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The divorce process: what next for Mr and Mrs Hancock?

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The divorce process: what next for Mr and Mrs Hancock?

On 28 June, I was invited to talk to Ben Fryer on BBC Essex, in light of the news last weekend that Matt Hancock had left his wife and resigned as Health Secretary after breaching social distancing rules and an apparent inappropriate relationship with his aide.

The main question for discussion was: What is next for Mr and Mrs Hancock?

The press reported that Mrs Hancock was unaware of the alleged affair or of any difficulties in her marriage until Mr Hancock raced home on Thursday. He was informed that images of him and his aide kissing were to be published on the Friday and that, when speaking to her, he told her of his wish to separate.  

It is a sad reality that marriages break down and, whilst sometimes the decision to separate is mutual, this is not often the case and it will be one spouse making the decision. This can be particularly hard for the spouse who has been “left”. 

It is especially hard when it happens out of the blue or as a result of the discovery of adultery or other behaviour which might be considered unforgivable. In those situations, the emotional fallout can not be underestimated and is likely to include shock, anger, a sense of betrayal and grief as well as bewilderment and anxiety about the legal and practical implications of a separation.

For those facing marriage breakdown, it is a good idea to seek legal advice from a specialist divorce and separation lawyer. Unless there are any immediate issues to be addressed, such as a need for protective injunctions due to domestic abuse, urgent issues regarding the children or maintenance or international aspects, it is not necessary to seek that advice immediately. 

In most cases, it is absolutely fine, and a good idea, to take some time to let the dust settle and manage the initial shock. This also helps ensure that you are able to make the best use of your time with a solicitor, be able to take on board the information provided and make the important decisions about how you want to proceed.

A divorce and separation lawyer will be able to discuss the divorce options. A spouse in Mrs Hancock’s position might wish to issue divorce proceedings on the basis of her husband’s adultery. 

The legal definition of adultery requires sexual intercourse and so a photograph of a kiss is insufficient evidence if Mr Hancock was unwilling to admit adultery. It would, however, be evidence of unreasonable behaviour, which is another current ground for proving that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. 

If Mrs Hancock did issue divorce proceedings on the basis of adultery, then she might be minded to name the aide within the petition and join her to the proceedings. This is not necessary and not usually recommended. 

Another option available to both Mr and Mrs Hancock would be to wait and issue divorce proceedings when the rules change on 6 April 2022. Then it will be possible to issue a divorce application with a simple statement that the marriage has irretrievably broken down and no requirement to cite adultery or unreasonable behaviour.

The financial implications of divorce

Another issue that will need to be addressed is with regards to the financial implications of divorce. The courts have a wide discretion when dealing with financial matters as part of divorce and must take into account all the circumstances of the case. 

Where adultery has been committed, this is not itself something that is taken into account and the court will not seek to punish either spouse with a financial order. That said, conduct is taken into account where it would be inequitable to disregard it. An affair or other behaviour may be relevant if there are financial consequences, such as in Mr Hancock’s case, his losing his job. 

It is important to seek legal advice. A divorce and separation lawyer can offer bespoke advice dealing with your particular circumstances and also help identify the best process to try to resolve the issues. This might include direct discussions, mediation, negotiation through solicitors or using collaborative lawyers. 

Ideally, divorcing spouses will be able to reach an agreement. This can then be set out within either a separation agreement (if divorce proceedings are not in place) or a consent order (if there are divorce proceedings). If an agreement cannot be reached, then options such as arbitration and a court application can be considered. Making the right decision as to process can result in significant benefits in terms of financial costs and timing and also the emotional cost involved in dealing with a dispute. 

For couples who are in the public eye, such as Mr and Mrs Hancock, the process choice might be particularly important as they might wish to ensure that resolution of these issues remains private. This would mean that, should they not be able to reach an agreement, they may be better to choose family arbitration which is confidential. This would be preferred to making an application to the court, which is open to press attendance and reporting subject to certain safeguards to protect children etc.

Arrangements for children

Whatever is decided in relation to divorce and finances, it is also going to be necessary to consider the arrangements for any children. 

For parents who are separating it is extremely important to remember that, notwithstanding the breakdown of the marriage and the distress and difficulties associated, when all is said and done, you will remain parents. It is extremely important not to draw the children into the adult issues and to avoid berating or bad-mouthing the other parent to the children or in their earshot. 

Don’t make them choose between you. The children love you both and, unless there is a safeguarding issue, there is a presumption that it is in the children’s best interests to spend regular and consistent time with both parents.

For those contemplating separation or who have been told that their spouse wishes to separate, we offer a free initial, no obligation, chat to discuss your options and how we can help. I can be contacted directly on 01206 217305 or by email at karen.johnson@birkettlong.co.uk

 

 

 

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