It’s the little things in a divorce that can turn out to be the biggest headaches, say lawyers
Divorcing couples are going to war over increasingly unusual things, such as smoked salmon, a much-loved frying pan, expensive mustard … even a suit of armour.
Gone are the days, it seems, that people would part amicably and simply divide their possessions. Increasingly, feuding couples will stop at nothing to grab whatever possessions they can out of a failing marriage.
Huge legal bills are being run up as husbands and wives try to ensure they get their hands on every last item they can, either because they want them or just out of spite.
In one case, a client for Robin Charrot, a partner at George Davies solicitors in Manchester, ran up a bill of more than £2,000 arguing over a set of bed linen.
Lawyers in the city also reported battles over a suit of armour in a baronial hall, dustbins in the shape of Disney characters, and personal sports prizes.
Research by another law firm in the city, Pannone, showed that 20 per cent of divorces were affected by rows over inexpensive possessions.
The firm found that even seven-figure separations could be delayed over disputes about items worth no more than a few pounds.
Fiona Wood, a family partner, said some former husbands and wives were prepared to run up significant legal bills to win “custody” of seemingly trivial items such as CDs, books, cutlery, Air Miles, Tesco Clubcard points, goldfish and vacuum cleaners.
She said: “Some couples fight simply for the sake of fighting. The amount spent on legal costs arguing about these items can be many times more than their value, but some would rather pay these costs in order to prove a point to their ex-spouses.”
Amanda McAlister, the head of family law at Russell Jones and Walker, said: “You would be surprised at how couples, who can split pretty sizeable assets without much problem, are willing to waste thousands of pounds on the smallest or oddest possession.
“The key is to keep a cool head and look on it as a business deal. Unfortunately, few people do, and it can become a battle for ownership over items that, in the great scheme of things, are unimportant when compared with financial security and the welfare of your children.”
She said one of her strangest divorce cases involved a couple who ran an equestrian centre and jointly owned a valuable stallion.
The entire financial settlement came down to the division of horse sperm.
Beth Wilkins, a partner and joint head of family law at JMW Solicitors, said: “I have seen couples divide multi-million pound fortunes with ease, only for negotiations to founder over a cherished but ultimately worthless ornament.”
David Milburn, a partner at Stowe Family Law, based in Hale, Manchester, said: “There have been some demands that I can barely believe. Take for example the client who was attached to his favourite frying pan. His wife took it when she moved out, so he took her engagement ring to get revenge.
“When everything was resolved, they had to meet each other half way between their new properties at a motorway service station to exchange the items.
“I’ve also been instructed by a client to write to her former spouse to return some smoked salmon and expensive mustard he had taken out of the freezer.
“I explained that the legal fees in pursuing this would buy her a lot of smoked salmon, but she was adamant we pressed ahead anyway.”