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As a specialist divorce lawyer with 40 years experience, Vanessa Lloyd Platt has seen it all.
Couples carrying out ruthless acts of revenge on one another, divorcing over a pet tarantula, and arguing over the garden furniture is just part and parcel of the job.
And while it can have its glamorous side, Vanessa, who’s represented showbiz stars such as Les Dennis, Anne Diamond and TV’s Dr Hilary Jones, says working as a divorce lawyer is tough too.
“People think it’s easy,” Vanessa says, “Actually we have to deal with huge emotional fall out from clients. We’re like psychologists in a way.
“But there are times when you feel you are living in a soap. Some of the things people do to each other are ridiculous.”
Vanessa is dishing the dirt as glossy new BBC One drama The Split began tonight.
The six-part show is set in the fast-paced world of London’s divorce law circuit and follows the lives three sisters – divorce lawyers Hannah and Nina and their youngest sibling Rose.
Most of the divorce lawyers in the drama are female, reflecting how the profession has changed in recent years.
“Years ago when I first started out, there were very few women lawyers in divorce,” Vanessa explains. “I’ll never forget my first boss saying to me, ‘You’re a woman, you can do divorce’. Now he wouldn’t get away with saying that. More and more women lawyers have come into the profession and overtaken the men – the women lawyers are now the force to be reckoned with.”
This is a ruthless world of cheating and betrayal – and the warring couples aren’t much better.
Adultery is one of the most common causes for divorce, though it turns out straightforward lust may not always be the reason. In her book, Secrets of Relationship Success, Vanessa found men making a bizarre admission about why they cheated.
She says: “In a survey I conducted, I asked 80 men who had committed adultery to set out their reasons for being disloyal, in order of priority. One of the most common reasons given was: ‘My wife had started to look and sound like her mother.’”
Some of the more shocking cases Vanessa has dealt with involve revenge, but she warns that while it may feel sweet in the moment, it usually comes back to bite people.
Vanessa’s tips if you are considering getting a divorce:
1. Choose the right lawyer. Your personalities have got to match. If you are someone who is a bit nervous and frightened, you don’t want to someone you cannot communicate with
2. Choose somebody at the price you can afford
3. Write out a short history of what’s happened before you go to see a lawyer
4. Write down a list of all the questions you want to ask your lawyer
5. Don’t carry anger too much into your meeting with the lawyer. It might obscure some of the important things
6. Tell your lawyer everything. Often people say just as they’re leaving, ‘Oh does it matter that he’s got a child by someone else?’
7. Be careful with your expectations. Just because your friend has got a big settlement, doesn’t mean you are going to
8. If you do get a settlement, then do not blow it with the first person offering you an investment
9. Your children are not deaf. Be careful where you have conversations and how you have them
10. Do not think you have a free-for-all to go into your partner’s laptop or mobile phone without permission. People think it is acceptable, but a lawyer is not permitted to look at it if it’s been unlawfully obtained
Vanessa says: “There was a case where a wife drove her husband’s new Mercedes to a cliff top, got out, took off the handbrake and allowed it to topple over the edge.
"It was absolutely destroyed, but what she didn’t realise was that the court would take into account the value of the car and deduct it from HER settlement.
"So revenge isn’t sweet. She found the full force of the law weighted against her when finances came to be dealt with. The car was worth approximately £60,000 and her capital claims were severely affected.
“Then, the wife who poured paint stripper all over her estranged husband’s car when she discovered his infidelity was found guilty of criminal damage… which again left her financially far worse off.”
But even when they’re not left financially scarred, scorned lovers’ acts of attempted revenge do not always go smoothly.
Vanessa says: “One of the funniest incidents was where my client’s wife wanted to end the relationship.
"She was so annoyed that she strutted into his business meeting with these high-flying businessmen from Japan and all she was wearing was a fur coat. She exposed herself to everyone in the meeting.
The husband was absolutely furious – he thought he’d lose this really important business deal. But far from it, the businessmen said it was the best meeting they’d been to! Nevertheless, we got injunctions to stop her doing it again.”
There’s a bad smell to two other stories of wreaked revenge with which Vanessa has dealt.
One betrayed wife arranged for a lorryload of manure to be delivered to the home of her husband’s mistress while they were both inside, and another woman hid a prawn inside the light fitting of a lamp the couple were fighting about.
For weeks her husband had a foul smell in his new flat and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from until he eventually found the decomposing crustacean.
Vanessa recalls: “Afterwards, he got a plate of prawns delivered to her and said, ‘I’d heard revenge was a dish best served cold but I hadn’t heard about prawns!’ Now they both laugh about it.
“Love and hate are so closely linked. People can flit between feeling so in love with someone, to feeling so much anger that is beyond control. Our job as divorce lawyers is to control it.”
A trend Vanessa has noticed on the rise in more recent years is couples fighting over their pets. So much so the lawyer was compelled to draft the first ‘pet-nup’, the animal equivalent of a pre-nuptial agreement.
And it isn’t just dogs and cats couples fall out over – one divorce case of Vanessa’s involved a pet tarantula.
“The funniest one we had was involving Timmy the tarantula. The client’s husband insisted on having Timmy in a glass case next to the bed. In the end, she said, ‘Either Timmy goes or I do’. And she went.”
It is also common for couples to argue over prized possessions when splitting up, but one of the stranger objects Vanessa’s client fought over was a garden trowel and fork.
“The couple had already dealt with the house division, the properties and the children,” Vanessa recalls, “But they were fighting over one garden set – a trowel and fork. This went on and on until I bought a shiny new one for my client and said, ‘Here we go, can we call it a day now please?’”
So the moral of this story has to be, if you find yourself in a divorce hole, stop digging.
Vanessa Lloyd Platt is founder and director of Lloyd Platt & Co divorcesolicitors.com.
Six-part drama The Split will be on at 9pm on Tuesday on BBC One.
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