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!
UPDATE: This competition has now closed.