Is matrimonial revenge a dish best served cold?

by Linzi Perriman on October 9, 2015

Wednesday night saw more than eight million of us tuning in to the climactic ending of Mike Barlett’s five-part domestic drama ‘Doctor Foster’.

My last blog – Following Doctor’s Order – focused on episode 3 of the gripping drama, for those that missed it, episode 4 saw Gemma’s professional career called into question, police involvement over her mother-in-law’s suicide and an attempt to take her own life, but the closing scenes saw Gemma’s revengeful plan take effect as she attends the Parks’ household for an arranged dinner with the mistress’s parents and cheating husband Simon in tow.

The final episode sees Gemma use the dinner party to exact her revenge revealing squirming Simon’s lies in the bedroom and boardroom, exposing his two-year long affair with pregnant mistress Katie Parks, played by Jodie Corner, and an illegal investment in Simon’s company made by Katie’s father, played by Neil Stuke.

Many viewers do not approve of Gemma’s behaviour and fans took to social media in their droves to criticise the way Gemma and Simon’s son Tom, played by Tom Taylor, was brought into the centre of the drama and used as a pawn in Gemma’s revenge.

It was clear to everyone watching that Gemma felt son Tom deserved to know what was going on and that Simon should be the one to expose the truth, but viewers saw him begging Gemma not to divulge any details to their son just yet. Against his wishes Gemma reveals all and young Tom decides to confront his father about the affair and the family’s financial difficulties. Was this really the right time to tell Tom everything?

Breaking the news

There is no hard and fast rule about how to break the news to children, but given that their long-term emotional and mental health is at risk, the matter needs to be handled as sensitively as possible. In 2014 Childline cited parents separating as the most common reason for calls to them, seeing an increase of 122%, so what can you do to assist your children in coping with divorce? My advice is:

  • Ensure that your child’s welfare is always your main priority
  • Prepare for the talk, as children have a habit of asking difficult questions
  • Provide stability and a routine
  • Show support, be patient, listen and assist them in expressing their feelings, counselling can help
  • Portray a united front with your spouse and avoid the ‘blame game’
  • Keep it simple but tell the truth
  • Reassure your children and ensure they know you and your spouse will always love them
  • Manage their expectations and let them know that there will be a period of adjustment and some changes, but don’t overwhelm they with unnecessary details

Mike Bartlett has said he hopes Gemma’s story of betrayal and revenge will leave women feeling empowered, but many viewers have expressed disappointment over the drama’s ending saying cheating husband Simon deserved to be left bankrupt, alone and unhappy. But what impact could Simon’s bankruptcy have had on his and Gemma’s divorce proceedings and financial settlement?

Bankruptcy and divorce

If your spouse is facing bankruptcy this will inevitably have an impact upon any financial settlement reached. The Family Court is concerned with making an order to divide the parties’ assets between them having regard to all the circumstances of their case and the parties needs and those of any minor children, but the bankruptcy court is concerned with distributing the bankrupt spouse’s assets in accordance with bankruptcy rules. This unsurprisingly creates a conflict, and crucially the timing of the bankruptcy proceedings and any financial order will be the main consideration of the Courts.

In essence, when an individual is made bankrupt their assets pass to the Trustee in Bankruptcy who has various powers to ensure the bankrupt’s creditors are paid all of part of the debts owed. However, the Trustee in Bankruptcy only has the power to deal with assets, or the share of assets which are owned by the bankrupt spouse, so if Gemma and Simon own the family home jointly, then only Simon’s share will revert to the Trustee in Bankruptcy. This means the family home cannot be made the subject of a property adjustment order (where one spouse applies for a property to be transferred from joint names into their sole name) and Gemma would need to deal with the Trustee in Bankruptcy in relation to any transfer of the former matrimonial home.

Gemma could decide to purchase Simon’s share in the property from the Trustee in Bankruptcy, or it could result in the home being sold to realise the bankrupts share in the property. This might seem unfair but a spouse’s financial claims or right to occupy the former matrimonial home often rank well down the list of priorities, when the Trustee’s priority is to pay the creditors.

So what should Gemma do? Act fast! If a property adjustment order is made before the presentation of the bankruptcy petition it will be valid and will bind the Trustee in Bankruptcy. This is subject to exceptions, for instance the Trustee could seek to challenge the property adjustment order by arguing it was a transaction at an undervalue.

Alternatively, Gemma could challenge the making of a bankruptcy order by seeking an annulment if she believes the bankruptcy petition is an attempt by Simon to frustrate or delay the family law proceedings.

Bankruptcy can in certain circumstances affect spousal maintenance orders, lump sum payments and pension sharing orders, so it is important that you contact a Solicitor as soon as possible if you are contemplating divorce and suspect your spouse might be in financial difficulties.

If you require further advice in relation to the above or are considering divorce, then please contact me or a member of the Family team on 0343 507 5151 or email me on enquiries@gorvins.com and I will be more than happy to help you.

Linzi Perriman

Linzi Perriman

Associate Solicitor at Gorvins
Linzi is an Associate Solicitor in the Family & Matrimonial department at Gorvins Linzi advising on all aspects of relationship breakdown, including: divorce, financial settlements arising from divorce and separation, disputes regarding children, domestic violence, cohabitation disputes and Police Divorce matters. Linzi is passionate about family law and aims to provide clear and constructive advice to assist clients to resolve matters as quickly and amicably as possible, consistent with Resolution’s Code of Conduct.
Linzi Perriman
Linzi Perriman

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