The winner takes it all – or do they?

A very public Swedish divorce – or two…

It is one of those songs that everyone knows all the words to. It pops up on the radio, as we drive home from work, and we belt it out, remembering those more carefree days spent in cheesecloth and bellbottoms. ABBA’s worldwide no.1 hit, ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is, as many of us already know, a lament on the disintegrating marriage of Agnetha Faltskog and Bjorn Ulvaeus. The song was released in 1980, and was one of their last hits before the band separated in 1982.

Image Courtesy Of: http://www.fanpop.com

Now, in 2013, Agnetha has begun recording music again, even working on a duet with our very own Gary Barlow. She has always been considered a recluse, the member of the band who suffered the most, psychologically speaking, as a result of all that global adulation. So it is perhaps surprising that she can describe the process of performing ‘The Winner Takes It All’ in such positive terms:

‘It was fantastic to do that song because I could put in such feeling. I didn’t mind sharing it with the public. It didn’t feel wrong. There is so much in that song. It was a mixture of what I felt and what Bjorn felt, but also what Benny and Frida went through.’

I guess when you have sold 120 million albums worldwide, and live in a country with liberal divorce laws, that encourage settlements without recourse to the courts, dividing one’s assets isn’t too difficult! For the rest of us, the picture can be a little more complicated.

The Division of Assets here in the UK

In our own legal system the division of assets upon divorce has generally operated from a starting point of a 50:50 split. In the first instance, parties to the divorce are encouraged to make arrangements for the distribution of shared assets either through negotiation or mediation.  Should however, you find yourselves failing to reach an agreement at this point, it is perhaps wise to apply for a court order sooner rather than later. While it may seem, ultimately, somewhat disempowering to hand over the decision making to a judge, if you have truly reached stalemate, then continuing to spend your hard-earned money on solicitor’s letters that are batted back and forth between you may be a false economy.

As you are probably aware, alongside government made legislation, our legal system operates on the basis of case law; that is to say, in each individual case judges look to previous decisions in similar circumstances to determine the outcome. At a statutory level, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 puts children’s welfare at the heart of all decisions relating to assets, ensuring if possible, that the matrimonial home continues as the primary residence of any children and their primary carer until the youngest child finishes full time education.

But beyond this, the landmark case of White v White (2001)  had a significant impact upon the way that assets are divided.   It established that there is no place for discrimination between husband and wife and their respective roles and that equality should be departed from only if there are good reasons for doing so, for example if needs cannot be met.  In practice this means that if you have lived your life along the traditional lines of breadwinner and homemaker, the homemaker is not penalised for his or her lower financial contribution. There are challenges to this rule, and a number of recent cases have looked closely at whether company assets can be classed as marital assets, most notably Petrodel v Prest (2013).

Finding a constructive way forward…

Divorce, it goes without saying, is a painful process. It represents an end to something once valued, and such endings are never easy. Going through the courts to decide on the care of your children and the apportionment of monies and homes is a grueling experience. Here at Prince Family Law we offer both Mediation services  and Collaborative Family Law  (an option whereby all four parties – wife, husband and their respective solicitors – commit to resolving all the issues outside of the courts). We have experienced practitioners who can guide you through your options, and help you move away from the unhelpful language of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’.

Agnetha and Bjorn say they have managed to maintain an amicable relationship for the sake of their (now adult) children, and their grandchildren. Their shared love of music forged a connection between them that, happily, has endured divorce and the pressures of a very public life. Whilst it must be said that no family solicitor could claim to save a marriage that is destined to end, experienced and knowledgeable practitioners, such as we have here at Prince Family Law, can, at least, save you from that most disheartening of circumstances; the nagging sensation that the winner did, indeed, take it all.