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September 30, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Seven years ago, British commando, Corporal Simon Vaughan almost died in a bomb blast in Musa Qala, Helmand province, Afghanistan.  Read about it here (Daily Mail, 9/20/15).

Corporal Simon Vaughan suffered a shattered pelvis, broken back and collapsed lungs in a Taliban attack in Musa Qala, Helmand, while attached to 29 Commando regiment.

Worse, he had such severe brain injury that he was barely able to move.  To this day, he can only move his right thumb, which he uses to operate his wheelchair, and his eyes.  In Afghanistan, he was so near to death that military doctors there feared he wouldn’t survive the evacuation flight home.  Predicting the worst, they pinned an obituary note to his belongings.  

But Vaughan survived and the British government awarded him £1.1 million as compensation for his injuries.  Unexpectedly, Vaughan began to beat the odds for survival, but, serious as his problems were, they were about to get much, much worse.  That’s because his wife Donna seems to have concluded the money was hers.  If Simon’s solicitor can be believed, she still does.

A year after Simon’s near-fatal injuries, and while he was barely alive and utterly incapable of caring for himself, Donna bought a house in Shropshire for £297,000.

But builders brought in to make adaptations for Cpl Vaughan discovered it was structurally unsafe and demolished it before rebuilding it again at great expense. 

Interestingly, she put the property in her own name, leaving Simon off the deed altogether.

The court heard Mrs Vaughan controlled her husband's finances and even purchased the property against the advice of the Army. 

Addressing Mrs Vaughan, Mr Sear said: 'You exercised total day to day control of Simon's money. Decisions were yours ultimately.

'By the end of 2009, in excess of £800,000 had been received into that account.'

Mr Sear continued: 'You didn't tell the Army warrant officer you were purchasing the property. You were trying to keep it secret from the Army…

'Simon says he wasn't involved in the decision to purchase [the property]. The decision to put the property in your name was also yours.

'The Army warrant officer advised you to hold off purchasing [the property] because you may be entitled to more financial support.

'You did not take his advice and you did not get the property surveyed despite there being obvious things wrong with it. I'm suggesting there's a pattern of you not taking advice.

'Simon could only communicate by moving his right thumb and eye movement. This was limited and inconsistent.'

He added: 'If you hadn't bought [the property], demolished it and rebuilt it there would be an additional £350,000 to take into account.'

Seemingly, spending £350,000 of Simon’s money on a house she put in her own name alone wasn’t enough for Donna.  She wanted more and, with Simon unable to protect himself, she had free rein.

Mrs Vaughan set up an investment bond in her own name which she put sums of £370,000 and £298,000 of her husband's money, the court heard. 

Nor was that the extent of Donna’s apparent wrongdoing.  She also applied to and received support from the Soldiers, Sailors Airmen and Families Association, but, despite being required by law to do so, made no mention of the investment bond she’d purchased with Simon’s money and placed in her name.

Then she walked out.  On Valentine’s Day, 2013, she left her completely disabled husband.  Today, only about £200,000 remains of Simon’s original £1.1 million.  Donna wants it all.  Well, she only wants £185,000, plus £1,500 per month in child support for their son.  Donna was employed for much of their marriage but quit work in 2008, the year of his injury, and hasn’t worked for pay since.

Simon’s solicitor, Richard Sear took issue with her demand for still more of Simon’s disability pay.

'In effect, that is the entirety of the £200,000 he has left. I suggest this would not be a fair or sensible outcome.'

Few except for Donna would disagree.  But the question is whether what is or isn’t a “sensible outcome” is relevant to the case.  After all, I’m aware of no requirement in British family law that any outcome be sensible.  Were there such a requirement, many, many cases would have been decided differently.  The question is how to equitably divide Simon and Donna’s various assets.  As I understand it, even though Simon was the one who was injured and of course the one who will suffer significant disability and impairment throughout much or all of his life, and even though the money paid him by the government was meant to compensate only him, the money is part of their marital estate and, as such, part Donna’s.

Yes, her behavior with that money has been outrageous, bordering on illegal, but those facts matter little when it comes to dividing the couple’s assets.  Of course the fact that Simon is incapable of working and earning strongly suggests that Donna’s child support claim is dubious at best.  And the fact that she’s capable of earning but has chosen not to should be factored into whatever child support she’s entitled to.

But when it comes to her lies, her placing valuable assets purchased with his disability compensation in her name and her incompetence regarding the house she bought, I know of no requirement that the court pay the slightest attention.  Yes, it’s all reprehensible as is her abandonment of a helpless man as soon as the money ran out.  But we live in an age when none of that matters to family courts.  No-fault is the rule under which no one can be punished financially for their own wrongdoing.  

And whatever the other spouse earns during the marriage is considered half earned by his/her partner.  That means “outcomes” in family courts that are anything but sensible.  If husband A starts a business that thrives and is worth £1 billion, half of it is his wife’s if she chooses to divorce him even though her only contribution to his success has been cleaning his house, cooking meals and occasionally giving him a “well done” and a pat on the back for his success.

By contrast, if husband B drives a taxi and accumulates no savings during his marriage of equal duration to husband A’s, his wife, like him, is entitled to half of nothing on divorce, despite having supported his efforts in exactly the same way husband A’s wife did.  In short, the concept that a spouse is entitled to half of everything saved by the other spouse irrespective of everything else is at odds with reality.  Husband B’s wife did the same amount of work as husband A’s did, but is left with nothing while husband A’s wife walks away with half a billion pounds.  The cognitive dissonance is deafening.

By failing to acknowledge fault as a feature of divorce, family courts obviously encourage wrongdoing of the type engaged in by Donna Vaughan.  And her wrongdoing engenders articles like the one in the Daily Mail that in turn engender outrage on the part of the public who all too clearly sees that a former commando who’s suffered the way Simon Vaughan has shouldn’t have to be bankrupted by an unscrupulous ex who’s obvious plan is to make off with as much of his money as possible and have nothing more to do with a disabled man.

Everyone with a soul knows what she’s done is wrong.  Only family courts don’t.

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