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Cite as: March 2015 89 (3) LIJ, p.85

The good, the bad and the unspeakable

Family lawyers are often asked why they practise in this area of law, and what their most memorable case is.

There have been many unforgettable files: the man who, to spite his ex-wife, bought his girlfriend a breast augmentation and a 70-foot yacht before financial matters were settled.

The beautiful woman in her late 20s whose husband – her fourth – wanted a divorce. Her first three husbands had died.

But for me, it’s not the details of divorce but the people I have represented and come across as a family lawyer that is the most memorable aspect of my career.

In the 37 years I have worked as a family lawyer, it has been a privilege to act for people from all walks of life, from the mega-wealthy to the most humble.

The people who have impressed me most are those who have acted with integrity and courage in the face of reprehensible tactics used against them. These qualities can be found in the most unlikely cases.

A good looking couple (let’s call them John and Angel) in their 30s came to my office. Angel was newly separated from an abusive husband with a history of physical and financial abuse. I was surprised to be told that before marrying her husband, she had been engaged to John. I was even more surprised to be told that John was employed by my client’s husband.

As the story unfolded, I learned that John was dyslexic, unable to read or write. John had a long history of unemployment which he found humiliating and feared a poverty-stricken future. He took on menial roles and endured what many others would not.

He had accepted that verbal abuse, and on occasion physical abuse by his employer was his lot if he was to keep his job. Within that environment, Angel met and married John’s employer who was a man of financial substance.

John attempted to make the best of his circumstances until the day he saw his employer hit Angel. His employer threatened John with the sack if he ever told a soul, went to the police, or did anything other than support him. In one sense, this story could be viewed as that of an inadequate man and a superficial woman.

However, John found the courage, despite his fears and at the cost of his job, to help the woman who had rejected him for his tormentor and only source of income. He gave evidence on her behalf, and helped her get the protection of the law.

Did Angel and John get back together again? No. But this fine young man did the right thing. It’s people like John that I think of when asked about memorable moments in my career.

PETER BERRY is an LIV accredited family law specialist and a partner at Berry Family Lawyers


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