Yesterday I made my way to the now familiar central London studios of ITV This Morning for my regular legal clinic. The topic was “dirty divorce tricks”: a look at the extremes to which some people will go when caught up in the emotional tornado which so often accompanies the end of a relationship.
The programme’s description of the topic was succinct and to the point:
“Divorce is an unpleasant affair even when both parties are behaving amicably, so when a split is acrimonious, it doesn’t take much for both parties to turn to dirty tricks to get as much money, and revenge, as possible.”
I was there to advise viewers on how to protect themselves and ensure they get their fair share – while staying within the law!
ITV This Morning chose dirty divorce tricks after seeing my recent feature on Mail Online: Bugging the car, payback spending sprees and the woman who secretly sold her husband’s piano: Top lawyer shares the dirtiest divorce tricks. I have copied the piece below.
“After 30 years as a family lawyer, nothing surprises me anymore.
I have seen clients display outstanding generosity and compassion towards their former partners. However I have also witnessed vengeful and mean-spirited behaviour.
Some people make leaps and bounds towards new, contented lives. Others are unable to shake off the hurt and hatred, which consume them.
I long ago concluded that divorce arises and is propelled by uncontrollable human instincts including self-preservation, protection and survival.
People are not perfect.
Human instinct in a survival situation isn’t about continuing to hunt with the rest of the pack, meekly obeying society’s customs.
It is about making private decisions to tackle lonely challenges. Not all those decisions are wise and for certain people, divorce brings their very worst qualities to the fore.
Here are some of the dirtiest divorce tricks I have encountered.
I would like to emphasise that I do not recommend any of the courses of action outlined here.
Some are even illegal!
10. Moving the spouse to a different country, in order to obtain a more favourable divorce settlement
This may sound far-fetched, but this happens more frequently than you 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. And you may be legally stuck, unable to return with your children to England.
If your spouse encourages a move abroad, make sure that you agree beforehand what will happen if your relationship falters. Before leaving the country, consider entering into a postnuptial agreement (like a prenuptial agreement, but one that takes place after the wedding), which sets out where a divorce would take place, where the children would live and how a financial settlement would be worked out.
9. Covert surveillance of a spouse by bugging the phone, the car, the office – or by employing an enquiry agent
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 beneath the car seat, and recorded all his telephone calls. Although it gave her satisfaction, I questioned the need in law.
This type of conduct can backfire: it isn’t necessary for a divorce and, if you go to these lengths, the judge may be left wondering about your character.
8. Secretly photocopying every scrap of financial information in the house and office which belongs to your spouse
Or downloading everything from a spouse’s computer, then pretending that he or she didn’t realise what the computer was doing. It is illegal to hack into a computer in this way, and risks prosecution. Likewise, it is not permitted to intercept and open post before it has been delivered to the correct address.
Each spouse is entitled to confidentiality and privacy and has an obligation to give full frank and honest disclosure in the divorce.
Documents obtained illegally cannot be read by your solicitors and must be immediately forwarded on by them to your spouse’s solicitor who has a duty to disclose all relevant documents. Penalties may be imposed upon spouses who obtain information in such a way. There could even be separate civil and criminal proceedings launched too. The law is very complex and should be fully understood by you. Don’t act in haste or you may repent at leisure.
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, drawing upon a warren of trusts and companies onshore and abroad.
The less well-off do it by depositing funds into the bank accounts of relatives.
The most extreme case I have encountered was that of a man who had siphoned more or less everything the couple owned into an offshore trust. He then began to borrow against all the remaining 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, assets are sold and proceeds spent 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 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 and a wife who ran a bath of scalding water and bleach, into 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 plane!
5. Spending money wildly, as a form of ‘payback’
In my experience, this form of revenge tends to be the preserve of spurned wives. Some women decide to spend as much as they can on their husbands’ credit cards before the husbands realise what is going on.
One wealthy client of mine received a credit card bill for £30,000 of luxury clothing purchased by his wife from Bond Street. A further £20,000 had been taken off his card, to pay her lawyer’s bills. In such cases, household bills may well be left unpaid. The court does have power to add back money that has been wasted in this way, so all is not lost.
4. Hitting the ‘Send’ button late at night
Imagine the scene. The wronged spouse, a bottle of wine and the Internet. As the night goes on the lonely spouse gets worse for wear, all those grievances pile up and hey! Why not? Vengeance is sweet. It may give you the greatest satisfaction informing every single person in your spouse’s company across the world of an affair with an employee. But it could certainly result in adverse publicity, the loss of your spouse’s job impacting on your finances and a massive claim against you. If you are prone to brood and plot late at night, install an override function on your computer.
3. Using a friend as a spy, to gain access to the lawyer’s office and learn firsthand what is going on
This is the height of sneakiness. A girlfriend pretends to befriend the wife, offers a helping hand with the lawyers, gets to know the tactics and advice – and then reports everything back to the husband. Again, this happens more often than you might think. As a result, I discourage my clients from coming to see me with ‘friends’ in tow.
2. ‘Conflicting out‘ the spouse’s lawyer
This is when it is inappropriate for a solicitor to advise a client, because of previous or ongoing work or involvement with another person involved in the same case. Because a good lawyer can bring about an extremely successful outcome, some spouses decide to get that lawyer onside, or make sure that the lawyer is placed out of the other side’s reach. Many times I have been aware that this is happening to me.
On one occasion, a man telephoned ahead for an emergency appointment and was prepared to fly over from the Caribbean to see me ahead of his wife. Another time the husband paid a retainer, never turned up and divorced his wife offshore.
1. If all else fails… running off with the divorce lawyer!
Truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, and this has been known to happen. It certainly gives an unfair advantage, with vastly reduced legal fees. I can recall one case in which the husband began an affair with his divorce lawyer. Having paid out his wife, he swiftly married his well-to-do new love!”