It’s well known that January is one of the busiest periods of the year for divorce lawyers. Office party indiscretions, aggravating in-laws and the financial pressures of the festive season can all push shaky relationships past breaking point – and as the season of goodwill turns to acrimony and anger, the presents under the tree can become a battlefield.
The courts may be unwilling to get involved in disputes over chattels – the jewellery, the cars, the pots and pans – seeing it is an unimportant side issue, it can be a hot point of principle for the couples involved. All those presents, bought in amity can be a particular sticking point when it comes to negotiations.
Spiteful aggrieved husbands can often dig in their heels when it comes to settlement, extracting petty concessions on household items and gifts before signing off on a big financial payout. On one case, worth millions of pounds in total, the husband produced an eleventh hour list of the things he wanted from the matrimonial home, including several years worth of presents that he had bought his wife. Another fought bitterly to retain ‘his’ lawnmower, despite the fact he was now living in a gardenless city flat.
Yet it is not just the men who dig their heels in when it comes to household items. Women too can fight fiercely to retain those possessions and presents acquired during marriage. It might be a favoured ornament or a piece of furniture, but often these chattels can be a real sticking point when it comes to negotiations.
Perhaps surprisingly, wives can also become brutally possessive over their cars. While men are often thought of as petrol heads, its increasingly common for wives to be attached to their cars – be they Chelsea tractors or high end sports cars. Often clients will fight tooth and nail to retain the Range Rover of their favoured Ferrari – or their ‘babies’ as they commonly call them. This can be a particular difficult point to fight over as the cars are held in joint names, or registered solely to the husband, meaning the lawyers need to find a creative solution and the right compromise to get back that favoured asset.
Increasingly though those prized possessions – and the Christmas presents – are playing a bigger role in matrimonial disputes. As husbands endeavour to hide their assets and reduce the scope for a big pay-out, gifts and chattels can be used to show evidence of their true wealth.
In other cases too the Christmas gifts can prove a useful piece of evidence. As wives seek to demonstrate the lifestyle they enjoyed during the marriage the Cartier watches, Tiffany earrings and designer dresses can help bolster their case. Each old act of generosity can be utilised by the lawyers to gain a fair share of the marital pot.
It is not just presents to their spouse that can be brought up in proceedings. As marriages disintegrate, the gifts given to the new woman (or man) can also play a key role. Just as an unexplained receipt can be the first clue of adultery, so too can excessive spending on a new partner undermine those who try to low-ball their assets.
So as the festive break-ups begin to happen, the Ghost of Christmas Past is likely to haunt them. Whether they are cited as evidence, or fought over in negotiation, the presents will not remain under the tree but may well be under the spotlight as couples come to divorce
Ayesha Vardag is internationally recognised as ‘Britain’s top divorce lawyer’. Her unrivalled success, no-nonsense style and gritty life experience make her a force to be reckoned with when it comes to resolving family disputes. Having launched Vardags as the sole practitioner in 2005, it is now the largest and best known independent family law firm in the UK.
Ayesha rose to fame in 2010 for winning the landmark Supreme Court case of Radmacher, changing the UK law on prenuptial agreements, and continues to work at the forefront of the biggest divorce cases on behalf of heirs and heiresses, tycoons, international sports stars, celebrities and royalty. She is currently working on the wife of Laura Ashley tycoon Khoo Kay Peng’s divorce which could potentially be the UK’s biggest ever divorce pay out.