The widely publicised photographs of Nigella Lawson being grabbed by the throat by her husband, Charles Saatchi, at an exclusive London restaurant have understandably created a huge amount of public interest. Mr Saatchi’s attempts to play down his actions as being part of a “playful tiff” seem to have only hardened the majority of public opinion against him.
There are now conflicting reports in the media as to whether there is to be a divorce with some papers running with the story that Nigella has had enough of her husband whereas others are reporting that the couple are going to try and work through their problems. The tabloid media rarely let the truth get in the way of a good story.
The situation does though raise a number of issues from a family law point of view.
If there is to be a divorce then the divorce laws in England and Wales require one party to take the lead, which presumably would be Nigella Lawson. To get a divorce she would need to satisfy the only ground, which is the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage, and to do so she would need to rely on one of five facts. Three of these facts rely on a period of separation of more than 2 years and so are not available. There is no suggestion that Charles Saatchi has committed adultery and, therefore, the only available fact which Nigella could rely upon is her husband’s ‘unreasonable behaviour’.
Most would agree that throttling your wife (or indeed anyone) would clearly fall into the category of unreasonable behaviour.
In any event, the test as to what is unreasonable is subjective and so even though Mr Saatchi might consider his actions as “playful” then as long as Nigella considers them to be unreasonable then that is the important thing.
There is no minimum or maximum number of examples of unreasonable behaviour required to obtain a divorce but in all likelihood Nigella will be advised to set out approximately six or so examples. I doubt it will be difficult for Nigella to compile the requisite list.
It is noteworthy that Mr Saatchi will not be penalised for his unreasonable behaviour when it comes to the financial award he is entitled to if there is to be a divorce. Only in extreme cases where one party’s conduct which is so serious that it would be totally unfair for the court to disregard it would it have an impact on the financial settlement.
Examples of such conduct are more commonly financial misconduct such as hiding or dissipating assets rather than the kind of behaviour that took place in the Mayfair restaurant last week.
The other important issue which has been brought into focus by the Lawson/Saatchi situation is that of domestic violence and abuse.
I have never really been comfortable with the word “domestic” being used in conjunction with violence. My view is that violence is violence regardless of the context and the word “domestic” can trivialise it without justification.
There is a danger that because Charles Saatchi is Nigella Lawson’s husband that somehow him grabbing her by the throat is perceived as being less serious. If he had been dining alone at the restaurant, and had seen fit to grab the lady on the next table by the throat, I suspect he would have been more widely condemned and probably prosecuted.
For those that are victims of violence, whether within a relationship or not, then their first port of call should always be the Police.
However, the family law courts also have powers to make various orders by virtue of the Family Law Act. The family courts can make non molestation orders and attach a power of arrest to them. Such orders can prevent the subject of the order from molesting the applicant and prevent further contact, whether directly or indirectly, and these orders can prevent the subject from going within a defined radius of victim or their home.
The courts can also make occupation orders to remove the offender from the family home. This is no
t a step the court takes lightly for obvious reasons and in many cases the perpetrator leaves the property voluntarily before being ordered out by the courts.
James Maguire & Co is a specialist firm of Family Law and Divorce Law solicitors based in Wilmslow, Cheshire. We offer legal advice to parties going through a divorce including the financial issues which flow from this and children matters including child maintenance.
We advise clients in the Wilmslow area and also to the surrounding areas of Alderley Edge, Bramhall, Hale, Altrincham, Manchester and the North West. We are also able to act for clients nationally and internationally subject to the jurisdiction of England and Wales.
For help and advice on any matter involving family law please telephone Henry Venables on+44 (0) 1625 544657 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org