Life on the Archers is tough. Amid recent complaints of sensationalism, the idyllic village of Ambridge is rapidly challenging Albert Square as the UK's most depressing place to live.
For nearly 65 years the hapless residents of Ambridge have been grappling with current issues from foot and mouth to racism, homophobia to floods of biblical proportions; however never before has the community been under such a deluge of marital strife. Even Usha - local solicitor extraordinaire - must be struggling with her caseload amid such a relationship pile up. This article offers Usha, and the show's long suffering listeners, some clarity and advice on the legal issues raised.
Kirsty was the first victim of the Ambridge marital massacre. Set to marry into Ambridge's most prestigious family, she was unceremoniously jilted by Tom Archer at the altar. However, had she consulted a specialist family lawyer rather than general practitioner Usha, she would have found that her nightmare did not end there. Despite her engagement and cohabitation with Tom, and contrary to popular "common law marriage" myths, she had no claim to any of his assets.
Lilian was to suffer a similar fate. Her partner of many years suddenly disappeared, once again leaving the common law marriage myth exposed. Luckily for Lilian she was not rendered homeless, as Kirsty was, as she was at least wise enough to keep their home and her share of the infamous pub, The Bull, in her own name.
As is often the case with soaps, where a couple of misfortunes are never enough to sate the audience's appetite, the strife was soon to extend to the happily married. Hayley's recent discovery of Roy's adultery has finally resulted in a decision to divorce him.
In order to proceed Hayley must issue a divorce Petition, presumably citing Roy's extramarital affair or, if Hayley is feeling magnanimous, examples of Roy's "unreasonable behaviour". However the reasons cited are likely to have no effect on the financial division, which is dealt with separately. The Court's first consideration in dealing with the finances is the children of the marriage. As primary carer of their daughter, Hayley's housing needs would take priority and Roy should expect to pay child maintenance and perhaps also spousal maintenance; although he is assisted by Hayley's desire to return to employment.
The arrangements for the care of children are also dealt with separately. Given that Hayley has been the primary carer, Roy would face an uphill struggle should he attempt to challenge Hayley in relation to Abbie's care. However Hayley would be expected to make reasonable arrangements for Roy to see Abbie.
David and Ruth Archer's relationship was pushed to breaking point when David pulled out of the sale of the ancestral family farm of Brookfield. While this has not, as yet, resulted in the dissolution of their relationship, the hypothetical ramifications, and their effect on the farm, are pertinent to any agricultural landowner within wedlock. The court would ensure that Ruth had sufficient funds to re-house herself and the children in a manner consistent with their standard of living during the marriage. David is unlikely to have enough liquid capital to afford this and may, as is often the case for divorcing farmers, be forced to sell off part of Brookfield to the devious Justin Elliot, perhaps giving him the chance finally to get his hands on what he has long desired.
David would argue that Brookfield was an inherited asset and should be treated separately to the marital assets. Ruth would counter this by showing that the inheritance has become mixed with family assets over time and become central to their family life. If Ambridge had been north of Hadrian's Wall David McArcher would have been in a much stronger position as Ruth would have had no claim on inherited assets other than the family home. In Scotland Ruth's claim for spousal maintenance would be limited to three years, as opposed to her lifelong claim in England.
Though the times may be stormy for couples in Ambridge, thankfully there is a ray of light with two impending marriages. Listeners were heartened to hear Emma's proposal to Ed, though they were distinctly less impressed when the nefarious Rob covertly proposed to Helen Archer. Listeners may wonder whether either couple has considered a pre-nup. While not automatically binding in England and Wales pre-nuptial agreements will be taken into account provided certain conditions have been met, including both parties having received independent advice, made full disclosure of their assets and provided the agreement meets the Court's broad assessment of fairness.
Given Ed and Emma's penury it is unlikely such agreement would be necessary or practical. Helen, on the other hand, should arrange an appointment with Usha. Leaving aside the dubious moral integrity of her betrothed, a pre-nuptial agreement would be advisable to protect any inheritance from her grandmother in addition to the assets already in her possession.
Exploration of recent trends in the Archers may be seen to reflect the reality of a nation that is seeing ever increasing divorce rates. However, one thing is certain for the Ambridge inhabitants; the show must go on. Were Usha not quite so overburdened many villagers might fare better. Wise advice to all experiencing similar misfortunes is to seek specialist advice from a family law solicitor early on, in order to make the best of the situation.