should look to be sold upon the youngest child’s 18th birthday to release any retained capital.

    Tom’s Assets:

    £200k inheritance from his father put towards home – As confirmed in the case of White when it comes to inherited property it will normally require a departure from equality where there is enough equity to go around (as there is in the case). Lord Nicholls in White stated “Property acquired before marriage and inherited property acquired during the marriage come from a source wholly external to the marriage. In fairness, where this property still exists, the spouse to whom it was given should be allowed to keep it.”

    £180k pa net salary – A clean break would not be a fair decision in this case. Gwen has been out of work for 17 years caring for and raising the children. The children are also minors and have not reached the age of 18. An application for maintenance pending suit should be made by Gwen until the decree absolute. At this juncture an order for periodical payments should be made. Again the courts in Miller and McFarlane agreed that no bias in favour of the money-earner against the home-maker should be made. The courts will take into account the impact of that role on the carer’s career. Gwen is unlikely to ascertain work after having such a large break from employment, in particular at the level she left at. She may be expected to seek employment of some sort but her age and time out of employment will be considered against any expected form of employment.
    However, if Gwen was to cohabit or remarry another man, provision can be made in this instance. If Gwen were to secure an order for periodical payments, these would terminate upon death or if Gwen were to remarry. Tom could make an application to reduce his payments if Gwen were to be benefiting from another income by cohabiting.

    £400k pension – Gwen has not had the chance to accrue a pension as she and Tom agreed for her to remain at home and raise their home and family. She will therefore be entitled to a share of Tom’s pension by way of a pension share. Even if Gwen were to begin new employment, it is unlikely that at her age and level of employment she is likely to enter at that she will accrue a pension anywhere near what she would have expected when she used to work as a corporate executive.

    Gwen’s Assets:

    £100k in savings (for tax purposes in her name) – Due to these savings having been accrued during the marriage it will be entered into the marital “pot” of money. In the circumstances, it may well be that these savings, being in Gwen’s sole name, remain with her and are offset against any other distribution of assets.

    Potential Settlement:

    • A split of 60 : 40 of the marital home including the £200k inheritance which Tom should retain post sale. Gwen would need more to enable her to find a larger home to accommodate herself and her 3 children. Also, with Tom’s ability to raise a mortgage he should still be able to purchase a new home large enough to accomodate the children.
    • Gwen to keep the savings of £100k.
    • 50 : 50 split of pension as Gwen has been unable to accrue one and is unlikely to build one now. By staying out of work and caring for the children and building their family home, Gwen will be seen to have helped Tom progress so successfully in his career throughout their marriage and 23 years together.
    • Maintenance to be paid to Gwen to cover some if not all of the £3000pm she currently spends on maintaining the home and caring for the children. It is inevitable that she will have to expect a change in lifestyle. This should be maintained for 5 years where Gwen should have established some form of employment. At this juncture the court could review the circumstances and look to extend if necessary. Lifetime maintenance doesn’t allow for the parties to make a fresh start. Note that the maintenance will stop if Gwen were to remarry.
    • Tom to continue paying for the children’s school tuition.

    Both Tom and Gwen should sit with the children and discuss the separation with them so neither party is seen as the “bad” parent leaving the other.

  24. Danielle says:

    sorry that was meant to be 60:40

  25. Graham says:

    That’s an awful lot of money for not an awful lot of work. Illustrative of why a lot of men are avoiding marriage.

  26. Rachel says:

    Rachel Egan, are you saying the £200k inheritance should be ringfenced and the remaining £400k shared 60/40 thus giving £240k to G and £360k to T? Even with the £100k savings to G she still ends up with £340k so the overall result would be 51/49 in Ts favour?

  27. Rachel says:

    Graham, why is raising children and looking after the home considered ‘not a lot of work’?

  28. Graham says:

    Well, he earned the money a lot more than she. He could have brought in a housekeeper to do the same job for a lot less than that.

    I’m glad you caught the importance of the comment. I find the sense of entitlement here distasteful in the extreme and disproportionate to the work done. For me I think 50% of the house and on your way and think yourself lucky. Strewth.

  29. Graham says:

    I think my first post on this was probably right. Put the transfer under her nose when she is busy with the kids, sell up and do a runner.

    The alternative is years of litigation and lawyers fees.

    The lawyers would have a field day with this and the combined bill would be over £100k.

  30. Graham says:

    Right bloody mess this 1973 law. No wonder people are doing pre nups or not getting married. Wouldn’t put myself at it’s mercy (and the above ‘entitlement’ claims as an example). Or the lawyers fees.

  31. To vary or not to vary... says:

    I would firstly give Tom a major reality check and tell him to take off his rose-coloured glasses. Firstly, I would set his expectations that he is unlikely to come out of the divorce with very much either financially or emotionally. As the marriage is a long one and they have ‘agreed’ that the wife should give up her career to look after the children and bearing in mind the youngest child is still only 7, he will potentially be paying joint lives maintenance for a very long time.

    There will always be a large disparity between Tom and his wife’s earnings (and earning potential unless she re-trains, which she could argue against due to the ages of the kids). Effectively this means that Gwen could be dependent upon Tom until death do them part – unless she remarries or potentially co-habits (depends on the judge!)

    If the wife uses the old chestnut of ‘low earning potential’ and hides behind the children she will be made for life with Tom’s generous salary. Furthermore, if he leaves her for another woman – expect to feel her full wrath and potentially years of revenge. Does he really think she will allow him to be happy with another woman? Does he really think his life will become peaceful and blissful by believing the grass is greener? He has romantic notions fuelled by boredom and feelings that his life is passing him by. Don’t expect your ex wife to be reasonable or measured in what she demands during the divorce Tom!

    While discussing the other women – she will also be expected to provide for her children if her husband is the main provider – she will also potentially be locked into long term maintenance provision. It is highly unlikely that either of them would receive any money from their FMHs any time soon – if at all. Expect to live a much more modest life with this woman even if you are both high earners because the children are young and will need to be provided for and both spouses will most likely be dependent upon these high earning providers for a very long time into the future.

    Once Tom has had that reality check I would prepare him for the alienation he will feel when all of his children turn against him for betraying them and his mother. They will all feel very angry and bitter towards him for a long time to come. Don’t expect regular contact or a rosy relationship – in fact the children may even reject him. He could pursue contact through the courts but that may not resolve things and may indeed inflame this delicate situation.

    I would point out to him that he is dealing with unpredictable, fragile human beings with complex emotions and whilst he is dealing with the fallout from that he will also have to deal with the legal onslaught of both his and his new lady’s divorces – quite a major thing for a new relationship to actually withstand and not to be under-estimated. He has no assurances of the longevity of the new relationship – with the pressures in it and the fact they barely know each other it is highly likely this will not last.

    Tom could talk to his eldest child without having to tell the truth or to lie. He could talk to him about the ups and downs and complexities of relationships and how adults don’t always get along but above all they both love their children unconditionally and he should not worry about their relationship as they are the ones ultimately responsible for it. He needs to make his children feel secure without lying to them.

    Above all, I would ensure that Tom has the worst case scenario facts about his situation – emotional and financial so that he can make an informed decision. If the divorce is contested or acrimonious it could take up years of his and his ex wife’s lives and no doubt impact his children greatly. I would advise him to take some time out and have no contact with the other woman. I would ask him whether he felt his current relationship could be worked on via therapy. People often repeat patterns so what’s to say his new relationship (if it survived) would not be in the same state in ten years time with more confused children in the middle of the mess?

    If it proceeded to divorce who is to say what the split would be but I can hazard a good guess that the wife will be unlikely to be reasonable due to the circumstances, she would also have access to funds to pay for decent legal advice – not to be underestimated!

    I would anticipate that in such a long marriage where Tom has been the main earner – ALL the marital assets whether liquid or not would go into one pot to divide. Arguing to ring fence one thing or another will just fudge the issue and lead to more arguing in all likelihood. As to the divisions – it all depends on what Gwen can prove her reasonable needs are – these could be elaborated upon. She could easily argue to stay in the FMH which ties up a large marital asset for many years. Just because the eldest is off to Uni does not mean that Tom’s obligations will end and he could well have to pay support for that child to 22 yrs of age plus any Uni fees. Tom’s retirement plans will also be compromised unless he can do sufficiently well enough in his career in the intervening years.

    As for his girlfriend wanting them to move into an apartment – where will the kids stay if and when contact happens? Also, if their outgoings as a co-habiting couple are low then they are doing themselves a disservice as there will be more cash flying around for their former families.

    Even if Tom got away with an overall 70/30 asset split in favour of his ex wife, with his lover also in a disadvantaged position they would certainly both be worse off in this new relationship. At the end of the day, it is a high risk situation for both of them but if they value their freedom above all else them by all means go for it – but do so with your eyes wide open. Don’t expect other people to be reasonable when they blame you for their losses – both emotional and financial and that can take years to overcome (if you ever manage it).

  32. Tony says:

    I think a point a lot of people are missing here is the legal fees which would be involved. You mention a ‘pot’ of a certain amount but we all know that parties are required to bear their own costs in divorce cases and so the ‘pot’ would diminish on a monthly basis as legal fees are to be paid to each solicitor as the case progresses (money on account will obviously always helps keep a clearer view on what is available). Whilst the notion of Gwen and Tom receiving the appropriate split is well and good in a case study scenario, one must consider the financial implications of instructing solicitors (particularly the creme de la creme of solicitors which will undoubtedly cost more per hour, but in my experience are worth paying the extra money to receive a stronger settlement at the end of the case [why save a bit on the hourly rate to lose more at the end right?]). And i don’t believe a Sears Tooth agreement nor Legal Aid would apply here either. This is definitely a further point which would need addressing before deciding whom should acheive which settlement.

  33. Suspicious Minds says:

    Has Tom considered mediation? He may find that Gwen is more reasonable than some of your other readers give her credit for. If, as Tom suggests that she is burying her head in the sand then perhaps she has already accepted the marriage is over and does not want a fight for the sake of the children. Mediation would potentially save them time and money in legal fees (therefore leaving more money in the pot to divide up) and would help to reassure the children that mum and dad are still on good terms by avoiding a long and bitter battle through the courts.

  34. Graham says:

    On second thought, tell Tom to forge her signature and sell and liquidate all the marrital assets, transfer them to an offshore bank account and emigrate out of the jurisdiction with the girlfriend. Get him to tell her to leave all the post for him and not worry her pretty little head about it – she is burying her head in the sand after all right, has to be an advantage that. As my ex father in law would state, where there is a weakness or a position of strength then as per Machivelli or Sun Tszu, Divorce is the same, and need to prize it apart and do what is or isn’t legal to best opportunity to take to the F in cleaners. All is fair in love and war and divorce after all.

  35. Rachel says:

    Vary, your post sounds like you must be a judge or maybe its the voice of experience? Graham, I agree, the MCA 1973 is a minefield giving the courts too much discretion and lawyers unable to give clear cut advice, I am sure that Marilyn will agree that if Gwen came to her the advice would be entirely different to that which she would give to Tom.The legislation in its current form is too open to dispute and this leads to expensive litigation as both parties are encouraged to stick to their guns. Graham, I dont think its about ‘entitlement’, I think its more about perceived ‘fairness’ which will always be a cause of contention. To quote Macfarlane, 50/50 is not fair if one side takes his or her earning capacity with them.

  36. Rachel says:

    ps.Graham, are you the one who has been giving my husband advice?? He has certainly done some of the things you are advocating…

  37. Graham says:

    Bit like the mathematician in Jurassic park, when told the dinosaurs cannot reproduce because they are all female. He says, they will find a way.

    Bit like the lawyers trying to close loopholes in tax evasion or Marilyn trying to close loopholes in marriage evasion or people enforce their versions of fairness upon others without the consent of the population.

    People will find a way to circumvent unfairness, in this case the dodgy laws.

    The people who were conspicuously not rioting were the Muslims, who have their own laws (Sharia) and communities.

    The judges do not have the consent of the population for the mca 1973 thus we are in a mess and people are waiting for fairness.

    Indeed, recently I heard a senior judge asking for public consultation on the divorce laws. Then what happens if the men say one thing and the woman something else. Perhaps this comes down to the Sufferagettes perhaps being misguided.

  38. Graham says:

    Actually, I take that back (I am pro votes for Women, I have 2 daughters). I would say instead it may be a debate of Secularism v Religious laws.

    I think the result has to be secularism with people writing their own pre nups. Tom should have got one.

  39. Graham says:

    Final thought. Probably signals the end of marriage in this country rather than pre-nups – we are not the puritanical USA.

  40. Rachel says:

    If marriage went out of fashion and was replaced with widespread cohabitation then laws would be introduced to protect the rights of the co-habitee.

  41. Rachael Egan says:

    In response to your query Rachel, I wouldn’t ringfence the £200k inheritance. I would have split the £600k equity in the home 60 : 40 in Gwen’s favour. Leaving her with £360k + £100k savings and Tom with £240k (inclusive of his inheritance). This would enable Gwen to find a larger, more suitable home to relocate with the 3 children. With Tom climbing the career ladder and already earning a large amount of money, he should be able to raise enough capital by a morgage to happilly house himself, girlfriend and the children when they wished to stay.

  42. Rachel says:

    Rather than a box of chocolates I think this debate has opened up a can of worms. I hope that we get a definitive answer at the end! I do realise there is no right or wrong answer but it would be interesting to see how a trained legal mind would approach this?

  43. To vary or not to vary... says:

    Rachel – it is the voice of waaaay too much (bad) experience! If I were a judge I would apply far more fairness than I have actually seen take place in court. ‘Low Earning Potential’ is usually just a term to hide behind for those with no ambition who want an easy life and tax free payments for life. Not always of course….depends on the person and their drive and morals.

    Justice is 9 times out of 10 for those who pay the biggest bucks….

    And re: the above, if i were actually Tom’s friend I would advise him to avoid divorce like the plague! Unless he is extremely unhappy and the marriage has no chance then it is not worth the emotional and financial devastation to a man (who will generally be the biggest financial loser) to proceed with a divorce. Unless of course you are a house husband who is supported like the other man in the above scenario. Or you are adult (as is your soon to be ex wife or husband) and you can genuinely come to an amicable and fair agreement – both taking your responsibilities equally to your children and to supporting the situation.

    That is why Tom and his mistress would be onto a loser – because they are both the financial supporters of the other parties with young children involved too. Also, in the current economic climate there is no such thing as a high earner who is actually safe and can maintain that status indefinitely. If their income falls they then have to fight to vary down any order which is MORE expense and pain….when you can ill afford it.

    There are so many so called ‘soft’ issues that impact on people’s lives and family relationships that solicitors just can’t, don’t or won’t advise on. It is more than assets, bricks and mortar and the division (fair or otherwise) thereof.

    I feel really strongly about this as I have seen so much injustice and micky taking over the years.

  44. Graham says:

    re : If marriage went out of fashion and was replaced with widespread cohabitation then laws would be introduced to protect the rights of the co-habitee

    then : people would not cohabit and there would be male households and female households.

    I have already seen the beginning of this. But I would say that I can’t see the government being able to enforce marriage without your consent as you suggest.

  45. Rachel says:

    I agree with everything you say Vary, I think you sound very reasonable and your approach is honest. My question to you is: how do you reach a fair agreement when your ex is less than honest, hides assets and ‘uses every weapon’ at his disposal (his words) to avoid a fair settlement? In the beginning I was prepared to give up spousal maintenance and a share of his enormous pension in exchange for 60% of the liquid assets (against advice) but this was turned down. I have been forced to enter the fray of an acrimonius divorce and have finally adopted the ‘hung for a sheep or a lamb’ mentality as my legal costs soar. I initially tried to save my marriage to avoid divorce, I am not vengeful and I want the acrimony to end. my ex knows this about me and is still counting on me throwing in the towel. I will go to a final hearing because i have nothing to lose.

  46. To vary or not to vary... says:

    Rachel my dear,

    If I knew that I would be a very happy woman. We have been all but destroyed by someone who ‘set out to make his life a misery for the rest of his days’.

    And she has succeeded. Why can’t judges see through deceit and get wise to the tricks – especially when it is blatant but the party has been closely schooled by their very expensive Barrister..?

    Your offer of 60:40 would have had most husbands biting your arm off!! Depends on your earning capacity and childcare responsibilities though I guess (please don’t state it – I’m not being nosy!)

    Sad that one party usually seeks revenge on the other via the legal system (or contact of course where kids become pawns). It does no one any favours and should not be allowed. My view is that whoever is the most acrimonious and devious usually wins. Also, whoever has the best legal advice usually wins too!! Seen it so many times.

    I don’t believe it is solely men or solely women who are culpable here – it is the unscrupulous, bitter, self-entitled, selfish types. With the rise in headlines of parents killing their children to get back at their exes etc. etc. when will ‘the system’ wake up and see the damage it is causing?

    What we need are far reaching changes and actual, real, tangible Justice, REAL FAIRNESS and common sense. Who is with me….?

  47. Graham says:

    Marry people wihout their consent, rather than ‘enforce marriage without your consent’, I meant.

  48. Graham says:

    Yes, I’ll drink to that Vary.

  49. Rachel says:

    Me too, Vary.

  50. To vary or not to vary... says:

    Power to the people 🙂

    If anyone has any ideas of how to change ‘the system’ please let me know……

  51. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Wow! Thanks very much for all the contributions so far. One comment strikes me immediately “I think this debate has opened up a can of worms.” That is exactly what I hoped would happen because it does show how tough the exercise is.
    Now let me ask this:-
    Should Tom keep his pension and £100k, Gwen keep the rest of the capital?
    Could Gwen and the children be rehoused for any less in reality?
    Marilyn

  52. Graham says:

    Write to your MP and advise your children not to marry and don’t remarry yourself. Well, that’s what I am doing anyway.

  53. Rachel says:

    Just for the record, my earning capacity is crap and i have one chikd aged 14 still at home. I reckoned I could get by on child maintemance and my newly acquired job( not well paid as not worked for 16 yrs to raise 3 kids whilst ex working abroad all thru marriage)I wanted to salvage some pride after being rejected for a younger model, but as I said, my attempt to settle quickly and amicably was refused. You are totally right, put barristers in the equation and it all degenerates to the ridiculous.

  54. Rachel says:

    ‘should Tom keep his pension and 100k? Wow, that is the biggest worm of all! Liquid v. Illiquid assets! The fair solution is to share the pension and the realisable capital equally or offset one against the other.

  55. Nicki says:

    I would point out to Tom that any future relationship founded on so much guilt, on the part of both Tom and Sonia, faces a high risk of failure. It appears to be the case now that the wife’s contribution to the home and raising of children is viewed as just as important as the financial contribution of the breadwinner so I think that all assets, regardless of where they came from, would be taken into consideration when calculating the needs of the wife and children. That would come to quite a substantial sum so Tom would face going into an uncertain relationship, with a high risk of failure, with limited resources – further adding strain to the new relationship.

    As the husband and wife’s main problem seems to be boredom and lack of communication, I would suggest that Tom consider a career change into something that he found more rewarding and gave him more time to enjoy life with his wife and family. This would leave the assets intact and provide a better quality of life for the family as a whole which would, in turn, compensate for even a quite substantial reduction in income. Moving to a different home could also be considered if keeping the current house was not feasible based on Tom’s possible reduction in earnings. I would suggest to Gwen that she needed to consider her own position and whether it wouldn’t be better to invest rather more time and effort in her relationship with Tom to avoid a complete breakdown in the relationship. The most important thing must surely be the children so, unless the marriage has broken down irretrievably, then every effort should be made to save it. When children are involved, being ‘bored’ isn’t a good enough reason to destroy your family (well, not in my opinion!)

    If all else failed, I think a 60/40 split of all assets in favour of Gwen would be sensible as Tom has the earning capacity to secure mortgage lending whereas Gwen doesn’t. In addition I think Gwen should receive a proportion of Tom’s income for life or until she remarries plus a pension provision. That proportion should be looked at on the basis of her needs and expenditure during the marriage, providing that it isn’t excessive or disproportionate to Tom’s income. After all, Tom’s climb up the career ladder has been facilitated by having a wife looking after the home and family. Any school/university fees should also be split proportionally depending on the available income of each party.

  56. To vary or not to vary... says:

    Ok – deep breath…..

    Let’s look more closely at the facts. Gwen is in her late 40’s with her youngest child being 7 years old, she will soon have 2 children living at home and a 3rd away from home for potentially 4 years. She needs to house herself and her children (the eldest would still need to be housed during holidays and potentially after graduation). This would therefore need to be a housing provision on a long term basis. We do not know how many bedrooms the current home has and if she would be over housed after separation. If so, there could be an argument from the husband that she downsize. The wife has an argument that she should maintain the current standard of living she enjoyed during this long marriage.

    The wife presently has low earning potential due to her out of date skills and time out of the work place, she must also provide childcare and work around school hours and holidays. The court cannot mandate her to train or return to work full time, particularly if she can earn a reasonable income in a part time job say 21 hours or under and top this up with benefit entitlements. This is an area she would need to investigate. It should be noted that aside from any interest on the savings in her name she currently has no stated income. She has no stated pension provision.

    The husband is a high earner with high earning potential with possibly 15+ years of his career remaining, he also has a generous pension provision. He currently has liabilities of a £350,000 mortgage and the children’s school fees (the value of which is not stated). It should also be noted that should separation occur the husband will need to house himself and it would not be unreasonable for him to require a 4 bedroom property to facilitate contact.

    It should be noted that there is a huge disparity in the wife and the husband’s earning potential. The ages of the spouses should also be noted – particularly in terms of the wife’s ability to retrain and her increasing age when returning to the workplace. There is an argument that the wife could find it hard to return to a well paid position in the short to medium term – or at all.

    The wife has not yet stated what her expectations or reasonable needs are.

    The husband has expressed a wish to receive his £200,000 house deposit / inheritance back plus his pensions (plural!) worth £400,000. He would be happy on that basis for the wife to retain the savings in her name and he proposes child maintenance only and wishes the wife to work part time around school hours in a reasonably paid job.

    Realistically when dividing the assets, the wife (if not over housed) should stay in the FMH and this would also provide consistency for the children with their schooling and social lives. She has no ongoing ability to pay the mortgage or for this to be transferred into her name. As she also has 3 children to care for there is a good case for her to request joint lives global maintenance – (the money for the mortgage payments and school fees could form part of this – so it would be a high figure). The husband could obtain a % share of the house (to be agreed) but this is likely to have a long stop date due to the age of the youngest child – unless the wife remarries or co-habits and the order would make mention of this.

    The wife could sell the FMH and re-house herself once the youngest child has reached majority / completed studies but she would need enough capital to do so. Depending on the remaining term of the mortgage / available equity at point of sale there may be enough capital to provide her a smaller home and give the husband his %. Without exact figures and having no view of the property market at that time it is hard to say – the split would be decided on the actual figures.

    The husband has sufficient assets and earning potential to house himself in the interim.

    In regard to the pension issue, the wife has no provision so should be entitled to a pension sharing provision from the husband’s £400K pot. This could be argued against the assets that the husband wants. He has expressed that he wants £200,000 from the house deposit. However, the wife has no way of relinquishing this at the present time as it is in the house. She cannot afford to re-mortgage again to provide this. This is another point that could be brought into the settlement – when the house is sold the husband could be compensated for that £200K.

    On balance, it seems that the husband gets a raw deal with all of the liability of the outgoings (until the wife has earnings of some sort – initially she does not). Perhaps term maintenance could be applied instead of joint lives to establish if the wife has had any success in re-training or re-entering the job market. This would give the court a chance to review this and redress the balance. However, it is unlikely that the wife will ever earn enough to become self-supporting with the burden of the housing and childcare costs.

    Perhaps the bargaining chip could be the wife’s £100,000 savings – she could release some or all of this to the husband in the interim in exchange for a secure housing and maintenance provision.

  57. Rachel says:

    Vary, with that approach I don’t understand how you got enmeshed in an acrimonious divorce yourself. If you and I were trying to reach agreement the lawyers would be out of business.

  58. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Interesting. Perhaps you need to stand back and take a good long look at what you are proposing. Is it fair? What is the net effect of a 60/40 split on capital?Will this split fairly rehouse Gwen and the children? Consider removal and legal costs, redecoration, refurbishment, new furniture etc. How much will it really cost to rehouse her after a long marriage, no mortgage raising ability and being used to a £1m house? Are there suitable houses for substantially less in the area or will it mean a radical downsizing?
    If Tom is left with 40% of the capital, his mortgage raising facility and that of his cohabitee central London living may become reality. But his travel expenses are paid for him. Consider the potential disparity in living for the couple and the children. Is that fair?
    Would Tom also want his pension shared? Is his pension actually worth far more to him, longterm, intact? Can’t he rebuild his lost equity in the house out of strategic investment in another property with his cohabitee?
    Wouldn’t it suit him more to retain his substantial pension? And argue his wife’s pension needs can be met when she downsizes after the children leave home?

  59. To vary or not to vary... says:

    Rachel – that was purely down to the conduct and attitude of the other party. Reasoning and resonableness did not work!! If someone is hellbent on revenge and not taking responsibility for themselves then their ex will pay dearly – as has my other half!

    Marilyn – you are just playing Devil’s advocate with your above points. There are many points that can be argued here but at least my proposal provides some flexibility for the parties to negotiate and is based in reality (whereby the wife of a long marriage who is in her late 40’s, has been out of work for some years etc. has some security and is able to remain a home maker to some extent). The term maintenance proposal with a review date again provides flexibility for Tom to have the chance to lessen his contribution. My points make things slightly fairer for Tom than would probably be the case in actuality if thruth be told. I don’t see why he should have to suffer unduly and neither should Gwen. A reasonable and fair approach is required.

    In reality, it is highly likely that Gwen (with good legal representation) would gain the joint lives maintenance, remain in the house for many years AND get a share of Tom’s pension – unless Tom has extremely good legal representation!! The only way I see Tom keeping all of his pension is if he gives up a large share of the FMH – he can’t have it all ways as Gwen has a very strong position. If there were more liquid assets available then I would say differently.

    In my humble experience, if the wife has no income and the husband is a high earner then he will be supporting his ex wife and children for a very long time indeed and come out of the marriage with very little. It is the disparity argument through and through.

    If Tom and his mistress had any sense they would not declare their relationship or co-habit until the dust has truly settled.

  60. Marilyn Stowe says:

    Has anyone any thoughts how Tom deals with his son William?

  61. To vary or not to vary... says:

    In my original post I dealt with this one:

    ‘Tom could talk to his eldest child without having to tell the truth or to lie. He could talk to him about the ups and downs and complexities of relationships and how adults don’t always get along but above all they both love their children unconditionally and he should not worry about their relationship as they are the ones ultimately responsible for it. He needs to make his children feel secure without lying to them’.

    I don’t feel it right that he deliberately lies to his son or burdens him with the truth either. Either of these strategies would involve his son in his own complicity. He would therefore be best advised to take a more political and philosophical line. That would also allow events to unfold rather than the truth ‘outing’ everything before Tom is ready to deal with any consequences. Truths like these force people to take sides and judge which is in itself divisive.

  62. Graham says:

    ‘how adults don’t always get along but above all they both love their children’

    Has to be the way. My autistic son understood this and I felt honest saying it. Would also add that it’s not his fault at all. Bit of a cliché, but probably needs to be said. Plus that they will both be there for him on an on-going basis. Also needs to not argue in front of him.

    Years of experience in those few words above, would recommend them.

  63. Graham says:

    They also need to not argue in front of him.

  64. Graham says:

    They both need also to not criticise the other one unfairly to him.

  65. Graham says:

    And don’t get the girlfriend to discipline him or tell him what to do.

  66. To vary or not to vary... says:

    Thanks Graham. We are now entering into the murky world of family functionining and relationships here!! Even intact families don’t always live by those rules! 🙂

  67. Graham says:

    Thanks. Like yourself I am trying for my kids and me to make the most of a situation which has been dumped upon us without any good reason.

  68. To vary or not to vary... says:

    As I usually say, “Someone has to be the adult around here”!

    Apparently we are in short supply. Good luck….

  69. Rachael Egan says:

    I agree with Vary. Tom must talk to William and reassure him.

    Tom can explain that relationships are complex and a marriage that has lasted as long as his and Gwen’s is sure to have a few bumps in the road. Above all, Tom needs to reassure William that his parents love him and that he shouldn’t worry about their relationship – as Vary said, it is Tom and Gwen’s responsibility!

    When my parents separated I wasn’t much older than William and I appreciated being spoken to as an adult. There would be nothing worse than Tom brushing this under the table or speaking to William as though he is a child.

    The bottom line is, William shouldn’t be ‘palmed off’ or lied to. Tom needs to consider his son’s feelings and deal with them head on ensuring that William feels loved and that his father will always be there for him.

  70. Jacky says:

    Hmm.. Let’s be honest. It would appear that a twenty year marriage to Tom and three children has cost Gwen far more than she imagines. Setting aside the fact that she has no pension of her own, no immediately realisable career prospects and a rubbish motor; she has yet to discover that she is joined to a man for whom she no longer has any value beyond the “contributions” yardstick which he has quickly appraised even in the depths of his remorse and despair.
    Tom is clearly something of a weasel in that he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
    I would like to think that Gwen can keep the family home in exchange for losing her mind when she finds out.
    “Ideally” Tom would like his inheritance back, his half share of the home and his entire pension. Really ?
    In reality I would want Gwen to stay in the family home that she has cared for and with the children. Asset division is not necessarily about equality ( White v White) but about fairness.
    Tom has got a shock coming to him I suspect.
    Gwen, get your butt straight down to the Principal Registry.

  71. Jacky says:

    .. and of course, Gwen will find everlasting love with “bored” Sonia’s poor musician and unorthodox postman.

  72. Lindsey says:

    For some families, life can be like a box of chocolates and you just don’t know what you’re going to get inside when the lid comes off. Sometimes they don’t know themselves, or rather they appear to not know and employ a tactic of avoidance and denial to survive. Gwen is especially guilty of that here in that she knows something is wrong with her relationship with Tom and there is the whiff of an affair, but she refuses to rock the boat.

    Sometimes the lawyer can be the Pandora who facilitates everything coming out into the open – and then tries to pick through the mess. It would seem to me that the most crucial response of the lawyer in this situation is one of decisiveness, laying down a veneer of clarity and lending some certainty to the situation Tom is in. Some degree of empowerment and a sense of control should be restored to Tom. The current reality is however, that divorce settlements are riddled with uncertainty. As we can see here, divorce is not the only possibility and there is some prospect of reconciliation providing that the reality of the situation is dealt with by all members of the family. Believe me, I know from my own experience of this exact situation that if you do not take the bull by the horns there will be implosion and a permanent rift, particularly where a child is put in a very difficult situation such as the one William has found himself in.

    Tom is in a panic. The first thing necessary is to dissipate that with confident advice. Pure divorce advice is not all that is needed. I think that the marriage could be saved and Tom’s relationship with his children brought back from the brink if the truth comes out. Carefully gleaning the facts from Tom is important in facilitating any discussion of resolving the situation. Each relationship that he has should be dwelt upon. For instance, Tom has not been seeing Sonia for very long and she is pushing him to leave his wife first before she makes any move in respect of her own marriage. This is selfish and panic-inducing; it has brought the situation to a head. Is Tom really committed to this relationship with all its uncertainties and the likely problems it would cause with his relationship with his children? Is it worth it? Only he can decide this, but a lawyer can help bring in some focus and careful thought. Tom still evidently cares about Gwen and his children. A next move in this situation can only be made when Tom has truly made up his mind, which he clearly may not yet have done. Should he decide to stick with his family, the ball will then be in Gwen’s and the children’s court. There will either be a successful mending of the relationship, mediation and agreement, or divorce.

    It may be at this point that Tom decides not to continue with advice in respect of divorce, and heads home to have that vital conversation with his wife and to mend his relationship with William. On the other hand, Tom may stand firm and be resolved to divorce after a consideration of his relationships and when the panic has subsided a little.

    So, in the event of divorce, what sort of settlement would arise? All resources and assets are put into the pool for settlement. This would include Tom’s inheritance and his pension. The only likely way for these to be excluded would be for there to be a successful agreement out of court as to division of assets. Tom’s and Gwen’s financial positions are evidently unequal. Gwen does not work but maintains the household, having left a successful career. Tom, on the other hand, has maintained his successful career and is a high earner. As a starting point, the parties under law should be treated with equality, such that Gwen’s role in the family should be treated as equal to that of her husband’s, although not all assets must be divided equally. There does not seem a case for departure from equal division on principal here however, as Tom would not be classed as having made a such a special contribution to the family such as to sway any settlement to his greater advantage.

    In respect of the assets in this case, I believe it would be likely that Gwen is allowed to remain in the family home with the children, as a primary consideration for the court would be the welfare of the children. Their interests are perhaps best served by there being a property adjustment order in favour of Gwen, which would maintain their current standard of living. Tom would not get his money out of the house because of being unable to sell. Whilst it would be a possibility that there be an order for sale, I think it is unlikely given the ages of the children.

    An assessment of finances will firstly be made on a needs basis, and what the children require to maintain them in their current lifestyle will be considered. It seems that Tom does not have an issue with giving money to his children however and would be likely to contribute above any minimum that the Child Support Agency may calculate. The main issue is regarding Gwen’s maintenance. What she needs to maintain her lifestyle will be calculated, but her capacity to work, albeit in a different job to her previous role may be considered. Above that, I think that there may be enough finances remaining after a needs assessment for some small compensation for the sacrifice she made for her family by giving up her career. The overall approach of the court should be fairness, and I think it would be fair for Gwen to receive half of Tom’s income, or more should that be necessary to maintain the children and the house. Periodical maintenance payments could be made directly to Gwen on behalf of Rupert and Sally, with the additional allowance of provision for herself and the general running of the household. It would be preferable if William could be paid directly, as he is going off on his gap year. With regard to Tom’s pension, I think that Gwen should receive half of this, but the court would be likely to attach some conditions as to any future cohabitation.

    Tom is evidently willing to continue to pay his children’s school fees, and in any event a court would be highly likely to make him do so. The main issue with regard to Tom’s children may be one of contact; they may not wish to see him following his affair. This is where any reconciliation would greatly benefit Tom’s relationship with his children. In the event of divorce, the children’s wishes would be considered by the court if they do not wish to maintain contact, more weight being given to the older children. As such, it would be vital that the children are made aware of the situation and not kept in the dark. But this must be dealt with very carefully. Sally may be capable of dealing with the truth, but it must perhaps be introduced slowly. Rupert is more problematic and although he should be aware that his parents may be splitting up and be prepared for such an eventuality, he would be too young to be made aware of the full extent of the circumstances. William will continue to have a very problematic relationship with his father, if one at all, and must be approached in a conciliatory manner, with understanding and support. If the approach made is carefully thought through, it may be possible for contact to be maintained all around.

    Some provision may be given for the children to have private healthcare. However, as this was being paid for by Tom’s employers it is perhaps unlikely.

    Tom could pay a heavy price for his actions. A lawyer can only make suggestions as to the preferable course of action. These situations are unpredictable though, and the dice could fall in any way.

  73. mary smith says:

    On a purely personal level and probably a very old fashioned view and absolutely nothing to do with the competition but ……..I think Tom should think carefully about running off with a woman who is happy to leave her children….

  74. sue willshee says:

    I’d say to both Tom and Gwen ‘grow up’.

    Tom is acting like a spoiled child – he feels neglected because there are newer children who take his wife’s attention away from him and he feels like others are sharing with his toys and he wants them back and all to himself (his inheritance which was invested in the house.)

    On the other hand, Gwen is acting like a child herself, hiding from the truth and pretending that if she puts her hands over her ears and says ‘la, la, la I can;t hear you’ then nothing can get through and make her recognise the problems the family is having. She needs to realise that she’s living a charmed life at the moment and she needs to work if she wants to keep it that way.

    Of course the marriage can be saved but it needs both of them to be adults and to take responsibility for saving it. They need to WANT to save it and not just try to reconcile because it would be the easiest thing to do.

    Regardless of whether they decide to try to save the marriage or to divorce, they can’t do either without sitting down and talking about how they feel.

    If the couple does divorce, they need to be sensible about finances. Personally I feel it would be fare for everything to be split equally. Yes there was an inheritance but unless the couple signed a pre-nup regarding this then it became ‘theirs’ rather than just ‘his’ when they got married.

    The children will either be totally oblivious to what is going on or will already know something is wrong but be pretending (just like mum & dad). The only way to prepare them for divorce is to be totally honest. Sit them down, talk about it without blaming anyone and give the children the choice of what they want to do…making it totally clear to them that there is no wrong decision.

  75. emma speers says:

    Clearly this marriage is riddled with problems!

    My advice to Tom (if i was giving advice as a non-llawyer) would be firstly THIS WOMAN IS ABOUT TO LEAVE HER CHILDREN BEHIND AT THE DROP OF A HAT! What makes you think she will be sticking around for you? These are her blood and should be her life and she is willing to leave them behind…I find it unnerving that she is happy to place pressure on you, for you to leave the marital home, to break a womans heart and your children also.

    Secondly if he is feeling so guilty I would think he still has feelings for his wife. In marraiges we all go through periods of complacency, boredom, anger, regret. This is normal. This is life. So many things are mentioned which should be discussed before a rash decision is made about divorce,and also a deep conversation with his wife so she has knowledge and her reaction might be very different to what he expects!

    Thirdly, your child now knows and is carrying around this burden. making threats, he is understandably angry and is crying out for you to do the right thing! I believe there is no other option than to come clean to tthe wife and I hope during this there would be shouting, anger, crying, emotions flying around which would show there is still some passion in this relationship!

    Fourthly, I think what you are asking for in terms of settlement is unreasonable, I am sure on grounds of adultery she is entitled to much more than you are offering! I am also sure that she would be entitled to the house at least until the children were all old enough to leave home! And so it is unlikely she will leave, and if shes as angry as i would be if you do proposing divorce I would fight every step of the way and do everything to make you unhappy!

    Finally, I sense some resentment here. If you feel she is able to work when you leave, why is it that this discussion has not arose yet? The wife gave up her job to be at home, and as a result is now out of touch and would need some adult training to get her up to speed again. Who are you to assume she would be able to get a job? Which would also mean sacrificing her current lifestyle to go for a lower paid job due to lack of up-to-date training, all due to you having an affair and putting her in this position!

    I think most importantly here, there needs to be a huge discussion between husband and wife – open and honest. I would hope that they were able to tell each other their resentments, why he felt the need to seek a relationship in abother woman, how he feels she makes no effort etc and would like the love to come back alive. It is probable that if the wife does want to continue the marriage, once she is aware of another woman she will do everything she can to keep her man, and he will go off the other woman as soon as he sees his wife ‘misbehaving’ and exciting him like she did once before. And i would hope during this reconciliation (which i do not propose would be easy for one minute!) that he would do everything he could to gain back his sons trust and talk to him about his feelings.

  76. zoe bryan says:

    In all honestly Life should be that much hassle and if it is things need ot chage. Look at what you want to change and just do it or they will live to regret it. There ae lots of things that you can doto change things first do the Children need to be in sucha nd expencive school? can they not spend mroe time with family? Why dose the husband have to commute cant he find a lower paying job maybe but closer to home and maybe look at the size of the home dose it need ot be so big?? dose anyone do anythign with the space?? tbh Life is ment to be fun even when we have real life commitments and familys its up to us how we find/ sort the fun out and remove the stress!

  77. Lindy Hine says:

    My advice is – they sell that big house thereby releasing £600,000 to add on to the £100,000. Tom packs in his job and ships the family off to Cornwall to a lovely cottage by the sea and gets a consultancy job working from home, finds a little time for himself and learns to relax and enjoy life. Gwen finds a new zest, perks up both herself and her outlook on life and gets a job in a local art gallery which she loves. The kids settle in nicely at the local schools and flourish and enjoy doing things as an entire family with a father who has more time for them. Tom and Gwen both realise that there’s more to life than maintaining a so called high standard of living that doesn’t make them happy and find joy in walking the dogs along the beach together. Tom forgets high flying Sonia after realising that a woman who was prepared to dump her two young kids might do the same to him if she got bored of him…..
    The Perfect Non-Divorce and the perfect new start for the Chocolate Box Family!

  78. Jessica Brain says:

    I would start by briefly explaining the ground of divorce as being an irretrievable breakdown in the marriage, and go through the fact to rely on to establish this, which in Tom’s instance, would have to be his adultery, as Gwen has not behaved unreasonably, committed adultery, they are still living together as husband and wife and neither of them has abandoned each other (so far as we know on the facts.) This is also assuming that Sonia and Tom have had sex.

    I would explain that for Tom, the complicated factors for him and Gwen will be establishing what happens with the finances and the children.

    The children

    What happens to the children will have to be a question that both the parents have input into, but considering the welfare of the children, maintaining the status quo and considering what the children‘s wishes and feelings would be likely to indicate, it would be logical for the children to reside with their mother and have regular contact with Tom. This would only apply to the two younger children, as William, at 17 years old, is old enough to “vote with his feet” and with his gap year and university coming up, is realistically not going to be around all that much.

    The finances

    The finances will require a little more thought to establish, and again, will be something that will be significantly influenced by Tom and Gwen, what their priorities are, and what is raised in mediation. However, the assets should be split 50:50 as there is no cause to deviate from this and allow one party significantly more or less. Gwen has kept house for Tom and given up her career, however, she has enjoyed an extremely affluent lifestyle without having needed to work. Tom has worked for the entire length of the marriage and supported the whole family. Further, there is no reason why Gwen should not go back to work, as their youngest child is at an age where he is not wholly dependent on his mother and does not need her to be at home all day every day – she could work part time or even full time once she has updated her training.

    I would suggest therefore initially, that the savings and pensions should be transferred to Tom’s name, whilst Gwen stays in the matrimonial house until Rupert is 18 (with a Mesher Order stating that once Rupert is 18, the property should be sold and Tom would take back the inheritance money that he contributed to pay the deposit.) The rest of the proceeds of sale, whatever is left over once Tom has been repaid the deposit, would be Gwen’s entitlement and make up her 50% of the assets. The fluctuation of the property market possibly leading to Gwen getting less for the property than it is worth now and thus leaving her with less than 50% would be a consideration for her and her lawyers to concern themselves with, and could be construed as being part of the risk accompanying the advantages of her being able to stay in the family home which has emotional attachments for her, and also means she would not left in a position having to find a new house for her and the children and thus would be a neater solution than splitting the assets and giving her with slightly more to accommodate this. In terms of maintenance, Tom will have to pay Gwen child maintenance for the children which should not be a contentious point for him and is entirely reasonable, if they continue to live with Gwen. He should also continue to pay the school fees. As far as paying Gwen spousal maintenance of the £3,000 she spends monthly (provided she can back this expenditure up showing good justification), it should be argued that this should be for a limited period of time only, whilst Gwen re-trains and refreshes her knowledge and finds work as she was able to earn a significant amount before she gave up working and there is no reason why she should not work in the future. This may meet some resistance from Gwen, but initially should be put forward as a proposed point to start negotiating from and as a suggestion that Tom would feel happy with. Gwen’s maintenance could be paid either in one lump sum or in monthly instalments.

    I would start by explaining this and going through the logistical possibilities, as if Tom is at the point of despair and with his head in his hands, it would be better to appeal to his sense of logic and look at the practicalities of the situation to allow him time and distance from the emotional repercussions, so that he sees the practical implications and options. It would also reassure him of the competency of the lawyers dealing with his case.

    Emotional issues

    However, the emotional implications of the situation would have to be dealt with. So at this point, I would discuss with Tom what he wants to achieve, as comparatively what is discussed above is the easy part that we can help with, whereas this part is something we cannot negotiate for him, but must be something that he decides and acts on himself. I would explain the duty of care lawyers have to their clients always to act in their best interest, and confirm that we would act exactly as he wants and assist with whichever course of action he decided to take, however, that decision has to ultimately be made by him. I would also explain that we are obliged to ask whether there is the possibility of reconciliation and whether the marriage is past the point of saving, as Tom has – besides from Sonia – not said that the marriage has fallen apart as such, more that both parties are apathetic towards each other and have become bored and frustrated with each other. I would acknowledge that this is a difficult and stressful situation for him (lots of reassurance and sympathy whilst remaining professionally detached) but would emphasize that whichever course of action Tom decides is the right one for him, will have difficulties and complications – staying with Gwen will require work and honesty, however, whilst the above is achievable it will also not be a simple quick fix solution. He will need to maintain a good relationship with Gwen even if he does decide to get a divorce, as they will have to undertake mediation and will always have a relationship through the children. I would also tentatively – and tactfully! – suggest that Sonia sounds similar to how Gwen was when Tom first met her and that she also comes with baggage and complications. In some respects, the question of what Tom decides to do with Sonia, is a completely separate question, but again, is one that Tom must take responsibility for deciding for himself. Whatever he decides is achievable, and we will work as hard as possible, always in his best interests to assist, facilitate and support the conclusion he comes to.

    William

    In terms of how Tom should deal with William, I would encourage him to talk to Will in order to do some damage control or limitation, as obviously, this is not a situation that should be controlled by an impulsive, angry and immature 17 year old. Personally, I would think that it is very little of William’s business to be interfering with his parents relationship, as relationships are very personal and only concern the two people involved in them, although naturally, he will feel it is his business as it will have financial and emotional implications for him. However, it is not a responsibility he should be taking on.
    Tom may feel that he wishes to discuss things more with William, and thus the content of the conversation is entirely up to him, to be considered carefully by Tom in light of the kind of relationship he has with William, the relationship William has with Gwen and how the close the whole family are.

    May I finally take this opportunity to thank you for the entertaining and insightful blog that adds interest and mentally taxes otherwise dull moments, when being a legal secretary erodes everything I learnt on the LPC and LLB. This competition has been a wonderful opportunity to revisit that knowledge and engage my brain, even in a hypothetical situation, and affirms that this is still something I would love to do. I follow your blog with great interest, often referring to it as a “bitesized” refresher of an aspect of family law or a focused update on developments that will impact on clients and change the face of family law. I must also confess a great curiosity into the entries where you demonstrate your own thoughts and approach on scenarios, and how you retain your own sense of self, regardless of the carnage and bitterness that is often associated with the tensions and emotions running high at work. Particularly impressive was the work you did for Sally, and your convictions and dedication to defend what you felt was right. I hope that in my own legal career – once it really starts – there will be similar opportunities.

  79. Judy Beba-Thompson says:

    This marriage is already dead,
    There’s not much more to be said.
    As the innocent spouse,
    The wife gets the house,
    The kids, a car and the bed.
    Alimony he must pay,
    Tell the kids he’s going away.
    Then off to London he’ll go,
    Though the wife is telling him ‘No’.
    Unequal shares to man and wife?
    Tough – that’s life!

  80. Erica Price says:

    It will be very hard on the children if the family broke up and I think they could both try a bit harder. Not sure how fair it is to expect Gwen to go back to work and look after the kids and the home while Tom lives it up in Central London!

  81. Greg says:

    50/50 all the way – fair

    Keep kids updated and talk to them like mature adults

  82. Liz Rodgers says:

    Tom should tell his wife what is going on, they should both go to RELATE for some sort of counselling to see if their marriage could be saved. He should change to a different train and tell Sonia he is not going to see her again. If she cheats on her current husband, she’ll cheat on Tom at some point in the future when she get bored of him!.

    Gwen should insist the house is transferred into joint names immediately to protect her equitable interest and for the interim it should be held as tenants in common 50:50, until they see which way their marriage is going.

    William should be told to keep his nose out!

  83. Tulsa Divorce Attorneys says:

    This is a lot of fun 🙂

  84. Tulsa Cleaning Service says:

    I’m really enjoying the Chocolate Box Family saga!

  85. Summer Competition 2012: A Family Affair - Marilyn Stowe Blog says:

    […] will remember that last year I ran a summer competition. There were plenty of entries from readers, along with dozens of comments and some good debates. So […]

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