May 22, 2015

Advice to the Bercows: avoid divorcing under media spotlight to protect your children

Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow and his colourful wife Sally are rumoured to be divorcing following revelations in the press that she had an affair with her husband’s cousin.

The couple have lived out much of their 13-year marriage in the media spotlight – not least because the outspoken Mrs Bercow has been no shrinking violet when it comes to taking centre stage. The 45-year-old has appeared in Celebrity Big Brother, posed for a photo shoot in Speaker’s House wearing nothing more than a sheet – and was last year photographed kissing a DJ outside a London nightclub.

Mr Bercow is no stranger to controversy himself, making enemies within the Conservative party to the extent that many Tory MPs wanted to oust him from the Speaker’s role. His re-election to the post must be some comfort amid the very public disintegration of his marriage.

It is always sad when any couple decides to divorce – even if the split comes as no surprise to friends and family, as appears to be the case for the Bercows. Most people who break up can lick their wounds in private and are secure in the knowledge that advice from well-meaning chums won’t end up plastered across the Daily Mail.

However, for couples like John and Sally Bercow who, some might say, have deliberately courted media attention, it is a different story. From John Bercow’s political foes to female newspaper columnists poised with poisoned pens, there will undoubtedly be numerous parties queueing up to offer their opinions on the Bercows’ marriage and divorce in the national media and across social media.

Mr and Mrs Bercow would be well advised to close their ears and eyes to such partisan advice. Instead, they should both seek out expert legal advisers – such as family lawyers who are members of Resolution – who will help them to manage the situation together via a dignified and positive process.

As we frequently highlight in this blog, responsible lawyers urge clients to put the interests of their children at the heart of their divorce to help to lessen the blow of the family split.  I hope that the Bercows will be encouraged to do the same for the sake of their two sons and daughter.

By all accounts they are good parents to their three children. Although Sally Bercow has described herself as a “terrible wife”, she has talked movingly about the challenges of coping with a son with autism and is Ambitious About Autism Parent Patron – a charity role that would seem to demonstrate her caring and commitment to her children.

Mrs Bercow has described her husband as a “great dad” and he certainly seems to be a ‘hands on’ father. According to reports, it is he who has been caring for their children at his grace-and-favour flat in Parliament in recent days while his wife lives alone in their Battersea home.  A journalist who visited their house shortly after the 2010 general election found the Speaker watching Peppa Pig with one of his children, and crawling into his daughter’s Wendy House.

If the Bercows do proceed with separation and divorce then I sincerely hope that neither of them provides the media with a ringside seat to a public slanging match.

I would also recommend that they take the uninvited advice from the media – coupled with the partisan advice from friends – with the proverbial pinch of salt and focus on working with the afore-mentioned responsible lawyers to achieve the best possible outcome for their three children.

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