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The divorcing couples at war over goldfish, smoked salmon… and even a FRYING PAN
By James Tozer
PUBLISHED: 21:43 GMT, 5 April 2012 | UPDATED: 01:04 GMT, 6 April 2012
When a couple divorce, protracted disputes involving the family home or car are usually to be expected.
Rows over who gets the goldfish, the frying pan, a packet of smoked salmon or even a jar of mustard, however, seem rather less necessary.
But these are among the apparently trivial items warring couples fight over, divorce lawyers have revealed.
Custody battle: Divorcing couples tend to row over seemingly trivial items lawyers have revealed
The resulting disputes are so bitter that they end up inflating legal bills far beyond what it would cost to buy replacements, the lawyers said.
Among the most bizarre cases was the unnamed husband who took his emotional attachment to a favourite frying pan to ludicrous extremes.
‘His wife took it when she moved out, so he took her engagement ring in a bid to get revenge,’ according to his lawyer, David Milburn, of Stowe Family Law, based in Hale, Cheshire.
‘When everything was resolved, they had to meet each other halfway between their new properties at a motorway service station to exchange the items.’
Another of his clients asked for help to win custody of delicacies her ex-husband had taken from the kitchen of the marital home.
‘I’ve also been instructed by a client to write to her former spouse to return some smoked salmon and expensive mustard he had taken out of the freezer,’ Mr Milburn.
‘I explained that the legal fees in pursuing this would buy her a lot of smoked salmon, but she was adamant we pressed ahead anyway.’
The petty disputes were revealed after research by Manchester law firm Pannone found one in five divorces feature rows over similarly inexpensive possessions.
Even seven-figure separations can be delayed because of disputes about ownership of items worth no more than just a few pounds, they found.
Family partner Fiona Wood said some ex-husbands and wives are prepared to run up significant legal bills to win ‘custody’ of seemingly trivial items such as CDs, books, cutlery, Air Miles, Tesco Clubcard points, goldfish and vacuum cleaners.
‘Some couples fight simply for the sake of fighting,’ she said.
‘The amount spent on legal costs arguing about these items can be many times more than their value, but some would rather pay these costs in order to prove a point to their ex-spouses.’
Other possessions fought over by couples have included a suit of armour in a baronial hall, dustbins in the shape of Disney characters, and sporting trophies.
In many cases, the only winners are the lawyers.
Amanda McAlister, head of family law at Russell Jones & Walker, handled a divorce involving a couple who ran an equestrian centre and jointly owned a valuable stallion.
The entire financial settlement came down to the division of horse semen.
‘You’d be surprised at how couples, who can split pretty sizeable assets without much problem, are willing to waste thousands of pounds on the smallest or oddest possession,’ she said.
‘The key is to keep a cool head and look on it as a business deal.
‘Unfortunately, few people do, and it can become a battle for ownership over items that, in the great scheme of things, are pretty unimportant when compared with your financial security and the welfare of your children.’
Much-loved family pets can inevitably end up becoming an expensive focus in a divorce, as when Cheryl Cole split from footballer husband Ashley, resulting in a reported row over custody of their Chihuahuas, Buster and Coco.
Last year chef Marco Pierre White and his third wife Mati abandoned their divorce after bills topped a crippling £3million - however she later revealed they remained separated, branding their supposed reconciliation a sham.
Other cases included clients of Robin Charrot, a partner at George Davies Solicitors, who ran up a bill of more than £2,000 arguing over a set of bed linen.
And Beth Wilkins, a partner and joint head of family law at JMW Solicitors, said: ‘I have seen couples divide multi-million pound fortunes with comparative ease, only for negotiations to founder over a cherished but ultimately worthless ornament.’