Mary Killen

Your problems solved | 13 March 2004

Etiquette advice from The Spectator's Miss Manners

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Q. When my husband is behaving badly I sometimes think I would like to know exactly how much I might receive in a divorce settlement, just so I could have an unnerving little smile playing about my lips, safe in the knowledge of what I am ‘worth’. How can I get this information without actually consulting a solicitor? I don’t want to wash my dirty linen in public or set any inexorable process in motion.

Name and address withheld

A. An inexorable process would not necessarily be set in motion. Two of the very top divorce lawyers in the country, Fiona Shackleton and Roger Bamber, both sit their clients down and urge them not to divorce. From their years of experience they see that divorced people are invariably worse off in every aspect of their standard of living, including their social life. However if you would like to exude a quiet confidence that might help to keep your husband on his toes, why not consult the free website set up by the philanthropic Roger Bamber, www.divorce.co.uk? Every family is case-specific, of course, but you will gain some helpful insights into the methods of avoiding a divorce, the consequences of having one and the best ways of navigating through both scenarios.

Q. I find that the best professional advice on an important issue is available from a close friend, but he refuses to charge me for it. I prefer a formal client relationship and payment of the usual fee, as much to separate the two worlds as to ensure that I do get dependable advice. Which do I now sacrifice — my principles or the friendship? Or is there a third way?

R.V., by email

A. Thank the friend for giving you free informal information but either then go and instruct someone else to act for you or ask your friend to charge you, on the grounds that if anything goes wrong you can do something about it — an option not open if you had not paid and where you would then have a psychological problem in suing that friend. Warning: if your friend knows you well, he may already have views that lack the element of objectivity which is critically important.

Q. These days nothing seems to run to schedule, so whenever I fly into Heathrow I wait till we are on the Tarmac before ringing a minicab. My problem is that I always seem to miscalculate the time it will take for the luggage to reach the carousel and I am therefore ready too early or too late for my minicab. How do other people get round this problem, Mary?

A.C., London W8

A. One solution is to not bother ringing a minicab at all but, when you are ready, push your luggage into the lift and go up to the departures area, where you can see a constant stream of cabs dropping off people who are on their way out of the country. Simply position yourself by one of these parking bays and offer the driver, who would otherwise be making an ‘empty’ return journey, a tenner to take you back into London. Warning: don’t do it with minicabs unless there are two of you. Black cabs, as we know, are as safe as houses.