Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Kids in the Middle

Once upon a time, many years ago a colleague handed me a new file and told me that he had asked the client whose name was on the front to contact me. I opened it and read my colleague’s initial and detailed attendance note.

“Attended Mrs X, in a small interview room, together with her 4 children, the family dog, a push chair and 4 balloons,” it began.

It finished with: “The appointment concluded by agreement when all the balloons burst, the dog wrapped its lead around the pushchair barking madly and one child started to wail. It was agreed that Mrs X would return next week but would see my colleague, Miss Middleton.”

Although and in anticipation I reserved a large interview room for my appointment with Mrs X, she came alone and I never did meet any of her children (with or without balloons and a dog) in what turned out to be a fairly straight forward divorce. In fairness and although the law makes it clear that the welfare and interests of a child are paramount in all family proceedings, in all my years of practice it was rare to actually meet the children involved.

However, even in amicable divorces, as my mediation and collaborative training emphasised, the children are still affected, carrying the scars of the family break up for far more years than was initially thought. The legal process has played lip-service only to the interests of the children being of concern within an undefended divorce when there is no other dispute, and the court has struggled to play any effective part in arrangements being made within the family.  During my career, Section 41 Appointments (as they were known), where parties had to attend before a Judge to discuss the arrangement for their children, were abolished and latterly, at the time I was retiring, the requirement that a separate Statement describing those arrangements be filed was withdrawn.

Whilst mediation and collaborative practice are both ideal environments for discussing the plan to separate and the steps to be taken to minimise its effect upon the children, even there the children themselves rarely have a voice. For that reason it was great to hear about the launch of the new Kids in the Middle website which is working in partnership with Only Mums and Only Dads and is supported by  a group of family lawyers and mediators. 

It has been set up in response to the recent Government commissioned report “Voice of the Child” which recognised that “whilst there has been considerable focus in recent years on the provision of better information and support services for separating parents there has been little parallel investment in information and support for children and young people."

The site currently provides support for 11-18 year olds and enables young people to hear the stories of their peers and provides links to discussion boards and on-line help.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Magna Carta

It is 800 years this month since the sealing of the Magna Carta. The charter was meant to bring peace between King John and the barons but has also been described as the closest thing our country has ever had to a Constitution as well as the forerunner to subsequent Declarations of Human Rights. I was in Lincoln a few weeks ago where one of only 4 remaining copies of the original Magna Carta is preserved.

Of course we all know that it sought to enshrine the right of free men to justice and to protect them from punishment outside of the law or without a trial by their equals. I was not however aware that it also contained clauses which would have been of relevance to family lawyers (had such beings existed in the days of the Crusades). Indeed there is specific reference to guardians who are entrusted under the Charter with management of a ward’s land, and are compelled to restore that land to their ward “stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands” when the heir comes of age.

Obviously there is no reference to divorce, but marriage is referred to. It is specifically stipulated that heirs may be given in marriage “but not to someone of a lower social standing” and their next of kin must first be informed. Moreover widows were not to be compelled to remarry, provided that they wished “to remain without a husband.” I imagine that may have been the closest a disenchanted woman could come to living without a man.

However and whilst the Magna Carta provided for a widow to receive her inheritance “at once and without trouble” it allowed her to remain in her deceased husband’s home for only forty days. Imagine, therefore, the meagre level of provision that might have been made in those days had divorce been an option, or what King John might have thought of the Matrimonial Causes Act and the financial provision now awarded by the courts applying a “yardstick of equality.” 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Statistics on Divorce Across the Years

In 1931 there were 3,764 divorces in England and Wales but by 1993 this had increased more than 43 fold to 165,018.

Although and since then the number of divorces a year has decreased (as has the number of marriages), there are still 13 divorces an hour on average in England and Wales! Unlucky for some you may say, but the information extracted from the Office for National Statistics even identifies who those some are likely to be.

It seems that the chances of divorce are greatest between the 4th and 8th wedding anniversaries and that 53% of those who marry in their twenties, divorce before 30 years of marriage. Moreover the average age at which people are likely to divorce is 45 for men and 42 for women.

These and more fascinating statistics can be found in an infographic on the website of Banner Jones, solicitors, and to whom I am grateful for the information quoted.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Power of an X

As Britain goes to the polls today, it is a reminder of the strength of democracy and the power of that X on the ballot paper to define the political direction of a country for the next five years. 

An X can also be used as your mark if you are unable to write; a mathematical symbol; a way of showing affection especially in cards or at the end of messages (I would have said letters but does anyone write those anymore?); an abbreviation; a point on a map, perhaps even for buried treasure.

Say X out loud though and it is somewhat different. Nobody should be defined by their Ex or allow them to hold any power (physical or emotional) over them; the relationship is over. Remember that an X, as opposed to a tick, also means that something was wrong.  

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Dream Job

Separating is a time of major upheaval and perhaps, some might say surprisingly, many take the view that if their life is changing then they may as well go the whole hog and find a new career too. The trouble is that so many end up following well-trodden paths (becoming a lawyer seemed to be a popular one amongst clients I acted for).

Imagine therefore my delight to come across an infographic on dream jobs setting out what the work entails and also what you can expect to earn.

Whilst I have no desire to dress up as Mickey or even  Minnie Mouse, I do confess the prospect of becoming an ice-cream taster (even though I am now happily retired) certainly carries more than a little attraction. Anyone suffering from the effects of a particularly bad divorce may prefer to train as a sommelier; whether they qualify or not,  just trying all that wine during years of training could destroy a few brain cells and help to forget the past (hic..).

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Not Guilty in Hong Kong

Perusing travel guides is something we retired people are apt to do from time to time. It is a long time since I last visited Hong Kong so I was intrigued to read more about it. In so doing I came across an interesting fact. Apparently it is not against the law there for a woman to kill her husband if he has committed adultery, so long as she does so with her bare hands!

Any readers of this blog thinking that they might take advantage of this obvious loophole in the crime of murder should bear in mind that the exception appears to apply to wives only. Further that this post carries the caveat that the writer does not vouch for the accuracy of the information given and anyone taking any steps as a result of it, does so at their own risk! 

However, cheating husbands may be well advised to avoid Hong Kong.

You have been warned!

Monday, 27 April 2015

Election Promises

Is it just me or is this election campaign, more than any other, characterised by grandiose pledges on the part of politicians? Everyone I speak to seems to be responding to what they are reading and hearing with growing cynicism, incredulity, disinterest or even contempt. “They are trying to bribe us, but I don’t believe anything any of them say.”

Even worse is the daily trading of insults and the level of demonisation that is taking place.

On my part I hope that those separating parents who frequently make outrageous promises or seek to vilify their former partner in an effort to persuade their children to shift loyalties, are taking note. Politicians may behave in that manner and are rightly castigated for doing so, parents should never seek to emulate them.

It may be right in a democracy for the electorate to decide. In a family, even a broken one, young children should not be expected to do so. It is for their parents to behave like adults and to make decisions for them, preferably by consensus or after mediation, negotiation or, and only as a last resort, court proceedings. 

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Media Melt-Down

There’s nothing better than a good divorce story (except perhaps a fracas over the lack of a hot dinner) to put the media into melt-down. Yesterday was one of those days when the Supreme Court confirmed that Kath Wyatt is properly entitled to pursue a claim for financial provision against her ex-husband, Dale Vince, notwithstanding the fact that they are reported to have separated and then divorced some 30 and 23 years ago respectively.

Despite speculation in the press, she is, of course, unlikely to receive a substantial share of the millions, all accumulated by Mr Vince since their separation and, therefore, falling outside of the definition of matrimonial assets.

The case, however, serves as a salutary reminder of the importance of dealing with financial issues at the time of a divorce. Even when matters are amicable and a couple agrees that there are to be no further claims by either of them against the other, a consent order dismissing those claims is needed. I have known clients who have baulked at the additional cost of obtaining such but, as I have inevitably explained, it is like paying for an insurance policy. In so many cases the risk can even lie in the potential cost and aggravation of a subsequent claim rather than the outcome; far better, therefore, to tie up all loose ends and close the door with a clean break order where possible.

Of course, and as a result of this case, there may be some who will now potentially hedge their bets and prefer to leave the door ajar, ready to be pushed open should their ex ever reap a fortune. Woe betides them, however, if lady luck turns and it is they rather than their former half who accumulates that pot of gold.

Sunday, 22 February 2015


This month we have learned of the sad demise of Michele Ferrero, the Italian inventor of Nutella, the tasty chocolate spread that both Apprentice Man and Little Girl would always try to add to my supermarket trolley when they were young enough to find grocery shopping an adventure.

It has also been reported that a French court has refused to allow parents to name their daughter Nutella. Some might regard that as a victory for common sense; others as unwarranted interference by the state.

I was surprised to learn that a country which I have long associated with liberty should have a law that essentially restricts free choice in the naming of one’s child. Here in the UK our laws relating to the registration of births are far more liberal and generally only names deemed offensive would be prohibited.

However, it seems that fortunately most parents are sensible and the selection of offbeat names is reserved for the offspring of certain celebrities. So last year Sophia, Emma and Olivia topped the list of most popular girls’ names and there was not a Nutella, Marmite or Plum Jam in sight.

Imagine however the ambiguity that would arise were it ever to become common to designate sandwich fillings as children’s names. “Don’t forget Peanut Butter,” could have all manner of hidden consequences and were the idea of using spreads as names to catch on, it presumably would not be long before we would find both Wide and Bed in the front row of the Reception Class too.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Pub Landlord's Family Friendly Policies

It looks like we are gearing up for one of the longest election campaigns ever . However, news that Al Murray’s The Pub landlord will be contesting the South Thanet seat, as too will Nigel Farage, has certainly added some joviality to the proceedings and will no doubt continue to do so.

Clearly The Pub landlord  has been formulating  his policies for some time and I was delighted to learn that he does have some pro-family views. Indeed it was reported in The Guardian that he thinks it would be good for the country if everyone was obliged to turn off their internet connection from Friday evening until Monday morning to avoid “drunk tweeting” and “vengeful e-mails to the ex.”

Obviously I know that I am probably even more na├»ve than The Pub Landlord when it comes to politics, nevertheless I can’t help thinking:  what a good idea!