Emily was an ambitious woman with a high-powered career in finance
when she met the man who would become her husband. But when she and Richard started a family together, they decided that she would give up her job to raise their three young children.
At first, the arrangement worked well: Richard continued in his role as a partner in a leading accountancy firm, while Emily remained at home. But, as time went on, they began to fall out over little things – he was spending too much time at work…
Providing for his family, or was he there just for fun?
they disagreed over an issue with one of the children’s schools, and so on.
Whether to send him to one which charges £45,000 per year or a mere £39,000?
One day, shortly after a fierce row between them, Emily went to do the weekly grocery shop but was told her credit card had been declined. She phoned her husband to find out what was going on, only to learn that this was his “revenge” for their recent tiff.
Hmmm. I’d like his side of the story. Was she spending cash like a sailor on shore leave, demanding he maintain the lifestyle she was accustomed to when she had her high-powered job in finance? It wouldn’t be the first time, and it may explain arguments over schools and why he was spending so much time at work.
He wanted her to beg him each time she needed cash, and revelled in his power to control exactly what she did and how she spent her money.
Again, we’re only getting one side here. For all we know he merely said “Watch what you’re spending love, we’ve only got one income now, remember?”
She felt humiliated and became increasingly isolated. When she eventually decided to leave the marriage, her husband laughed and told her she would walk away with nothing: he could hire the best lawyers and she had no way to afford representation.
If this is what he said he’s an idiot, and he clearly doesn’t live in the UK, US, or any other country where you can drink the tap water. So I suspect it wasn’t.
(In fact, she came to my firm, and we secured lending for her to fight her case.)
Oh, so we’re getting her lawyer’s side of the story! And what a surprise that she secured loans for her to pay the fees she’d be charging her. How altruistic!
Behaviour like Richard’s is far more common than you might think. In my many years of work as a divorce lawyer at Vardags, I’ve met countless people who feel they are trapped in relationships or marriages marred by financial conflict.
I imagine a divorce lawyer’s views on marriage are a little like a prostitute’s view of sex. Let’s just depart from the article for a second and look at what Wikipedia says about the author, one Ayesha Vardag:
She has gained notoriety for representing in divorce proceedings high net worth individuals, such members of the Royal Family, heiresses, international footballers, artists, professionals, entrepreneurs and celebrities.
In other words, she specialises in divorce among societies most narcissistic, selfish individuals. Let’s bear that in mind as we continue:
When this takes the form of one partner forcing the other to be dependent on them for housing, food, clothes, transport or money, it can tip over into economic abuse, which occurs across the social spectrum.
The institution of marriage is so utterly wrecked that mutual dependency – which is the whole damned point – is now seen as a problem.
A study in 2015 of more than 4,000 people showed that one in five experienced such abuse in a current or former relationship.
It’s odd that access to unlimited housing, food, clothes, transport and money are considered “rights” in a marriage, but not the one thing men surrender all this in exchange for: sex. A woman can withdraw access permanently, and he’s not even allowed to seek it elsewhere.
In the UK government’s forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, due to be published in the coming months, this will, for the first time, be identified as a form of domestic abuse – thus exerting control over someone’s personal finances would be recognised as a criminal act.
Can the money earned by someone else really be considered one’s personal finances? Not for the first time this week we’re seeing people’s ludicrous sense of entitlement enshrined in law. Chalk that up as another reason not to bother voting Conservative.
The culprits are not only male, though more often than not it’s the man who has more money in a heterosexual relationship. It is particularly rife in instances where one spouse has a high net worth on which the other is financially dependent, and is often cited as unreasonable behaviour on divorce petitions.
If material dependency on one’s spouse is grounds for divorce, I think we can put a fork in the institute of marriage.
I’ve seen women who live in palatial mansions with tennis courts and swimming pools, yet can’t even buy a bar of chocolate or box of tampons without pleading and justifying the expenditure to their controlling husband.
Normal people agree a monthly allowance befitting the husband’s salary and the wife’s needs. By contrast, celebrities, and those who marry them, are sociopaths.
Speaking to the other lawyers in my firm, I gathered hundreds of stories; they told me of husbands tapping phones and paying for private detectives and bodyguards to spy on their wives, and sometimes their grown-up children, whenever they left the house.
Did they have reason to? Are we to believe that of all these hundreds of instances, not one man caught his wife cheating and his children snorting lines of coke? And how many wives spy on their husbands?
One retail magnate sent bodyguards to his adult daughter’s university. When they reported back that she had been on a date with a fellow student, he decreed that she leave her studies and return home, where he could keep a closer eye on her.
Do we get details of the date? Who it was with, where they went, and what she got up to? Or, perhaps, the father’s religion?
A member of the Silicon Valley “brotopia” would force his wife to beg him whenever she needed anything. His home was a fortress of hi-tech security, cameras watching every move, fingerprint locks, electronic gates and 24/7 security staff. Every “transgression” on his wife’s part led to financial penalties.
I suspect this guy was a complete sociopath when she met him, but the sound of the cash register in her head repeatedly opening and closing masked it.
Another husband, an oil magnate, installed secret cameras in the bedroom and bathroom of his wife, a full-time mother of two young children, so as to monitor her fidelity.
When wealthy women do this in order to monitor their third-world peasant nannies, nobody says a word. On the contrary, most think it’s a good idea.
When she started divorce proceedings, we had to take him to court to make him support her and the children even during the process.
Was she fulfilling her obligations towards him during this period? Or didn’t she have any?
As long as she toed the line, she received, quite literally, castles and Ferraris. Once she crossed it, there was a complete shutdown.
Perhaps the man feels that, given he’s literally buying her castles and Ferraris, he can expect certain standards of behaviour. Now he might be unreasonable in what those expectations are, but then he is paying in castles and Ferraris. Frankly, if someone was going to buy me a castle he could put me in a dress and call me Susan.
Often it is staff who are delegated to exercise the control. Housekeepers are instructed that only certain sorts of food are allowed, and drivers are the only means of exit from the home, tasked with either reporting back or chauffeuring their employers’ wives to pre-approved destinations.
If these women had married more humble men, they’d not be spied on by a veritable army of housekeepers and chauffeurs. I’m not excusing the behaviour of the men, but why should we absolve women of their poor decisions?
Nannies act as spies, too. The controlling spouse locks the victim in a gilded cage – try even getting to see a lawyer in those circumstances, let alone friends.
Don’t these people have phones or email?
When I told one woman who was trapped in such a marriage what award she was likely to receive in divorce, she was terrified by the idea of actually having her own funds. Of Middle Eastern origin, she had married a Britain-based multi-millionaire businessman at a relatively young age and had never had financial independence.
British-based? So we have multi-millionaire foreigners being beastly to one another. Why does anyone in Britain care, let alone think it’s a problem so severe we need another slew of laws which will wreck marriage further?
She was dripping with designer clothes and handbags, but withdrawing money from a cash point was a totally alien concept to her.
Arabs, I expect. Why the hell is this our problem?
Elsewhere, I have met with countless individuals, usually women, who have found that access to the family finances is used as a tool to control, manipulate or punish them within a relationship.
And how many men have you met who found access to the children was used as a tool to control, manipulate, or punish them? Or access to sex?
These women have quite often been married for many years, and have not only sacrificed their own careers to look after the children and the home, but have also channelled their energies into helping their husband reach the top of his profession.
Yes, this is what a partnership means: sacrifice for the common good.
Frequently, they have no earnings, savings or pension themselves, having trusted the person they love to manage their finances for them. When the relationship is healthy, this arrangement can work very well; if it sours, however, the power imbalance usually fosters a sinister turn. And this can work both ways.
Once upon a time couples were encouraged to maintain the relationship at all costs for this precise reason. Now they’re encouraged to run to the nearest divorce lawyer at the first sign of trouble, and here we are.
One man came to me after his wife, a farming heiress, got him sacked from his job on the family estate when she – not he – started an affair. She then tried to turn him out of their home, which was also part of her domain, and refused him contact with their three small children, in whose care he had played a very active role.
Note there’s no defiant statement of how justice was served attached to this particular tale. I expect the man got shafted and stayed that way, thanks to a lawyer who was a carbon copy of the one writing this article.
The abuse customarily worsens when the financially vulnerable party takes steps to leave the marriage. With depressing regularity, we see clients whose access to bank accounts has been blocked, so they cannot even afford to take public transport to seek advice. They borrow cash from friends to reach us, terrified of being found out.
This is true of all relationships, be they commercial, social, or romantic: if someone tries to leave, they can no longer access the benefits the relationship brings. Only where marriage is concerned do people think they can walk out and still collect the benefits.
Others feel they have no choice but to stay in an unhappy, sometimes even physically abusive, marriage – not least when faced with the sheer scale and potential cost of their divorce.
Well, yes. Financial concerns drive many decisions in life, why should this be different? Especially as a lot of these cases sound as though the decision to get married in the first place was purely financial.
According to the charity Women’s Aid, victims are often unable to recognise the abuse until it has escalated to the point at which the barriers to leaving appear insurmountable.
When the supply of castles and Ferraris dries up, the writing’s on the wall.
We can only hope that now this abuse is beginning to gain public recognition as a potentially criminal offence, things will begin to change.
Because Britain is desperately short of criminal charges which can be brought by vindictive types and which disproportionately affect men. And let’s not concern ourselves that divorce lawyers are lobbying to criminalise mutual dependency in a marriage, I’m sure everything will work out fine.