After you’ve practised as a family lawyer for a long period, most of the cases you’ve dealt with fade from memory. However, there are a few cases that remain with you always, as they have some particular feature that makes them stand out from the crowd.
A judgment I came across this week brought to mind two such cases. The judgment was in the financial remedies case M v M, in which the wife unfortunately had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This may obviously have a bearing upon her life expectancy, and therefore upon her future financial needs. Accordingly, the diagnosis was a factor that the court had to take into account when considering which orders to make.
It was that feature of one party in a financial remedies claim facing a reduced life expectancy due to disease that brought those two cases of mine to mind. I saw a different side of the coin in each case.
In the first case, some years ago, I was acting for the husband while the wife was in the advanced stages of Huntington’s disease. As it was so long ago, the details are a little vague, but I remember that she had just gone into a care home, possibly even a hospice. Either way, her diagnosis only gave her a very short time to live.
At the outset the wife had sought a full half share of the limited assets that were available for division between the parties. This would have left my client with insufficient to rehouse himself, and he therefore sought a greater than half share. This was eventually conceded by the wife and the case was settled on that basis. The wife sadly passed away shortly thereafter.
In the second case I was acting for the wife, who was suffering from cancer. The difference in this case, though, was that the husband had already set up home with another woman and his housing needs were therefore already met. Accordingly, a settlement was agreed whereby my client kept the former matrimonial home, in which she still lived with the (grown up) children of the family – the husband had decently accepted that the property would still be needed as a home for the children after my client’s death.
That death did not take long to come. Very shortly after matters were settled, she passed away. My last, poignant, memory of seeing her was glancing out of an upstairs window of my office, seeing her coming up the path to deliver some document, wearing a headscarf which hid the fact that she had lost her hair through chemotherapy.
The other sad factor common to both of those cases was that in each case the children had sided with the parent that was ill. I don’t think this was simply down to sympathy. Rather, in each case the illness was apparent before the final breakdown of the marriage and the children saw the other parent leaving as a betrayal of the unwell parent, one which they were not prepared to forgive. I suspect that in each case things were probably more complex than that, but still the damage to the relationship between children and parent was a further tragedy befalling the family.
As a family lawyer you truly do see the rough and the smooth of family life.
The judgment in M v M can be read here.