When the super-rich divorce, gloves come off

And when stay-at-home mum Sibusisiwe Melody Marapira recently demanded custody of her three children with deputy Agriculture minister Davis Marapira, a monthly maintenance of $500 per child, school fees and 65 hectares of arable land at Lamonte Farm, nine cows and household property at 15 Reylands Court, Pomona in Harare, there was genuine fear that the Zanu PF minister could be left with nothing.

The wife feels it’s especially unfair that he hobnobs with other female partners and demands that there should be some Victorian penalty for his bad behaviour.

“The defendant has been having numerous affairs with other women. Parties want to lead separate lives. The defendant has been abusive to plaintiff physically and mentally,” Sibusisiwe says in her divorce declaration.

Court papers actually reveal that the couple has myriad of immovable property and own 200 cattle, 1 000 sheep and 65 hectares of arable land under centre pivot irrigation all year round.

But this is small fry compared to other high-profile cases such as Home Affairs minister Ignatius Chombo’s breakup with ex-wife Marian, Defence Forces commander Constantino Chiwenga’s nasty separation with Joycelyn and businessman Simon Rudland’s highly-publicised divorce with former wife Leigh-Ann.

Family of God Church leader Andrew Wutawunashe and retired High Court judge Moses Chinhengo have also been caught up in this divorce storm.

For the former, revelations of the man of God’s separation from his wife Rutendo, came unwittingly through a letter written to the church’s elders that he would soon remarry.

And it would seem some of these people would have been married for a lifetime such as Chinhengo’s 20-year union with marketing, and public relations practitioner Josephine.

In all these matters, there is or also seems to be a running theme that “the relationships have irretrievably broken down that there are no reasonable grounds for restoration”, allegations of physical and emotional abuse as well as charges, and counter-accusations of infidelity.

In the Rudlands’ case, for instance, Leigh-Ann has even gone to the extent of accusing her former husband Simon —  who owns a majority stake in Zimre Holdings and another diversified conglomerate CFI Holdings — of deserting their matrimonial home.

And for divorce lawyers working on this legal spectrum, such cases are big business, with the highest fliers reportedly commanding seven-figure salaries — as they typically charge upwards of $1 000 an hour — and allowing them to live almost as luxuriously as their clients.

They are also privy to fascinating details and insights about the lives of these high-rollers, and powerful politicians.

This includes allegations of how these super-rich individuals have concealed wealth and assets — behind a veneer of sophisticated trusts, crooked lawyers and financial advisors — from their spouses and under an increasing or widespread social phenomenon worldwide.

As such, this may explain the (application for) “media gags” around the Chombo, Chiwenga and other elites’ divorce cases.

However, some titbits or morsels about these estranged couples’ acquired real estate, cash holdings, assortment of vehicles and other material possessions showing the extent of these people’s fabulous riches always emerge — one way or another.

Marriage counsellor Agnes Moyo believes that while many couples in the spotlight are faced with more temptation, opportunity, and a hectic, jet-setting lifestyle than most, many of the issues these couples face are not all that different from the challenges regular Zimbabwean couples must overcome together — they’re just amplified.

“In every marriage there is a phenomenon of ‘two-facedness,’ and when our internal voices and what we express out loud are at odds with each other, the discrepancy begins to erode the relationship,” Moyo explained.

“There becomes this desire to look good, get approval, look like you’re doing it right, and this creates a tension in yourself and in the relationship,” she said, adding that this leads to the breakdown of the relationship because there is no way to improve the relationship when nobody’s telling the truth about what’s not working.

When you’re in the spotlight, she said, that need to look good is amplified “a thousand times because everyone’s watching you.”

“It’s that much harder to be present in the truth because you’re so busy keeping up appearances.”

To prevent unspoken issues from eroding a relationship, Moyo said couples need to confront their issues head-on, however uncomfortable that may seem, and then maintain this level of honesty by checking in frequently.

Wallace Matema, a preacher with a local church, said successful people tend to put other things ahead of their marriages.

“For any couple, but for sure with couples in the spotlight or who have high-powered jobs and are ushering big visions into the world, if there isn’t an equally big vision for the marriage, that’s a really big problem,” he said.

The man-of-cloth pointed out that the amount of vision and drive it takes to attain or retain success in one’s career often requires that vision be senior to other visions.

But in marriage, the relationship has to be most important.

“What oftentimes happens with high-powered couples is the career is senior or the kids become senior, and the kids actually substitute that emotional connection.

“When the kids replace the emotional connection between partners, they have sold out on making sure their relationship stays healthy and this is why most people get divorced,” he said.

“To avoid this, it’s important to align your visions for the relationship, as well as for your career, kids, family, location, and habits,” Matema added.

Clinical psychologist Sue Roberts said high-flying couples stop doing the little things that matter in life.

“The things you do in the beginning of a relationship — you go out on dates, you spend time together, you plan special occasions, you plan special gifts, you really listen when they talk, you remember things, you care about their parents, you try to impress their friends — all those things you did when you were courting, you actually have to keep doing,” she said.

Successful people in particular have a hard time doing this because there are so many more things competing for their attention. All of it takes time, which is a scarce commodity.

“If you’re famous and you’re trying to keep a marriage together, you have to be doing that on purpose, not if you get lucky or you try hard it will turn out,” Roberts said.

One thing couples can be more deliberate about is the time they spend together. Dedicated alone time, she said, should not be spent in front of screens.

The veteran psychologist, who has worked with various successful couples to reduce the distress and improve their psychological wellbeing, indicated that divorce is not as scary when you are successful.

“I think successful people are more likely to think that they’ll be OK if they divorce. People who need each other for financial support may be less likely to split whereas successful people have more ability to support themselves financially during and after divorce,” Roberts added.

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