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Plasma Wars

In times of financial difficulty it certainly is the little things that matter – so it’s no wonder that during this recessionary period couples who are splitting up argue about items that are of little financial consequence.

Couples argue regularly over who should keep the air miles, avios or tier points. The husband will claim that he built them up by flying around the world, therefore they belong to him. The wife will argue that she gave up her job and stayed at home to look after the children and make him a home life and therefore argue they are just as much hers; especially if she has travelled with him. The Court will now either divide them equally or take them into account by allowing the husband to keep them but compensating the wife for their value. This shouldn’t appear strange because air miles/avios etc have a financial benefit and accordingly have to be considered.

Similarly loyalty points such as Tesco’s or moneys for air miles amassed on credit cards, or any credit or store card in times where monies are scarce have a value which can be divided or set off.

However the greatest rows still arise in relation to the division of electrical goods or what we now term “Plasma Wars”. Who gets to keep the plasma TVs, computers and screens, Ipads, Iphones etc? In homes where there are more than one, the issue can be regularly resolved, each one gets one to keep. However, in homes where, traditionally, these are shared, how do lawyers deal with the issue?

The problem was recognised four years ago by a company called Pixmania whose staff noticed that couples were rowing at the point of purchase; with comments such as “Don’t think you’ll get this if we ever split” or “If you think you are spending this much and that I won’t have any interest if we break up, dream on”. As a consequence, executives contacted my firm and the E-nup, or Electric Pre-nup was born, an agreement that the couples could sign when buying the equipment to say who would keep it on divorce, or in the case of co-habitees, upon breakup. It worked very well indeed and although in 2007 such a document wasn’t fully binding and was somewhat tongue in cheek; it would likely be now as the force of pre-nups has now become a magnetic factor in divorce.

Accordingly, lawyers who may have laughed at such an entity four years ago can no longer ignore its potential for avoiding the issue later down the line. Cars are often an issue between couples. How interesting would it be if the concept of an E-nup, or “Chattel-nup” as I like to call them, could be signed when purchasing a car? It would be a simple document saying in the event of divorce or relationship breakdown, who the car belonged to. It could certainly save couples thousands of pounds in legal fees. Equally, the Chattel-nup could apply to anything in the home, sofas, table and chairs, collections of Zwarovski crystals, paintings etc. The list is endless. We are definitely entering a phase where couples are arguing ever more and this summer has undoubtedly seen the greatest number of couples seeking advice than ever before. It is the little issues that are really being focussed upon. Some psychiatrists are saying that by focusing on the little issues, the parties can deflect away from the really major issues that are facing them at this time. Whether this is true or not, when times are difficult couples will squabble, and the Courts have to adapt to deal with those issues; whether it is to apply the wisdom of Solomon to the division of children or in these times the Plasmas.

So it is now time that supermarkets and stores countrywide address the issue of whether the gadget-nup should come into common parlance and be universally applied. I am happy to draw them up. I have already done so. This time the document will be longer and may have to include the right to take legal advice on the document. It may be that divorce lawyers will have an entirely new role in years to come, namely to accompany couples to purchase household and other goods in an advisory capacity to ensure that they will get to keep them. We could call them “Plasma Lawyers” that will be progress.

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