the 20th wedding anniversary party of a couple who were later to battle in
a bitter divorce that cost both of them their health, peace of mind and
property, a youngish married woman quipped cleverly after the toast
"20 years! Even prisoners get out on parole for good behaviour"!
married people present laughed in a nervous, commiserating way, since we
all know marriage is no rose-strewn pathway and wedded bliss is bloody
hard work. The still-single looked on wistfully.
marriage has compensations that sadly turn invisible to married couples
over the years (someone to fetch water in the middle of the night, to have
companiably by your side so loneliness doesn't lay its slimy paws on you,
to support you through crappy times) and enviably obvious to those still
hankering after that knot.
why many middle-aged men stray. Lucky for them that their crisis hits them
at the precise time when their fat wallets negate the effects of their
thickening waists and become Young Women magnets. The familiar wife of so
many years generally doesn't stand a chance against his edgy mistress who
is exciting because she is scarce, (supply and demand laws kick in here)
and he has never seen her in the romance-killing atmosphere of the low
fever of domestic domesticity, day in day out, for decades. (How sexy can
a woman look washing socks, anxiously smearing Ponds on her face or
handing out medicine to a sick child?)
he has his fling.
is real is the strength of feeling with which this gentleman returns to
his wife when she falls sick, or when the mistress demands that he divorce
her - the realisation hits him like a hammer on his head that his wife has
become part of him over the years. It's the alchemy of marriage that only
crises reveal. We won't go into the murky areas of trust and hurt except
to say these are the reasonably happy endings.
aren't. And the monster of the low fever of domesticity takes a high toll,
leading many couples straight to the divorce courts. More often than not
the reason is infidelity, mostly by men who need to reclaim their youth
but, increasingly, by women who are no longer as economically dependent on
men as they used to be and don't see why they, too, can't grab a second
chance at happiness.
Economist let its hair down this month on this prickly issue, and no doubt
grabbed the full attention of many a warring couple amongst its
subscribers with an article on divorce laws, comparing practices in four
countries-England and Wales, New York (which clearly counts as a world
apart), Germany, and France.
X was a rich man before he married his English wife, and when he moved to
London with her some years later, he got a nasty shock. She filed for
divorce and-whereas in Germany that means sharing out only the assets
accumulated during the marriage-in England, everything is potentially up
for grabs. Facing ruin, Herr X moves fast, apologising convincingly for
his infidelity. His wife withdrew the divorce petition. The couple then
moved back to Germany-where Herr X then filed for divorce again, but this
time under rules that saved his fortune."
information in this piece gets more gripping.
lifestyles create plenty of scope for this sort of regulatory arbitrage.
Germany and most continental countries ring-fence premarital property.
England usually tosses it all in the pot. English judges can wholly ignore
pre-nuptial agreements; elsewhere they can be binding. In France and other
Mediterranean countries fault plays a role; infidelity can mean losing out
financially. But in northern European countries, conduct short of the mad
or murderous is excluded. Judges in England now look very kindly on wives'
needs, especially after long marriages during which their earning power
may have been eroded. In most of Europe long-term maintenance is very
rare; women are expected to work just like men."
article is accompanied with an easy reference table comparing divorce laws
in four countries titled "A globetrotter's guide to divorce",
revealing delightful tidbits such as in Germany divorce is quick and
cheap; in France it's "slow and cheap, in New York it's "quick
and costly" while in England and Wales it's "slowish and
costly". Equally, in France adultery and other misconduct is
"relevant" while it is "ignored" in New York, Germany
and England. In Germany and France the accrued assets are divided 50-50,
while in New York and Wales it is left to the judge's discretion. In
England maintenance is often lifelong, in New York, Germany and France it
England pre-marriage assets are usually included but excluded in New York,
Germany and France.
prominent Port of Spain-based attorney confirmed that divorce, especially
among younger couples, is on the rise here, that it is generally
acrimonious, that women are increasingly filing for it, their financial
independence directly correlating with their unwillingness to be unhappily
married, and that we follow English law.
went through The Economist's "Globetrotter's guide to divorce",
asking this prominent attorney what obtains in Trinidad and Tobago and she
supplied me with the following information. Adultery? "Not a
consideration." Pre-nuptial agreements? "Not valid."
Division of accrued assets? "Based on judge's discretion, depending
on the income, earning capacity, expenses, financial resources and age of
the parties, as well as the duration of the marriage and the contribution,
financial and otherwise (scrubbing the floors at home and bringing up kids
while hubby works counts as a contribution) of each party. It also depends
on the overall resources and future earning power of each party (including
future lump sums such as pensions). There are no fixed percentages in
property settlements and while all assets are to be stated including the
pre-marital assets, it is unlikely a spouse will be successful in claiming
a share in such property." Maintenance? "If the spouse is
employed or employable it is not likely that she gets maintenance. However
if she shows she's employed but dependent on the husband for her
lifestyle, or sacrificed her own career for her husband's, she gets
maintenance which stops if she remarries."
Highly inflammable material where sex, betrayal, cash, property and
revenge poisonously snake into one another. My attorney source hopes that
with the establishment of the Family Court, the emphasis will be
conciliatory, round-table discussions rather than the mangled mess of
bitter human emotions, leaving no winners, only victims, whether you get
it here or in France.