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Divorce and dignity by John Bolch

So now we know the decision in Young v Young. Mrs Young has been awarded £20 million, but she is not at all happy. She believes she should have got a lot more, and she has suggested that she may appeal.

Now, I don’t know whether Mr Justice Moor’s estimate of Mr Young’s worth was correct, but let us just assume for a moment that he got it wrong, and that Mr Young is worth every penny that Mrs Young claims. What, as a lawyer, would I be thinking now?

Well, it’s difficult to put myself in the position of Mrs Young’s lawyer as, like most family lawyers, I have, thankfully, never experienced a case quite like this. Mind you, nor had Mr Justice Moor, who described it as “about as bad an example of how not to litigate as any I have ever encountered”.

However, all family lawyers have dealt with cases where one party claims that the other is worth much more than they admit, and I recall dealing with one case in particular.

Thinking of that case would put me in two minds when it came to advising Mrs Young. Part of me would of course be concerned that she is getting much less than she is entitled to. On the other hand, knowing what a further ‘fight’ would involve, particularly in terms of damage  to the family, part of me would be content if she decided that enough was enough, and decided to stick with an award that she knew was much less than she should have got.

Why do I think like this? The case I recall went like this.

I was instructed by the wife and the husband was the owner of a fairly large and (apparently) successful local business. However, (surprise, surprise) the business appeared to get into difficulties at about the time the marriage broke down, and the husband had decided to sell his interest in it.

Obviously, we needed to obtain details of the value of the business and how much the husband was going to receive. However, he was less than forthcoming, which meant that further enquiries had to be made, delaying matters and adding to the costs and the stress involved for my client. Matters were exacerbated by the fact that the exact amount that the husband would receive for his interest in the business would not be finalised for some time.

And so the case dragged on, for many months.

Eventually, however, I received instructions from my client that she had had enough of the continued dispute, and that so long as she had end to suitably (and modestly) re-house herself and her children, she would ‘call it a day’. She just wanted the family to get on with their lives.

Obviously, I had to advise her that she might be foregoing a considerable amount of money, but she was adamant. So we settled.

It was one of the most dignified decisions I ever encountered whilst practising. Sometimes it is about more than just the money.

Compare the Young case. Mr and Mrs Young are not the only people involved. As Mr Justice Moor said in the final paragraph of his judgment:

“I feel nothing but sympathy for the two children of these parties. Through no fault of their own, their parents’ marriage broke down. A marital breakdown is distressing enough for any child but, for the divorce to then be played out in the full glare of the media in the way that has occurred in this case, must have been absolutely appalling for them. What has occurred has not been child focussed. I truly hope that the parents will reflect on this. I also hope that it does not happen to any other children.”

Let us hope that Mrs Young bears these words in mind when considering her next move.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Jacquie says:

    I fully appreciate what is being said here as I am going through exactly the same scenario. My children have always been my number one priority and will continue to remain so, my case is that their father has damaged the children to the extent that they no longer wish to see him. These are trying times for all women in the situation where the husband holds the purse strings and we are pushed into taking a lower settlement just to get some peace in our lives. It is a very cruel society we live in.

  2. Peter Ryder says:

    Moor’s strictures are reminiscent of the circuit judges who used to ask in complaining voices “why is this case here again” when faced with an application to enforce a non-mol order, the complaint inferring that somehow the further breaches were too much trouble for the court to deal with. Now as then I am left bemused by the ability of intelligent people to become so blinkered once they are appointed to judicial office.

    The judge here seems to be criticising the wife for spending money on the experts she needed in order to prove that her husband was worth more than the nothing he claimed. Instead of criticising the wife why didn’t he ask why the court itself had been so dilatory in enforcing its own orders in any meaningful way between the first complained of breach in 2007 and the husband being sent to prison in 2013. That’s six years of contempt.

    When the court seems impotent a litigant has either to put up or shut up. Was the judge suggesting that Mrs Young ought to have shut up, forgotten her claims and lived on state handouts?

    It is only recently that the family courts have developed the courage to deal at all effectively with those who treat orders with contempt, whether it be spouses who refuse to make disclosure or parents who refuse to permit contact.

    Perhaps in future the Mrs Young’s of this world will get the help they need.

    When judges who have allowed this kind of contempt go on to blame the party who is innocent of contemptuous behaviour we truly are in Alice in Wonderland territory.

  3. Pete says:

    family courts have developed courage, don’t make me laugh. When the head of family law says the press should be let into court to help promote justice and when a judge will listen to the lies of a woman instead of taking note of written evidence its no wonder the legal system is so bad. From what I have experienced money is all that counts with another Judge saying Justice could suffer unless barristers are paid more, has Justice and equality gone out the window .

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