Courting solicitors to untie the knot

A matrimonial case has highlighted the increasing problem of couples who litigate rather than conciliate, reports Roger Pearson.

A matrimonial action has brought condemnation from high up the judicial ranks of couples who resort to the law before trying to settle their differences themselves.

The case involves a couple whose marriage collapsed after the wife confessed to a brief affair with a friend of the family. The husband, a deputy headmaster, admitted at Portsmouth County Court that when he was ordered out of the home he had reacted badly and had, on one occasion, pushed his wife across a room and, on another, gripped her wrists so hard that he left marks.

The wife left home with the children, first staying with a friend and then moving into a refuge for battered women. She was adamant that she would not return to the family home while her husband was there.

The wife sought and gained an order banning her husband from the matrimonial home. The Court of Appeal then granted the husband leave to appeal the order and stayed it pending the appeal.

In granting leave, Lord Justice Beldam, sitting with Lord Justice Pill, sounded a warning to couples who head straight for the court to sort out their differences.

He said: "Is it not a dreadful indictment of our system that there is this family with three children, and there is no attempt at conciliation. Instead the parties fly off, get legal aid and come to court, saying, 'you get out of the house'. If every marriage in which this happened were to terminate just like that there would be very few marriages left in this country."

He said there had been no suggestion that the husband had ever been violent before and the husband had vowed never to harm his wife again.

Subsequently the Appeal Court refused to overturn the ruling ordering the husband out of the house. But it, too, urged the couple to seek conciliation.

The case is one which highlights the increasing frustration expressed by the bench in all courts dealing with matrimonial matters about the failure of many couples to conciliate rather than litigate.