For certain people, divorce — or even the thought of divorce — brings their very worst qualities to the fore.
Divorce is an emotional rollercoaster. When people are really hurting, particularly if they have been “swapped” for somebody else, self-preservation becomes all-important. But for some, such a state of mind leads to all-consuming hatred, malice and a desire for vengeance.
After 25 years as a divorce solicitor, nothing surprises me anymore. Drawing upon my own experiences — some of them eye-opening — I have compiled a countdown of the top ten dirty divorce tricks.
The first five are below. I wish to stress that none of them are recommended; indeed, some of them are illegal!
10. Moving the spouse to a different country in order to obtain a more favourable divorce settlement. This may sound far-fetched but, as I have noted in a previous post, it happens more frequently than one 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.
9. Covert surveillance of a spouse by bugging the phone, the car, the office — or by employing an enquiry agent. When a spouse is suspected of having an affair, all sorts of surveillance techniques can be used. 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 under the car seat, and recorded all his telephone calls. Although it gave her satisfaction, I question the need in law. It isn’t necessary for a divorce, and it is likely to leave the Judge wondering about the character of someone who goes to these lengths. Where discretion is needed for a financial settlement, this type of conduct can backfire.
8. Secretly photocopying every scrap of financial information in the house and office. Also: downloading everything from a spouse’s computer, and later pretending that he/she didn’t realise what he/she was doing. This is very common, although most likely illegal. What often happens is that a piece of computer equipment is purchased with which to download the computer’s hard drive. Or an IT expert is surreptitiously called in. Either way, the spouse obtains information that, under the evidence rules in family law, should be disclosed to the other side. In my experience, however, much of what is obtained is either useless or irrelevant. Clients are left exposed in civil and criminal law. In any event, this information can be obtained legally, without personal risk, by a court-governed disclosure process.
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, owned via a warren of trusts and companies. The less well off do it by depositing funds in the bank accounts of relatives. The most extreme case I have come across was that of a spouse who had placed more or less everything the couple had into an untouchable offshore trust. He then began to borrow against all the rest of the non-trust 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, companies are sold and the monies “squatted” 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 that 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.
- A wife who ran a bath of scalding water and bleach, in 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 yacht!
Check back next week for the last 5 Dirty Divorce Tricks!
Nicknamed "The Barracuda" for her tenacity, Marilyn Stowe is one of the UK’s most sought after divorce lawyers, and is the senior partner at Stowe Family Law.