‘Damien Hirst gave me a pickled monkey’
ongoing joint lives maintenance order, giving them financial independence.”
Ms Hicks said she didn’t believe that the Government’s plans for no-fault separation would increase the rate of divorce, although it would simplify things and be less emotional for the couple. “I still see defended divorces, which increase acrimony and, of course, legal fees, usually because one party refers to some financial misconduct in the divorce petition, which is unnecessary,” she said.
“There are always two sides to a story and having to unpick a marriage and go through the debris to come up with a reason to divorce is stressful. I advise spouses to prepare anodyne particulars of behaviour without referring to finances or children. That way, it is less likely to be defended.”
A third case over the summer, Villiers v Villiers, was fought over whether a divorce should be heard in England or Scotland, with big implications for the financial agreement. Mrs Villiers was keen for an English judgment that gave her £5,500 a month to be upheld; Mr Villiers less so. The case is going to the Supreme Court.
Maintenance awards in Scotland are, in most cases, for a maximum of three years, Ms Hicks said, unless there is serious financial hardship, which is difficult to prove. She added: “Scottish courts also look at the value of the matrimonial assets at the time of separation, whereas in England and Wales there is an ongoing duty to make financial disclosure until a court order is approved. The value of assets is counted at the date of trial or when considering a financial consent order. When there is a choice of where to divorce, always consider the likely level of financial award and start divorce proceedings in the most favourable country without delay.
“Rather than trying to settle matters amicably, this does mean the case starts off with a level of acrimony, which I fear will get worse once we are no longer in the EU.”
There is an alternative: the “good” divorce. Jo Edwards of law firm Forsters, a past chair of Resolution, the family law charity, said this was not the oxymoron it seemed.
“After 20 years as a family lawyer and mediator, where possible not taking cases to court, I can testify that such a thing exists,” she said.
Be sure it is what you really want. Relationships go through rocky patches. Couples counselling is a must: if you still agree it’s over, an amicable separation is more likely.
Acrimonious divorces often occur when spouses aren’t emotionally ready. Don’t rush the process.
Be realistic about what you may be entitled to in terms of money and the children. Most cases that end up in court do so because one person is trying for an unrealistic outcome. More than 90pc of cases are resolved without the need for a judge.
‘Courts will no longer routinely order maintenance for life’
Too many parents put children in the crossfire. Prioritising their needs and feelings will stand them in good stead. Making them take sides will cause lasting emotional harm.
Don’t view your spouse as the enemy – often you’ll have an enduring bond as parents.
Divorce is not a commercial negotiation with winners and losers; it is about fairness and pragmatism. Be open about what you want and be ready to compromise.
Agree how finances and childcare will work on an interim basis while the long-term settlement is under discussion. Many people, angry or thinking they are smart, withhold financial support or overspend, or become more hands-on with the children or restrict the other’s access. None of this makes any difference.
Many people can’t afford full (if any) legal representation. But this needn’t mean a bad divorce. There is a lot of information online. You’ll save money if your solicitor does not have to explain the process to you.
Finally, stay focused on the end goal, look after yourself and keep friends and family close at hand. A support network is important so that you don’t feel isolated or overwhelmed.