Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Larry's Party

It has taken me some time, eighteen years to be precise, but I have finally read "Larry's Party," by Carol Shields which was first published in 1997. It is the touching story of a male florist who develops a penchant for mazes and experiences two divorces along the path of a successful business career. There may be touches of humour but it is essentially an emotional experience in which the author seeks to share the thoughts and feelings of a very ordinary man's life. 

I suspect it's a book best avoided by family lawyers and their clients for it fails to dwell on processes and instead concentrates on feelings. However and whilst I'm a firm believer in fiction mirroring the reality we find too hard to describe, this is no self-help book but rather the life-journey of a contemporary man (albeit, and because of my dilatory reading speed, of the last century).

I do wonder, however, is there really anybody out there who has invited not one but two ex-wives to the same party?

Friday, 16 October 2015

The House of Social Media

Whilst travelling recently we undertook a guided tour of an 18th century Ottoman house. The guide showed us what he described as the gentlemen’s room and pointed to a small curtained gallery above. He explained that this was used by servants to check when the men required serving their next course and also by the ladies of the house, to spy on the men; maybe catching a glimpse of the face of their betrothed after an arranged marriage had been contracted or to stalk their husband, learning perhaps if he was planning a second or third marriage.

“We call it Facelook” the guide said, “The historical precursor to Facebook.”

Friday, 4 September 2015

Alternative Dispute Resolution

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival closed on Sunday after 25 days and more than 50,450 performances. It was gratifying to see, in the runners-up for Dave’s Funniest Joke of the Fringe 2015 Award, a reference to relationship breakdown and the impact on children.

You really can’t beat a good pun. Thanks therefore to Simon Munnery in joint 8th place for:
“Clowns divorce. Custardy battle.”

We are, after all, always looking for ways to resolve disputes without the need for a court case.

Friday, 21 August 2015

A Spark of Solace

Underneath the guise of an emotionally contained divorce lawyer there is invariably a soft personality who is easily moved to tears by beautiful music, films or novels. No wonder therefore that I jumped at the opportunity to listen to “Spark” which is the second album from jazz singer and song writer, Kat Reinhert. It was released independently today and is inspired by Kat’s own experiences including with the struggles and hardships that divorce can cause.

“We’ve said goodbye so I know that I’ve just got to walk into the rain,” she sings on the first track.

In the next she proffers advice for dealing with the emotional aftershock with lyrics like, “Sometimes we have to put it down because it’s heavy.”

At times her songs acknowledge the pain whilst other tracks motivate the listener to keep up the battle for recovery with, for instance, “You are not going down without a fight.”

Kat succeeds in being a harmonious mentor and says herself that she is “proud of this album. Not only because of the content and themes it explores but because of the music and arrangements that the musicians helped to create and shape.”

If you want to share the rawness of someone else’s pain and in so doing seek solace for your own then listening to Spark could hold the answer.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Remote Control

I took delivery of a new television set today. We now have his and her TVs, after I finally resolved that watching the screen when Outdoor Man controls the remote is just too tricky. Whenever I thought that we were settling down to watch something, lo the channel changed. What is it about men and their innate desire to surf TV channels? For a gender that is notorious for its inability to “juggle,” it certainly has to be congratulated on being able to follow a dozen programmes contemporaneously.

A family law colleague once remarked to me, after encountering similar issues in her own living room, that she found it curious that she had never been asked by a client to draft a divorce petition incorporating allegations of unreasonable behaviour based on a husband’s operation of the television remote controller. I never did either. I do recall proceedings, once upon a time, which referred to a wife’s concealment of the remote but generally speaking the fairer sex clearly learnt long ago that there are some battles that are not worth the fight.

Moreover, when house contents came to be divided, in my experience it was not unknown for a husband to magnanimously concede that his wife could have the majority of the furniture and white goods, so long only as he could retain their largest television set. Fortuitously she usually agreed to him having the remote controller too.

Friday, 31 July 2015

An Upgrade

Yesterday I upgraded the operating system on my computer to Windows 10. I think it was that word “upgrade,” because in doing so I was reminded of the client who once upon a time told me that he was looking to upgrade his wife.

Now let’s get this clear: we might upgrade computer systems, downsize houses and recycle aluminium cans. We may even divorce spouses, but what we never do is upgrade, downsize or recycle them.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Special Places

There are always special places for specific purposes. I imagine that somewhere there must be Mediation Towers, Collaborative Avenue and Negotiators' Nook to go with County Court that most divorcees are, of course, already familiar with.

 I'm guessing, however, that before visiting any of those places, many couples begin in Arguments Yard, which I came across  on my wanders today.

Monday, 13 July 2015

Match Point

In the last two days we have seen examples of outcomes and contrasting ways to reach a result. Depending upon your standpoint, the word humiliation may even be applied.

The Eurozone countries reached agreement over the Greek debt crisis after 17 hours of negotiations, demonstrating just how difficult reaching a consensus can be. Save in such extreme circumstances, I doubt if anyone would normally recommend overnight discussions which smack of locking the door and refusing to let anyone out until a workable solution is reached. Hanging over the negotiations was the apparent threat to force Greece out of the Eurozone, although it too had recently implied that it could leave without a fair deal.

In family proceedings face to face talks within collaboration are probably preferable, especially as in the latter case the parties agree that they will look to find answers to the issues they confront without litigation and are supported in this aim by everyone working together rather than in opposing camps. Mediation too allows much freer discussions. Any form of negotiating is, however, always open to the prospect of one party rail-roading the whole procedure with the threat of court action. Nobody should ever sign up to an agreement simply because they feel overly pressurised, negotiation-weary or frightened, without first having time to reflect on and rationalise the outcome proposed.

Otherwise and in the absence of a solution, court proceedings are inevitable. One only has to look at the Wimbledon final on Sunday between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, to understand how a court dispute resolves matters but not necessarily to both parties’ satisfaction. It is often said that in family proceedings there are no winners only losers, but the one thing that is certain is that there cannot, as that match on Centre Court surely demonstrated, be two winners.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

In the Clink

Whilst visiting Richmond (North Yorkshire) today, I came across the map above. In the bottom right hand corner it shows Clink Pond and a ducking stool. Apparently when the map was made in 1724 it was commonplace for wives who contradicted their husbands and who were therefore referred to as “scolds,” to be punished by being ducked under the water. 

The divorce process is surely preferable (although I do like the term “scolds”)!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015


Every family lawyer across the land acts for at least one client who is arguing over money.

Once upon a time, one couple, whom I shall refer to simply as Angela and Alexis, were joined in union back in 1981, over thirty years ago. On reflection it was probably not a match made in heaven, she with her Germanic work ethic and values and he with a potentially more laid back air about him. However the relationship has persisted and to the point where, after twenty years, they even agreed to a joint bank account, although it could be argued that it was always Angela who has controlled the purse strings. 

In recent years, hit by the global economic crisis, Alexis has spent half his time without employment and although Angela has allowed him to draw from the account it has been on the basis that he drastically curtails his expenditure and repays the sums taken with interest. Sadly it has become harder for him to make the payments into the account which Angela has demanded and communication has become difficult as a result, each making impossible demands on the other so far as their monetary arrangements are concerned and blackmail has even been alleged. 

Neighbours have sought to assist in bartering an agreement, but when Alexis decided to consult and involve his relatives concerning the terms proposed by Angela, she has taken umbrage and declared that there can be no deal. Uncle Jean-Claude has today asked them to compromise but they seem to be becoming more entrenched.

Who knows how it will end? Will there be reconciliation or will Alexis be forced to open his own bank account and will he be able to borrow sufficient funds to meet his financial commitments in the meantime?

Regardless of how Angela and Alexis endeavour to resolve their issues, I would predict more tears and tension in the short term; the embroilment of others around them; finally a solution, the terms of which are probably unattractive to both at this juncture but better than the stalemate that they are now in; the innate gift of self-preservation to see them through the immediate aftermath; ultimately, in due course, time as the great healer.

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.”