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What Facts Accurate Family Feud Divorce Law?
Here, the family’s fortunes were destroyed by a legal nightmare. Hard to pick history’s worst family conflict. The breakup of John Dineley Goodere and Mary Lawford’s marriage in the 18th century and the Goodere Dineleys’ death are contenders. Let us know more about Family Feud Divorce.
The tragic event unfolded in 1717. John, the second eldest son of the Dineley Goodere family, was left to take over the family estates after his older brother died, forcing him to abandon his job as a merchant marine in India and subsequently as a volunteer aboard HMS Diamond in the battle against France. Therefore, by the time he was 33 years old, he had inherited the magnificent Dineley family home and 1,600 acres of property from the Goodere side of the family.
In the same year, John wed Mary Lawford, a 14-year-old heiress to a substantial estate and fortune. By 1726, John appeared to be doing rather well; he owned three homes and earned £4,800 a year (equivalent to around £665,000 in today’s money).
However, his mental instability, terrible anger, and powerful vindictiveness appear to have run in the family. One can get a good idea of what kind of person he was from the fact that he unjustly imprisoned and beaten a woman who had testified in favor of his cousin in an earlier family lawsuit and from the fact that he unnecessarily conducted the last ever trial by ordeal in English history to root out a suspected witch. Four years after being elevated to the peerage, his membership in the House of Lords was canceled due to his behavior.
His poor reaction to marital difficulties is hardly unusual. The fact that neither he nor his wife, Mary, could hold a drink did not help matters. They went to court after numerous violent fights (John had shackled Mary for 36 hours after she became jealous of his claimed closeness with one of his female maids in 1726 and for several days after she attempted to flee with Sir Robert Jason in 1730).
It was here that a legal nightmare would destroy the family’s money. They each tried to ruin the other financially through the legal system. John intentionally sought to increase Mary’s legal fees after he reneged on a private separation agreement, causing Mary to spend some time in jail. Mary, who was a spendthrift, countered by making John live according to the terms of their divorce. Following the settlement terms, she urged her creditors to file suit against John to collect on her debts.
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Mary sued John in the ecclesiastical courts for cruelty, but she couldn’t prove that he had been unkind to her. John also tried to sue Mary for adultery, but his case fell apart when it was discovered that he had paid a witness. While Mary was confined in a sponging house, where defaulting debtors were held so they could arrange their affairs with their creditors, John was awarded £1,000 (around £172,000) in damages against Sir Robert Jason. In 1737 he succeeded in having Mary sent to prison for conspiring to accuse him of attempted murder for one year. During her stay, she proceeded to build up new bills knowingly.
John then tried and failed to get a divorce through the then-current legal mechanism, the Parliament. If he had done this, he would not have been responsible for paying Mary’s bills after her first conviction for adultery in 1730. Yet here they are, still married after nine years, with a legal expense of over £14,000 (about £2.2 million).
The historian Lawrence Stone makes a compelling case in his masterful retelling of the Dinely’s litigation that the parties’ motivations in using the law, in this case, were not based on seeking justice but rather in seeking “a means of waging war, of obtaining revenge, and of finally destroying an enemy.”
This is still a problem today. Although “the law gives a mechanism… to handle the conflict,” as the head of family courts in England and Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane, recently reaffirmed, “in the end, it is not a legal issue, it’s a relational problem.”
According to Sir Andrew McFarlane’s interview with the BBC, “I believe that roughly 20% of the families that come to court to disagree with their children handled, would at least, first of all, seek to sort it out themselves in other ways.” So, what are some possible answers?
After the perceived wrongdoing in Owens v. Owens, the advent of no-fault divorce, wherein either or both spouses need only file for a divorce, has been widely welcomed. Previously, divorce could be sought for five reasons: adultery, unreasonable behavior, desertion, two years of separation (if both agree), or five years of separation (if only one spouse wants the divorce).
Even with a “reflection period” of 20 weeks after giving notice, some people are concerned that the new 26-week time frame is too lengthy. More broadly, Sir Andrew worries about the effects a long procedure may have on children and is testing out child impact assessments to give parents “a wake up as to the impact of what they are doing on their kid.” As an alternative, we might make the steps involved in dividing assets and acquiring consent orders as straightforward and amicable as feasible.
However, there is still the common occurrence of affluent couples’ (like John and Mary) engaging in the practice of jurisdiction shopping and racking up expensive legal fees when they are at odds with one another. The courts in England and Wales tend to favor the financially weaker side more than those in countries like Spain and France.
And there has never been a “series of clear moral advances which all tend towards the greater pleasure of the largest number,” as Lawrence Stone observes. According to Stone, who examines the history of divorce from 1530 to 1987, reform tends to occur in fits and starts due to the influence of shifting social mores and the efforts of those with vested interests in maintaining the status quo (such as attorneys).
Many prominent people, like John Dineley Goodere, have pointed the finger at the system and the avarice of the attorneys who manage it. John had infuriated his younger brother Samuel to a new level and failed to get a divorce from Parliament. John used his estranged son, who passed away due to poor health and neglect just two days after John had obtained the necessary signature, to cut his off brother from the will after learning that they will only give him a life interest in his father’s properties, with everything passing to Samuel and his heirs after John’s death. In retaliation, Samuel had him kidnapped and murdered on a ship leaving Bristol in 1741. Soon after, Samuel was exposed for his crime and executed.
Image courtesy of The Law Book Exchange – John Dineley Goodere’s murder on the HMS Ruby in Bristol.
While walking John to the boat, Samuel commented on John’s divorce, saying, “Have you not paid the rogues of attorneys money enough already? Have you considered giving them even more? I will see if they cannot reproduce with you again, and I will now tend to your needs.
However, attorneys were not the primary source of this issue. This is shown beyond a reasonable doubt by the fact that Samuel leveraged his Bristol attorney Jarret Smith’s goodwill by having Smith set up a reconciliation meeting between them after a contentious period of litigation. For this bitterly divided family, attorneys were only a means to a goal. Similar difficulties may be seen as barriers to changing the divorce law. Though lawyers should keep pushing for reform and more resources should be made accessible, partners and spouses ultimately have to toe the line.
Will Holmes is a reporter at Legal Cheek and a future trainee solicitor at a magic circle law firm.
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