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Remarkable case demonstrates futility of contesting divorce proceedings

My posts this week are going to be mostly about abuse of the family justice system by litigants who choose to use the system in a completely inappropriate manner, in a misguided attempt to achieve their ends. Unfortunately, this is a not uncommon occurrence, something that greatly and unnecessarily adds to the workload of an already over-stressed system, not to mention the horrendous effect it can have on the other party and, indeed, the entire family.

The first example of this phenomenon is the remarkable case VW v BH (Contested Divorce Proceedings). That case name alone will give an indication of why the case was remarkable, contested divorce cases being, as we shall see in just a moment, vanishingly rare. It was ironic indeed that the report of the case should be published in ‘Good Divorce Week’.

The case was heard by Her Honour Judge Lynn Roberts in the Family Court at Ipswich. We only have to read to the second paragraph in her 138-paragraph judgment to get a flavour of what is to follow:

“This has been an extraordinary case in very many respects as I shall return to in some detail later. The two most obviously unusual features should, however, be set out at the start. First, that this has been a three-day contested divorce trial. I understand that there are only about twenty contested divorce trials a year in this whole country. Secondly, that the respondent in these proceedings, Mr H, has contested the divorce which Ms W has brought because of his adultery despite admitting to having committed adultery for some twenty-two years of their marriage.”

I almost don’t need to say any more, as the futility of the husband’s actions in defending the case and ‘cross-petitioning’ on the basis of his wife’s alleged ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is there for all to see from just these few words.

But I will add another quote from Judge Roberts, from much later in her judgment:

“Mr H’s whole case has indeed been completely futile, a huge waste of money, a tragic destruction of family relationships, and all, in my opinion, to satisfy Mr H’s own vanity and need to be in control and for the other reasons I have suggested earlier. All he had to do was to not contest the divorce, a divorce he wanted, as virtually everybody else in the country does, and this couple would have had their decree nisi last year, the various relationships would, in all likelihood, have been well on the way to healing by now and the money saved for the family.”

I only need to add to that the inevitable denouement, in three parts:

Firstly, Judge Roberts found that there was “overwhelming evidence” that the husband had been committing adultery for over twenty years, and that the wife was therefore entitled to a decree nisi.

Secondly, Judge Roberts found that none of the husband’s allegations against the wife stood up, and therefore dismissed his (cross-) petition, which was obviously intended just to shift blame for the breakdown of the marriage from the husband to the wife, when it was clearly the husband who was  at ‘fault’ (I hesitate to use that word).

Finally, Judge Roberts ordered the husband to pay the wife’s costs, which will no doubt be considerable, and which were obviously incurred to achieve nothing, it being accepted by both parties at the outset that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. Further, Judge Roberts ordered that the costs should be: “on an indemnity basis because of the totally unnecessary proceedings that have taken place, a huge amount of costs which have been made much more expensive than they needed to be because of decisions taken by Mr H.”

There is a lesson here for anyone whose marriage has broken down: no matter how angry or upset you may be, taking those emotions to the court is going to be both pointless and destructive. No matter how strongly you feel that the world should know that you are the ‘innocent’ party in the marriage breakdown, the court will be the ultimate arbiter, not you. You need to take a step back and consider the possible consequences of your actions, not just upon yourself, but also upon others, including those most important to you.

Of course, this case is also a perfect advertisement for removing from parties the option of defending a divorce, or even asserting who is to blame for the marriage breakdown, by the introduction of no-fault divorce. Let us hope that for the sake of families like the unfortunate one in this case we have a no-fault divorce system sooner rather than later.

You can read the full, sorry, judgment, here.

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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