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Why cheating on your partner and contesting the divorce is a bad idea

Family law group ‘Resolution’, which was formerly known as the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), is an organisation of 6,500 family lawyers and other professionals who strive to take a constructive approach to family law. They put an emphasis on non-confrontational methods of mediation and campaign actively for improvements to the family justice system that would make things easier and less emotionally taxing for families going through difficult times. They are currently championing a campaign called ‘Good Divorce Week’ based around raising awareness in different methods parents can use to make their separation as easy as possible on their children. Conflict can have a huge impact on a child’s wellbeing, and Resolution have made it part of their mission statement to limit its effect. A judgement was published this week that highlighted the importance of the campaign.

VW v BH

The case, referred do as VW v BH, was described by Her Honour Judge Lynn Roberts as ‘extraordinary’. Official figures have quoted a contested divorce rate of only 20 trials a year, and this case was of these rare breeds. Going on for three days, the wife ‘VW’ filed for divorce against her husband ‘BH’ after he admitted cheating on her in their marriage for 22 years. He then made the extraordinary decision to contest the divorce in court, forcing their daughter into an emotionally brutal cross examination and causing a truly acrimonious split. The trail was initially slated to begin on September 5th but was adjourned because BH has apparently been attacked the night before – something HHJ Roberts admits she has of the truthfulness behind. She is quoted saying she was 'not satisfied that Mr H had been attacked as he said. I do not know'.

BH insisted that all of wife’s referenced witnesses attend the trial, and is said to have questioned them at length and in some questionable detail, Judge Roberts goes on to say ‘if I had not intervened, would have questioned each of them for very long periods of time... It was a difficult and painful experience, in my judgment, for each of Ms W's witnesses and for Ms W to observe. His cross-examination of his daughter, M, was particularly excruciating'. Apparently, BH cross examined his own daughter in an excruciating and unnecessary display where he is said to have asked her questions about sexually transmitted infections such as herpes.

The Judge’s ruling

Judge Roberts was scathing in her indictment of BH’s behaviour, referring to him as a ‘deeply dishonest man’ and admitting that she did not believe him in almost everything he had said: 'I do not believe him about any of the matters in issue in this case. His attitudes displayed in these proceedings are those which were common 40 years ago, not today. This whole awful case has been so that he can delude people into thinking his conduct was not as shameful as it indeed is'.

She added: '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.'

Eventually, VW was granted the requested Decree Nisi and BH was forced to pay her legal costs in both prosecuting her petition and the defence of his own. He was forced to pay the costs on an indemnity basis, rather than a standard basis, which means the costs don’t need to be proportionate and will always be much more favourable to the receiving party than an award of the Standard Basis. The ruling was apparently found '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 because of decisions taken by Mr H'.

Avoiding these issues

Nightmare cases like this one, rare though they are, can tear families apart easily and leave children carrying hostility towards one or both parents for years after. In an ideal situation, all couples would divorce on an amicable basis and with the least possible amount of finger pointing and conflict, but too often the way the divorce courts in the UK work mean this is difficult to do. England and Wales still have no option for a ‘no fault’ divorce, meaning every divorce must have a petitioner and a respondent. Effectively, one person must file from divorce from the other because their behaviour is too intolerable to be expected to live with or because they have deserted them.

The respondent can often feel put out or betrayed when they receive the completed petition in the post and see examples of their behaviour listed by their spouse, followed by explanations of how depressed or lonely it made them feel. It can naturally be a very difficult process to remove the emotion from, and couples who might have started to divorce amicably could find things sour as examples of unreasonable behaviour begin to appear. Many couples use some form of mediation service or attend counselling either separately or together to maintain open channels of communication and keep things on an even footing. This can be really useful, but a great starting point is to just choose to complete your petition together where both spouses can see what’s being filed and can explain to each other why the particular examples have been chosen. Some couples even choose for the respondent to write their own examples of their unreasonable behaviour so relations between both parties don’t become strained, but that would be your choice.

Going through a divorce will always be a difficult time for a couple, particularly when there are children involved, but maintaining an amicable relationship can help streamline the process for all parties. Quickie Divorce has helped hundreds of thousands of uncontested couples separate, and our Personalised Plus Service package even includes a Clean Break Agreement to guarantee that financial deals you and your ex-spouse reach are enforceable by law.

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