Back in July 2022 a case came before Mr Justice Francis which could be the ultimate case study for understanding the dynamics of Difficult Divorce. It has just been made public this week. Concerned with Schedule 1 of the Children’s Act, the hearing was essentially about the financial arrangements for the son of the divorced couple.
The third paragraph alone is enough to leave one with the sense that this case is going to be one hell of a road-smash:
“The father’s estimated total costs to date are £3,817,603. The mother’s estimated total costs to date are £1,717,981. This combined total is £5,535,584. The child has been alive for about 93 months. This means that the parties have, between them, spent approximately £61,000 on legal fees arguing over the child for each month of his life. I described this in court yesterday as a “catastrophe” and as “completely absurd”. I do not want for a moment to resile from those statements. I have, during the course of this week, been able to come to a very clear conclusion as to how and why this has happened.”
We are then treated to a front row view of the father’s extreme narcissistic behaviour. Categorised somewhere between ‘affluent’ and ‘fabulously rich’ and undoubtedly able to hire the best in the industry, instead, he decides to sack his expert, legal counsel and represent himself – clearly if a job’s worth doing, etc. He openly admits to the Judge he hasn’t actually bothered to read the Schedule 1 of the Children’s Act on which all decisions are to be based, which ends in some ut n paste scrabbling around and hasty emails to give the guy a chance. It appears being the smartest dude in the room means means learning the procedural nicetiesis unnecessary even if it is for your child’s future. Confusingly, even though unrepresented he has still somehow managed to burn through 180K in 6 weeks – what on we ask ourselves? The middle boggles because clearly it wasn’t on learning the basics.
Is this for real?
Then, we are taken on a delightful trip down bizarro lane (para 9) where his opening, reasonable offer of settlement of 115K to mum, then randomly drops to 12K! Yeah, you read that right. Multimillionaire dad reckons 12K a year is meh, good enough. Shockingly mum didn’t accept that offer. Weird huh? A few days later it was raised to 60K. Maybe someone reminded him not to look too crazy.
We get to hear about a flat that dad was negotiating the purchase of, for a cool 12 million, apparently for mum and son. Something which he omitted to tell the court (para 11) and which had the legal teams known would probably have meant an out of court settlement. This is then followed by more descriptions of frankly absurd behaviour. Dad took to pinning a photograph of their child to every financial offer he sent to mum – even the Judge seemed at a loss to make sense of the purpose of this (para 23).
Then we have the most telling example of his instrumental worldview: the ‘contract’ he had mum sign (para 25-27). A paper that stated she could only ever claim 875 quid a month child maintenance (rising in line with annual inflation). In return for signing this, she got his sperm for use in IVF. Now if this wasn’t bonkers enough, this had all happened 7 years prior to the child’s conception. Yes, you read that correctly, 7 years before the child was conceived. And yet, he was still whining that it should be considered in the decision-making process. Obsessive, entitled, and totally without any emotional reasoning.
And so it goes on, tax avoidance galore (para 30-31); a rainforest’s worth of litigation in courts everywhere that would listen (although they probably didn’t want to – para 38), and generally an absolute, single-focus mindset for totally irrelevant minutiae (Wednesday night homework was clearly a great issue for dad para 41). Big hitter law firms did not come out of this covered in glory having been roped into drafting a trust agreement, clearly having little to no real understanding of the mess they were being dragged into.
Pointing to the source
What follows is a judgment that does a pretty good job of recognising that dad is quite frankly a Difficult Individual and tries as much as possible to construct the financial arrangements without leaving dad any opening for future litigation, including issuing a s.91.14, meaning dad must go through the court for the next 5 years to get permission to start any more legal shenanigans.
Mr Justice Francis does not pull his punches throughout his summation, and you can truly hear his frustration and disgust throughout. He gives his analysis of the whole debacle clearly when he says (para 67):
“as I have already said, when I say “fighting each other”, what I really mean is the father fighting the mother and the mother being forced to defend.”
However, he does not go far enough.
Whilst he has everything in front of him, he does not join the dots of what he is seeing. Whilst it is out with his professional capacity, still he does not truly engage with the extreme psychological risk this child faces by being in contact with this man.
Who are we really dealing with?
The court bundle and case history provide reams of documented evidence of financial abuse, lying, gaslighting, attempted character assassination of mum, evasion, manipulation, complete lack of emotional reasoning, and a truly vindictive nature with Judge Francis going so far as to state: ‘I accept as completely true the mother’s evidence that the father said to her that he had set out to destroy her.’ (para 38). This mother has endured years of court-based abuse from a man who is wealthy enough to do this as a hobby – she is in his cross-hairs and the collateral damage to his son is irrelevant.
When you add all the observable facts together, you are faced by a highly antisocial personality, with Machiavellian tendencies, and a clearly Narcissistic presentation. A cold, analytic, tenacious, obsessive individual who is driven to win at all costs. A man who clearly is more interested in the financial implications of the court process (para 51) than he is about his son’s mental welfare. This is not a man driven by shame or guilt; this is a man who does not have any moral reasoning and clearly very low arousal (would you go to court and represent yourselves knowing nothing if you didn’t have to? No? Me neither, I’d be freaking out. He was unabashed).
The worst of it is mum is even praised for her attempts to maintain contact between father and son (para 42), with a nod to her not alienating the child from his dad. We have a mountain of observable, factual, and historic evidence that paints a very clear picture of who this man is, and yet mum is having to ensure contact so she isn’t accused of alienating the child (and probably has some misguided understanding that she is not aggravating him). She must agree to put her child at risk by continued contact, to keep our social narrative of kids need to see both parents satisfied and can’t risk begin painted as the unreasonable one. (Excuse me whilst I choke in disbelief).
What does the future hold?
Make no mistake this man will be back in 5 years. As soon as that time-limit is done, wait for the avalanche of lawyer’s letters. He is no doubt still attempting any method he can to psychologically destroy this woman and if you have any naïve belief that ‘oh it’s a divorce-relationship thing, he wouldn’t do that to his child’, just remember he already has. These behaviours are global, chronic, and unrelenting – this isn’t contextual, this is pathological.
I leave you with Mr. Justice Francis’ last paragraph.
When you read it, please consider what you have read above, outlining dad’s documented behaviour, not hearsay, not interpretation, but court fact. Then ask yourself isn’t it time we stopped pretending that these situations are an inter-relational issue and not the result of Difficult Individuals running amok, using the legal process as a weapon?
Read here your assumptions of divorce which are getting in the way
“The final thing I want to say is this. The child is not yet eight and he has, I believe, a very bright future ahead of him. He will have a much brighter future ahead of him if the litigation between his parents can now end. It has been a very painful period, I daresay for both of you, and although I have been critical of the father for his litigious and aggressive approach I just want somehow there to be some sort of rapprochement where there can be a drawing of a line under what has happened because the best way the child is going to have a secure future is with two loving parents. It is going to be so much easier for him if the two of you can be respectful to each other in his presence. This has been an awful case, but it has got to end. If it does not, there is just going to be misery all round and I really do plead with you both now to see whether we cannot just put a line under all of this.”
Read the case in full here: