Sometimes the divorce cases we read about in the media and in law reports teach us about more than the strict legalities of divorce law. They can also provide salutary lessons on the importance of taking a practical approach to divorce and financial settlements and of trying to reach an agreed settlement. The divorce of Melanie Panzone and Jonathan Read is one such case. Despite not being hugely wealthy the couple have spent more than five years and half a million pounds in a series of court battles over their assets. As one of the judges in the case remarked at the end of a recent hearing, “There’s a lot to be said for keeping things simple”.
Panzone v Read – The Background
Both Ms Panzone and Mr Read are highly educated and articulate. Their divorce case however appears to have spiralled out of control, with five years being taken up by various applications and appeal hearings. Judges at the latest hearing indicated their belief that the proceedings had been emotionally damaging and ‘bruising’ in terms of money spent and on terms of the impact on the couple’s children.
The legal argument in the case – chiefly over the beneficial ownership of a flat in Panama worth around £300,000 – need not overly concern us. But anyone who is currently embroiled in a financial dispute as part of a divorce – or anyone who thinks one may be possible – should take note of one stark fact in the Panzone/Read dispute: the only substantial asset worth arguing over was the £300,000 property we’ve mentioned and yet £500,000 has been incurred in legal costs. While many divorcing couples experience a dip in income and a change in their lifestyle, the handling of the Panzone case means there is no way the couple’s current, relatively comfortable lifestyle can be maintained.
How To Avoid A Costly Divorce
The Panzone case is an extreme example of legal costs swallowing up a huge portion, if not all of the marital assets. But the divorce process is possibly unique in its ability to polarise the parties and make finding the common ground – essential to settle matters – impossible.
It’s interesting that a judge in the Panzone case formed the impression that Mr Read was enjoying the court process, his ability to demonstrate his skill and knowledge, and also ‘to be able to wind the wife up’. We have absolutely no way of knowing whether or not this is true – it’s simply one judge’s impression. But it illustrates the kind of acrimony that can be present in contested divorces.
What’s the alternative to bitterly contested disputes?
The cost of divorce can’t just be calculated with reference to legal fees. You also need to consider the impact on children and other family members and what it will take you to start afresh.
Cases like Panzone v Read may appear extreme. But as divorce lawyers specialising in financial remedies it’s our experience that this type of scenario is played out over and over in the family courts. And while in some cases long-drawn out battles over finances might be unavoidable, in many cases a less confrontational approach to every aspect of your divorce can lead to a more amicable settlement.
At Brookman we are members of Resolution, a group of lawyers committed to working with divorcing couples to find constructive ways to settle their differences. This means we work hard to reduce conflict and help our clients appreciate the long-term consequences – emotional and financial – of the decisions they take at the time of their divorce. For new clients we offer a short, free consultation to discuss key issues with you and help you decide on a way forward.