Thursday, 20 December 2007

CHRISTMAS CRACKERS


The old jokes are always the best and none more so than the ones that come out of Christmas crackers. Is it just co-incidence or is there a line in crackers for those with relationship difficulties? I’m thinking particularly of:

When a woman steals your husband, there is no better revenge than to let her keep him; or
I haven’t spoken to my wife for 18 months; I don’t like to interrupt her.

Once upon a time however, I interviewed my very own Christmas cracker. Although it’s many years ago now, I can still remember his Christian name; it was Rudolph. He was large with ginger hair and a ruddy expression. It was Christmas Eve and he wore a garland of tinsel around his neck and a paper crown on his head. He described to me how he and his wife had both thought they were happy for twenty years but had then met and married, following which he realised that he had never known before what true happiness was, although by then it was too late. Unfortunately his wife never learned the true secret of a perfect marriage, namely to forgive her husband whenever she was wrong, and matters had finally come to a head the day before when they had argued over the weather. She insisted that it was snowing but he had told her it was only raining. The bickering was incessant and eventually he asked her to go outside with him so that they could establish who was correct. She agreed, and, as he had maintained all along, it was raining. “How did you know that?” she asked.
“Rudolph the Red knows rain dear,” he replied.

Happy Christmas!

I have promised my family a break from blogging over the Christmas holiday but shall be back here in the New Year.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

FRIDAY'S CHILD IS FULL OF WOE


Mara's baptism
Originally uploaded by Brian Conaghan


Earlier this week an Italian court ruled not only that it was not permissible for the parents of a child to call him Friday but also that they must call him Gregory. Apparently in Italy the courts have the power to overrule the parents’ choice of name if it is likely to cause a child to suffer shame when he grows up. Now, whilst I am not encouraging the authorities in this country to adopt a similar attitude and after all it could cause problems for any number of celebrities (including those who have been knighted) if they did, I do have one suggestion which would make a family lawyer’s life significantly easier. Why not introduce a law compelling all names to at least be spelled correctly? That way I would not come amiss with such quirks as Jorge, Sharlutt and Chevaun.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

THE SEASON OF GOODWILL

It’s the season of goodwill and peace to all men, except your spouse of course. When most police forces are gearing up to reduce alcohol related incidents in our town centres or to breathalyse drunken drivers, police in County Durham have announced a new initiative to help counter domestic violence. Statistically Christmas Day invariably shows a significant increase in the number of incidents of violence in the home reported to the police. In Durham funding has been given for head cams, which means that when responding to a victim’s call they will now automatically film what they see, leaving their hands free to deal with the situation. Hopefully response times will be quick enough to enable them not only to capture the incident on camera but more importantly to intervene to prevent serious damage. In the meantime any resident of the county who spots a bobby with strange headgear (the exact nature of which I have not as yet seen) should note that he really is a police officer and not an extra for a Doctor Who Christmas Special.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

WRAPPING PAPER


This morning I went shopping. To be more accurate, I ran along behind Little Girl, carrying a purse and the bags. As she scoured the shelves, I observed the other shoppers, laden with gifts and rolls of wrapping paper.
It reminded me of an occasion when, once upon a time, I was standing in a local supermarket just before Christmas idly considering the various choices of gift wrap on sale. A client passed by, waved cheerily and commented that she always bought her wrapping material in the next aisle. Curious, I pushed my trolley along it. There were stacks of household detergents, mops, brushes and then I spotted them: bin liners! Rolls of great big black bin liners and I realised what she meant, for this was the lady who against my better advice had decided to leave her husband’s personal possessions in bin liners on the driveway to their garage.
She at least did him the kindness of calling him to let him know what she had done and pursuant to which he made his way to their home relatively promptly. In the meantime, however, a local charity shop had arranged to collect unwanted possessions in that same street, that same morning and you will not be surprised to learn that husband’s worldly goods were pretty soon in a van heading for sale in aid of a good cause! Of course my client was blissfully unaware, until her husband arrived on the doorstep. I seem to recall, and this is putting it mildly, that he was not very understanding about the situation.

Friday, 14 December 2007

FREEZING FOG


I don’t believe that the temperature crept above freezing level today and County Durham was blanketed in fog. I know that because I drove the full length of it to get to court in Newcastle. At least the sun was shining there even if the air temperature remained Arctic-like. Near to the court is a busy pedestrian thoroughfare where most lawyers, barrister or solicitor, pass and today they were all well muffled up.

As I walked through I met an old, non-legal acquaintance. “Makes a change to see so many lawyers with their hands in their own pockets for once,” he remarked.

Maybe it was because I’d already heard that joke on the radio this morning as I drove up the motorway, or maybe I felt a tinge of guilt having just accepted a client’s kind offer of a cup of coffee; either way I felt mildly irritated and would recommend this entry in John Bolch's blog at Family Lore for a contrary view.

P.S. He was an estate agent.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

A TIME CRISIS


Does time really slow down in a crisis? That was the question investigated by researchers at Baylor College in Houston, Texas. Apparently they have established that whilst we believe frightening events take a long time, in reality they don’t. Instead a scary event is associated with more rich and dense memories, leaving a greater impression upon us and therefore the longer we think it took. I wonder if that’s why those undergoing the divorce process always think it takes too long to sort out.

For full details of the research released yesterday click here

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

DIPLOMATIC SOLUTIONS


Originally uploaded by Kelvin Ong

In between all those Change of Name Deeds I was drafting today (see yesterday’s blog), my mind wandered to other aspects of my work and particularly the complex manner of resolving disputes over finance. It now seems well established that court proceedings are frequently traumatic, lengthy and expensive, but what are the alternatives? Mediation and collaborative law both spring to mind, whilst earlier in the week I attended a presentation by a set of barrister’s chambers with their own novel alternative solution based on the three room conference formula. The trouble is that, without commitment from both participants, it is still only court proceedings that are guaranteed to deliver a result. However, I am waiting to see if any inspiration can be drawn from activities across in Bali. Does the background of a tropical island bring inspiration where conference rooms in post industrial Britain fail?

The UN chief, Ban Ki-Moon has demanded a breakthrough but the world’s Environment Ministers now have only until Friday to agree a framework for tackling global warming after the pledges under the Kyoto pact expire in 2012. With the USA and Europe swiping at each other and the developing world refusing to be drawn in, it presently looks as though an agreement to meet again next year might be the most that can be achieved. Still even that’s better than threatening to see each other in court, so maybe my next client offer will be pre-application talks in the Tropics, limited to those clients called Mary and Joseph , of course!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

ROOM AT THE INN


Live Nativity
Originally uploaded by
Jenny Romney


So Mary and Joseph aren’t going to go cold and roofless this Christmas either. In the true spirit of Christmas, Travelodge is offering all couples called Mary and Joseph one night’s free accommodation between Christmas Eve and Twelfth Night. Now my memory might not be totally accurate but I’m pretty certain that I have no friends, relations, colleagues, passing acquaintances or clients (past or present) who together with their spouse are called Mary and Joseph. Does this suggest such a combination is something of a rarity and that maybe Travelodge aren’t being quite as generous as might at first be perceived? Whilst I regularly prepare change of name deeds for those clients wishing to alter their surnames post divorce, changing forenames is less common. However, tomorrow I shall join in the Christmas spirit and offer two change of name deeds (limited of course to the names of Mary and Joseph) for the price of one, thus satisfying all those couples who want to change their names in order to benefit from this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

PANTO TIME


Yes the pantomime season is here again and in keeping with tradition I saw Snow White last night. Its storyline adhered to the traditional fairytale and, as I have no wish to spoil the ending for you, I’ll simply say that the prince and princess married and then left the stage to live happily ever after.

Synonymous with all good pantos, there were the usual “Oh no he didn’t, oh yes he did” exchanges, with one side of the theatre pitting its will against the other. Indeed there was a time when I used to think that the only thing a pantomime and my practising life had in common was that kind of argument.

Of course, when the children were relatively small I had a problem trying to give them any kind of rational reason why the happy ending nearly always involved a female prince and princess (not to mention a male dame). Indeed I remember Little Girl returning home totally disgusted after seeing Cinderella with her nursery school class. “Do you know, Mum,” she said, “the ugly sisters weren’t just ugly, they were men!”

In these days of Civil Partnerships such difficulties are behind me. The grand finale is now something our Register Offices host regularly and when Little Girl and her cousins have their annual fit of giggles at the final curtain, I am able to deliver a lecture about political correctness.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A DIVORCE CEREMONY


Cathy and Entourage
Originally uploaded by
Erin Klee


I am always interested to learn about the ways in which some people acknowledge by celebration or otherwise their divorce, but I think this story, which I have only just come across, deserves an accolade for ingenuity, pain and endurance. On 13th August this year a Canadian independent performance artist, Cathy Gordon, crawled across Toronto in her wedding dress to fulfil what she called a divorce ceremony. It seems that the divorce papers were served on the way and the exercise, for which she created a blog specially (Click Here), was intended to create a personal spiritual experience.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

A DISAPPEARING ACT


With the return of John Darwin from apparent death in a canoe some 5 years ago (Click Here) followed by the publication of an alleged picture of him in Panama with his wife last year, our newspapers have been quick to allude to statistics for runaways. The Charity, Missing People, estimates that some 210,000 people are reported missing in the UK every year and whilst the greatest number are teenage runaways, one third are adults of whom the majority are men. Moreover it seems that relationship breakdown is one of the main reasons for their disappearance. Before anyone begins to think that this could be a cheaper and easier option than divorce, and in the interests of keeping my profession in business, I think it only fair to point out the disadvantages:

  1. You leave behind a grieving family with which any relationship in the future is going to be difficult;

  2. You remain married and remarriage is potentially bigamous unless you are sure that your spouse has divorced you in the interim; bigamy is a criminal offence;

  3. You will need to leave behind you all your worldly goods, your identity and possibly also your way of life, career and country;

  4. You cannot use your credit card without fear of being traced;

  5. Leaving in such a way as to suggest a fatal accident could subsequently result in allegations of fraud being made against you, especially if life insurance claims are made; fraud too is a criminal offence;
  6. If however you do want to stage a dramatic end this will invariably involve the sea and perhaps a small craft of some description, in which case the risks of drowning in the act are relatively high and more so if you can’t swim;

  7. Unless you have already, and very carefully, made financial provision for your disappearance (I’m thinking bank accounts in the Cayman Islands here) you may find yourself in a cardboard box under the arches of Waterloo Station quicker than you might like;

  8. You will never be able to smile at a camera again for fear that the photo or video will subsequently appear on the Internet and be spotted; Flickr and YouTube grow in popularity daily;

  9. You may not suit facial hair, sunglasses or whatever other disguise you will need to choose and if you dye your hair, re-growth at the roots is a constant giveaway;

  10. You may live to regret what you have done.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

PUT THE KIDS FIRST

Plan ahead and put the children first. That’s the key to a happy Christmas for separated families where the festive season is spoiled for thousands of children each year by feuding parents.

Resolution - which adopts a non-confrontational approach to separation and divorce - is behind the advice.

On the face of it, the idea of two Christmases might seem like a dream come true for children, but the reality for separated families is often very different.

Putting the children first is the key to a happy Christmas:

Christmas - whichever parent it is spent with - should be something to look forward to, but for children caught in the crossfire between separated parents who can’t agree on where they should spend Christmas, excitement can quickly turn into misery.

Resolution has the following advice to help separated families make sure this Christmas is a happy one:

  • Make your Christmas plans early to avoid clashes, arguments and upset later.

  • Don’t ask your children to choose between you. This risks putting the responsibility on them when the adults should make these difficult decisions.

  • Allow your children to express opinions about how they want to spend Christmas and listen to their views without putting pressure on them. When you’ve made the decision, explain it to them so they know what’s going to happen.

  • Don’t make it a ‘who can buy the best present’ competition between you and your ex. Discuss what gifts to buy so you don’t duplicate. The likelihood is that what your children will want most of all is an opportunity to spend some time with each parent.

  • Make the most of the time you have with your children and allow them to have a say in what you do. This may just mean curling up on the sofa and watching movies together or visiting friends and family. Things could get stressful if you try and do too much.

  • Pre-arrange handover times, and stick to them. Try to be positive with your ex-partner so that the children do not pick up any tensions there may be between you. Research has found that children often feel that it’s their fault if their parents fight.

  • Be willing to make compromises, in everyone’s interests. Even if you don’t entirely get your first choice result, be gracious about it, not only for the children’s sake, but for your own too. There’ll be other Christmases to try different arrangements.

Monday, 3 December 2007

THE CHRISTMAS CRECHE


I am always in favour of any idea that can keep a marriage together, preferring to be instructed by those for whom there is no other option. It is, therefore, with some seasonal joy that I would like to draw to your attention an idea that has begun in Austria where, in the City of Salzburg, a Christmas crèche for men has been set up. Stocked with computer games, newspapers, and a bar, it’s open daily from 4pm to 10pm. Married women and those in a long term relationship are invited to leave their partners whilst they depart for some well-earned retail therapy without the misery of male whingeing. Before they go, however, they are given a numbered ticket which they must present in order to collect their partner at the end of the evening. I wonder what happens if they lose it?

Sunday, 2 December 2007

ADVENT


ADVENT, (noun) : the four week period leading up to Christmas beginning on the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day; coming, especially of important person or event; the period of expectant waiting and preparation.

Could there possibly be a link between Advent and divorce? Not at all. It’s a time when, as the Georgia Family Law Blog soundly advises, “Put the legal and financial side of the divorce ‘on hold’ until January, unless you have a hearing this month.”

There was a time when I used to think nobody would ever want to see me in December but no longer. In true Advent form even in a divorce lawyer’s office it has become a time for expectant waiting and preparation, not for Christmas but rather for the steps that are going to be taken in January; the court proceedings that are going to be issued; the correspondence entered into. My computer is bulging with approved drafts and my diary filled with appointments with clients where we plan our strategy and timetable for action commencing in the New Year.

Friday, 30 November 2007

THE LONG COMMUTE


I am privileged to live in a village surrounded by views towards both the North Yorkshire Moors and Dales, perhaps 10 miles from the office. Now I know that I have no right to complain, especially when , if I time my journey to work right, then from door to door it takes somewhere in the region of 15 minutes. Nevertheless this week I have, for a number of reasons been obliged to drive the route between the hours of 8.30am and 5.30pm on a number of occasions, only to find myself sitting in queues of traffic and, in so doing, adding a whole 12 minutes to the total journey time. As I have sat there waiting patiently, it has caused me to contemplate on the similarities between commuting and divorce, of which I am sure you are already aware. Undertake the journey in the early part of your life or day and it’s relatively simple; try it in the evening or the mature part of your life and again it can be straightforward. Attempt it at 8.45am and you get caught up with children and the school run; at 12 noon with shoppers and the acquisition or delivery of assets; at 5pm with workers returning from the treadmill of employment. Of course there can be road works or accidents at any time, black ice and snow in the winter, or heavily laden tractors at harvest time, and whilst it’s not the best analogy in the world I think you get my drift, even if you can’t sympathise with my frustration.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

THE FIFTEEN STREETS


Yesterday evening I went to see an adaptation of Catherine Cookson’s “The Fifteen Streets” at Darlington Civic Theatre. I confess that I have never read a Catherine Cookson novel, but Latimer Hinks was one of the joint sponsors of the production and I was happy to attend. With my roots very firmly in the North East I was confident that I would find some empathy with a storyline set in the docklands of Tyneside during the early part of last century. I was not disappointed; with family infighting, verbal and physical abuse, a fatal accident, romance outside of the class structure, the subjugation of women, miscarriage, hunger, poverty, and a teenage pregnancy, the tale appeared to have everything. Or did it? Of course, there was no divorce. For the inhabitants of the Fifteen Streets life was incredibly harsh and whilst they had most things to worry or gossip about, in the times of Catherine Cookson’s youth, divorce was not one of them. I hesitate to guess that if she was gaining material for her novels today, they would have a different inclination.

Monday, 26 November 2007

THE DEFLATING LILO


With the temperature barely rising above four degrees centigrade recently it's somewhat strange to find myself recalling summer days in the sun. Today memories of the hours spent splashing in the hotel pool came flooding back and particularly the fun we had trying to float on a lilo bed with a puncture. It didn’t matter how much air we breathed into it, it still went down and so did we.

Matrimonial cases can be the same. You can throw as much money as you want at trying to fight a hopeless cause but when your solicitor tells you that it’s time to settle you really have to listen. All solicitors have clients who tell them that they’d rather pay legal fees than their spouse, but the sad truth is they are going to end up paying both. It’s just like the lilo bed, you put air into it or throw money at the lawyers, but if you’re still going to sink at the end of the day, considering damage limitation first is usually a good idea.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

CAN A LEOPARD CHANGE ITS SPOTS?


Whilst chatting to Constance the other night I finally got round to quizzing her about the real reason for her split and subsequent acrimonious divorce. It’s amazing how a couple of years down the line events have a much more rational explanation. It seems the bridegroom never allowed himself to be groomed by the bride. He never learnt to cook, share the housework, or give up his love of football and his Friday nights out with mates. At the same time Constance recognises that she herself altered, although she attributes this to the arrival of her children. Whatever, the ex could not come to terms with the changes, especially when she no longer delighted in acting as housemaid to him, never wanted to go to the cinema to see a film when they could just as easily watch TV nor spend her summer holidays stuck in a little tent when there was the prospect of a charter holiday in the sun.

I guess there’s a moral there somewhere, like: leopards don’t change their spots, unless they’re female!

Friday, 23 November 2007

THE JOY OF GIVING


Christmas has come to our town centres and for some the joy of giving can mean unbearable pressure and debt. Take my friend Constance for instance (click here for the blog entry when I first introduced you to her):

It seems she started Christmas shopping for her children a month or so ago now and keeps adding to the sum owed on her credit card debt almost daily, as her resistance to the demands placed on her by the ex’s relationship with their children steadily diminishes. Last night she told me that she’s just ordered the latest games console for her youngest (despite the fact that the child already possesses 2 earlier versions) because she knows the said child has been manipulating the ex to buy her mobile phone cum MP3 player cum 5 mega pixel camera and she can’t risk being outdone. Sadly I had to admit that she made me feel somewhat limited in imagination and generosity when I confessed to an intention to give Little Girl and Apprentice Man a book apiece and a box of toffees between them.

Later, Little Girl divulged her view that if (heaven forbid) Outdoor Man and I were to separate, then she might fare much better with her Christmas stocking than is usually the case. Hmmm, not that I really enjoy being manipulated, but maybe I’d better make it a box of toffees each this year.


Thursday, 22 November 2007

MY THANKS

I’d like to make a very public thank you to the gentleman who delivered a beautiful cymbidium to the office for me today. It is a well established truth that at the end of a divorce settlement one party generally feels that they received less than they were worth by way of financial settlement, whilst the other believes that they were forced to be overly generous. Sadly the only point on which they both seem to be of the same mind is that their respective lawyers cost them both too much. Consequently and regardless of whether you act for husband or wife the divorce lawyer’s role can theoretically be a pretty thankless one. It is therefore always heartening when a client acknowledges that they are pleased with the legal services they receive. Once again, my gracious thanks.




Wednesday, 21 November 2007

THE DIVORCE PARTY


Anecdotal evidence gleaned from clients would suggest that divorce parties seem to becoming more commonplace and whilst it’s not entirely de rigeur to invite one’s solicitor to such an event, I confess to receiving the occasional invitation. In case you are tempted to organise one, I thought it might be useful to highlight 10 absolute do-nots :

1.Don’t invite the ex; he/she will spoil your night.

2.Don’t invite the ex in-laws; they’ll spoil it too and worse still tell the ex all about it afterwards.

3.Don’t play soppy love songs, least of all from the era you met; nothing brings on the tears more than a little alcohol and nostalgia. Take a look at my song list included in my profile instead.

4.Don’t let off fireworks without checking the latest regulations as to hours of use etc..

5.Don’t try cutting the cake alone, backwards or whatever; just cut the cake out of the do altogether.

6.Don’t break off the dancing for everyone to gather around for a burial of the wedding ring in the garden; someone always sneaks back to dig it up later.

7.Don’t decide to hold your party in Dublin, Prague or any other top stag/hen night city in Europe; all those gangs of guys and girls in pre-marital celebratory mood will spoil your own attempts at excess;

8.Don’t allow any speeches; public pillorying is regarded as bad form.

9.Don’t expect presents; what can guests bring for a divorcee who already has half of everything?

10.Don’t cry. This will be your divorce night not your or your daughter’s wedding day.

Monday, 19 November 2007

EGG ON YOUR CHEEKS


There’s apparently no need for an organisation like Relate in Cyprus. Suffer from a relationship problem with your wife and you can call for a sorcerer instead. The only problem is that she might crack an egg into your underpants and charge you 5,000 Cypriot pounds for her efforts. News reports however confirm that the sorcerer is now on trial, but fail to indicate whether or not her efforts resulted in a reconciliation.

Click here for link to Reuters News Agency Report

Friday, 16 November 2007

THE GYM


I went to the gym yesterday evening on a visit that I would like to think had a market research perspective. You see over the course of the last couple of years I’ve noticed that gyms seem to have featured fairly high on the list of meeting places for unfaithful spouses. There being nothing of interest on the TV and loving the dynamics that give rise to my work, I thought I’d go along and see if I could view some real life soap operas taking place, maybe even leave my business cards strategically placed on a running machine or two.

Perhaps the Local Authority run sports centre wasn’t the best place to try out this initiative, for it was not to be. Never have I been surrounded by so many unattractively perspiring people. Yes there may have been muscles in abundance, but they weren’t being flexed, so far as I could see, at the opposite sex. You know what I reckon this gym thing is just a sham for some other point of rendezvous. Accordingly I did pick up a tip which I shall pass on here:
If he/she says they were at the gym and you suspect that this may not have been the case, just sniff their sports' vest. On my unfortunate experience, it has to be a dead giveaway.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

THE MANOPAUSE


If your husband is over 45 and acquires a sports car, a motorbike, a chest medallion and/or a girlfriend, you may feel compelled to visit a solicitor to enquire about divorce. However on the basis that these symptoms can apparently be diagnosed as the Manopause, you might want to send him to see his doctor instead.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

HINDU WEDDING


Photo originally uploaded by kennethg

It was reported today that an Indian farmer married a dog on Sunday in a full Hindu wedding ceremony, witnessed by neighbours and village elders. Apparently the farmer has been suffering from 15 years’ bad luck after killing two dogs who were trying to mate in one of his rice fields. This bad luck extended to the farmer becoming unable to walk and suffering the loss of hearing as well as of an ability to talk properly. His physical condition has had doctors baffled but someone more knowledgeable put his condition down to a curse inflicted by the dead dogs’ spirits.

Donned in a wedding sari the bride dog went through the ceremony, but once it was over and the hold on her leash loosened, she absconded. It appears however that she has since been safely returned to her husband, who is purportedly planning to find a human bride once the curse is lifted. Won’t he need to get a divorce first and will he be blessed with a dowry to meet the ensuing financial settlement?

Monday, 12 November 2007

FORM FILLING


I hate form filling. I hate it even more when I can’t see the point of the information being requested nor the benefit of completing the form in the first place. Hence it was with a feeling of dread that I sat down on Saturday morning to tackle four visa applications, one for each of us, followed by a Contact Details Questionnaire and a Consent for Educational Visits (one of each for both Apprentice Man’s and Little Girl’s respective schools). Whilst so occupied I became increasingly more irritated; mentally accusing the senders of being over officious and small-minded. By 12 noon, I calculated that I had written out our address and telephone number twenty-eight times. Then, just to make a full weekend of it, on Sunday I collated all the information that my accountant has been pestering me to produce, so that he can prepare my Tax Return ready for submission in January.

You will appreciate, therefore, that when I awoke this morning it was with a smile on my face as the prospect of a day in the office seemed to offer the opportunity for some light relief in comparison. Legal documents with which I’m familiar and for which I understand the point can sometimes be a delight and on other occasions an intellectual challenge. Also I’m assisted by technology (no unnecessary duplication of input) and clients who supply the information required (sometimes neatly bundled and recorded, sometimes on copious documents stuffed into a carrier bag).

Of course, I never consider how small minded and officious clients might think me when I hand them, for instance, the standard twenty-four page questionnaire known as Form E which forms the backbone for resolving financial disputes. Instead I appreciate the relevance of the information requested and anticipate that the client will do likewise. I wonder if that’s how the clerks at the Embassy and Local Education Authority feel when they devise and distribute their forms. Surely not; if I had to ask clients to insert their names and addresses three to four times on every form I use at work, I’d have lost all my clients and been obliged to find myself another career by now.


Thursday, 8 November 2007

INDIANA LAW


As this blog entry is about to prove, I know nothing about divorce law in Indiana. Indeed I do not profess to do so. After all there wouldn't be much opportunity to use any knowledge I might have, working as I do in Darlington. That said, there are occasions when a dual qualification in Scottish law (another alien concept) would be extremely useful with the border not so far away. Mind the issues and emotions facing anyone going through divorce are universal, regardless of where in the world they are. Sam Hasler who has paid me the honour of mentioning this blog on various occasions in his own family law blog has indicated that whilst I don’t have much to say about Indiana family law there are still many similarities in the people we both seek to help and the problems they face.

Lately we are being entertained in the new pedestrian heart of Darlington by a variety of musicians. Among the most tuneful of these is a band of men of American Indian origin, dressed in authentic costume including head-dress & buffalo skins. Their act is dominated by musical pipes that replicate the sound of the wind and occasionally they can be seen sitting cross-legged smoking a peace-pipe.

I wonder if the peace-pipe still plays any part in the modern law of Indiana. It could surely be put to good use in the resolution of acrimonious divorce cases, or does Indiana, like the UK, ban smoking in public buildings? I know not, but maybe Sam will tell us in one of his blog entries.

Monday, 5 November 2007

HAW HAW



This month the Reading Group tackled a biography: “Haw Haw, the Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce.” To be honest I’m no fan of biographies; they’re generally fairly tedious and whilst they allow some scope for speculation, the imagination and atmosphere that dominate any fictional work (and even some autobiographies) is inevitably missing. Moreover, reading the life story of the great and famous is one thing, reading that of the infamous is another.

Nonetheless, I did note with interest that Lord Haw Haw (already a divorcee when they married in 1937) and Margaret divorced each other after four and a half years, only to remarry some six months later. It is not of course unheard of for divorcees to re-unite, but it is more common to rue one’s mistake at the altar than subsequently for seeking a Decree Absolute.

Who knows if Mr and Mrs Joyce’s second marriage would have survived the cessation of hostilities, had they not been captured and a trial for treason intervened. Certainly their arguments, drinking sessions and extra marital relationships continued. I have been practising long enough to have divorced a number of clients twice, and whilst rarely has this been from the same spouse, it does happen and usually for the same reasons as the first time around.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

EVA


Last night we went to a charity event in aid of Eva. Not Eva Longoria Parker, the star from Desperate Housewives, nor even, as the name might suggest, an individual lady, but rather an organisation of that name which is actually an acronym for Emerging from Violence and Abuse. It’s based in Redcar and has been helping women who have suffered from domestic violence for over 20 years. A worthwhile cause and I only wish that every desperate housewife in every town could have her own Eva.

Saturday, 3 November 2007

DOMINUS


I think that it is now time to update you about the relationship with Dom (and no I have decided against the tattoo after all). Although still very much enamoured by him, the honeymoon period is drawing to a close. The twitching blinds and net curtains from our neighbours when we pull onto the drive are very much something of the past; a kind of acceptance that he’s here to stay.

Unfortunately we have had our first spat. I really didn’t think he was going the extra mile or three that I got out of the ex, and that regular weekly stop at the supermarket to fill up has been getting very expensive. Dom, however, seems to think he’s some kind of thoroughbred that requires careful handling. So, although I like to think that I’ve been in the driver’s seat the whole time, it has been a new learning experience. We now sprint, at his insistence, rather than jog, most days and gradually I’m teasing a little extra mpg from him. With petrol prices hitting £1 a litre, I have to.

Click here for last instalment

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

MYTHS AND MONSTERS


Halloween is a good time to release the result of a survey on superstitions. So today it’s revealed that we sensible British people still cross our fingers to avoid bad luck; believe in fate and ghosts; are convinced that various governments are complicit in a global plot to avoid telling us about little green men from Mars or other extra terrestrials but generally are dismissive of the idea that number 13 is unlucky. Now I find that strange. When I first started out in my career a rather learned senior practitioner impressed upon me that it was tempting fate to have 13 paragraphs in a legal document; you can have more or less, but never 13. You know what? I took this to heart, and so far as I can recall none of my affidavits, petitions or statements ever have. Now I’m sure it is just superstitious twaddle but would you really want your solicitor to take the chance with your case?

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

A LACK OF INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMACY

Recently I referred to President Sarkozy’s divorce. It seems that it made the headlines again yesterday when the President lost his temper with Lesley Stahl, a CBS American Network presenter, and walked off the set whilst she was interviewing him. She had of course sought to question him about the breakdown of his marriage. Bearing in mind that I make a living out of quizzing people about this kind of thing, I would like to offer the hapless presenter a few tips:

  1. Don’t break the ice with anyone you meet for the first time by asking after their ex;
  2. Appreciate that an interview of this nature is very sensitive and not everyone can open up easily to talk about personal matters;
  3. Don’t try to film or record the content of the interview; this is difficult for a TV presenter but it is vital unless the interviewee is a self publicist;
  4. Assure them that everything they tell you is confidential (another difficult one when trying to put together a TV show);
  5. Have a box of tissues handy just in case;
  6. Let them tell their story in their own words and time;
  7. Listen, listen and listen again;
  8. Understand that people don’t always enunciate through words what they want you to hear;
  9. Don’t misinterpret or put words into the interviewee’s mouth;
  10. Empathise and tell them how you can help.


Monday, 29 October 2007

AN ITCH


Head louse
Originally uploaded by
of rice and zen


Whilst at Primary School, Little Girl regularly came home with a copy of a health letter warning about yet another outbreak of head lice. It was always dressed up nicely, pointing out that these awful creatures revel on nice clean heads but, to stem the ever increasing number of outbreaks, every parent’s help was needed to check their children’s hair and take steps to eradicate the itch-creating monsters if found. Of course, as any member of the previous generation will tell you, it wasn’t like that in their day when Nitty Nora patrolled the school corridors and periodically you were made to line up outside her room to have your head inspected one by one. In the absence of inspections by the school nurse, it seems that the head louse population is flourishing and whilst there are many parents clamouring for the return of the old system, my experience from talking to teachers is that they can spot an infestation as soon as it starts, simply from the scratching that goes on in the classroom. I have to say that just blogging about it causes me to itch all over.

So what has all this got to do with divorce? Well to be honest not a great deal, save that I was reminded of the itch caused when reading the weekend’s newspapers. It seems that research in the USA, Russia and Scandinavia has suggested that the infamous 7 year itch in a marriage in fact now happens after only 5 years, in these our modern times.

It’s a little like head lice I suppose in that we are all so busy that life has speeded up to the point where not as much time is spent on checking our children’s scalps as it used to be. Likewise in a relationship, once the honeymoon period is over, many turn elsewhere to be scratched. Who knows, as life continues to step up apace, will the honeymoon period be simply a fortnight in a 4 star hotel on Gran Canaria followed by the ubiquitous fortnight itch?

The trend may even have started for, once upon a time, I was involved in divorcing a couple who both suffered from a 45 minute itch when the bride departed from the wedding reception with the best man, whilst the groom was found in a broom cupboard with one of the bridesmaids. It had the benefit of giving the guests a wedding to remember coupled with the opportunity to take home their wedding presents. This made the subsequent financial proceedings relatively easy as there was nothing left to divide between the happy couple.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

OBESITY


So it’s official – marrying is more likely to make you obese than staying single. At least that’s the conclusion from research carried out by the University of Chapel Hill in North Carolina. So what’s the cure? Divorce perhaps? No, apparently further research has shown it’s chewing gum and eating an apple before meals.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

ABUSER RETURNS


Originally uploaded by Heidenseek
When I woke up this morning there was an atmosphere of eerie stillness; I knew that something had happened. Pulling back the curtains and peering outside, everything was coated white; it meant only one thing, Jack Frost had paid a visit.
I dressed quickly and ran outside heading for where Nellie Nuttall lived at the bottom of our garden. I was too late. She wasn’t just bruised, she was black; her crimson skirts had been discarded on the ground and she remained there, silent and solitary. She hadn’t called out in the night, she hadn’t tried to resist or even attempt to decamp to a local refuge. Not Nellie, she took the punishment Jack meted out silently; she didn’t want to be a bother to anyone.
It’s the same at the start of every winter, Jack comes back from wherever he’s been over the summer and the abuse starts. Domestic violence units or refuges were of no interest to Nellie, she was convinced Jack would get her wherever she went.
Now Nellie was only a half hardy fuchsia; imagine if she was your next door neighbour.

Monday, 22 October 2007

THE ORIENT EXPRESS


At the weekend Outdoor Man and I had the good fortune to attend the Mayor of Darlington’s Annual Charity Ball. It was a fantastic evening and took the theme of an Evening on the Orient Express. It set me thinking about exotic holidays and how many people spend vast sums every year on such, especially if it’s for a special occasion like a honeymoon and sometimes even in desperation that it will save a failing marriage. Indeed the desire for that perfect holiday can cause us to go into overspend, buying now on the credit card to pay for the experience of a lifetime over the 12 months following.

The trouble is exotic holidays generally mean that you are very much alone with your travelling companion, and I’m told the Orient Express has quite confined sleeping compartments. You have to have a good relationship in the first place to survive such an experience, and if you don’t that credit card bill becomes a bug bear in the subsequent financial arrangements and divorce proceedings.

Outdoor Man tells me that we’d get along just fine travelling across Europe by sleeper train because he’d go to the bar. Based on the number of times he emptied his glass at the ball, I think he’s in training already!

Sunday, 21 October 2007

IT'S ART NOT SCIENCE


Apprentice Man, who has no idea what he might want to do with his life other than strum his guitar and lie in bed longer than is reasonably permissible, recently had to decide which subjects to pursue to A’ level. Not an easy choice to make when you do not yet appear to have developed any vocational yearnings. Should one lean towards the arts or the sciences, or even study a mix of both?

When dividing family assets, Judges have discretionary powers which means that guessing the outcome can be interpreted as a stab in the dark. Of course, that’s not really the case. Despite most lawyers’ pedantic insistence on thinking in straight lines and applying pure logic to resolve irrational dilemmas, the family lawyer has elevated such thought processes to another plane where experience, legal knowledge, psychology and human dynamics all intermingle. Hence advising a client on the likely outcome of a court application has to be an art rather than a science.

Apprentice Man has opted to stick with the sciences. I do not believe that he has any intention of becoming a family lawyer.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

A PRESIDENTIAL DIVORCE


We often hear about couples marrying in secret but divorce is generally harder to hide. The announcement this week, therefore, that not only had President Sarkozy of France separated from his wife but that they had also divorced, certainly appears to have been something of a surprise, despite repeated reports of a rift in their marriage.

As one might expect, a nation famed for its romantic side and apparently unfazed by a previous President with a love child and another who died in the arms of his lover, is apparently less happy at the notion of divorce which it seems is a first for a modern French President. Whilst it could just be political opportunism, opponents are reported to be muttering that this could affect his psychological stability and, therefore, more than his personal life.

Indeed Nicholas Sarkozy might be well advised to consider his nation’s history books, and in particular the events leading to the founding of modern France, paying heed to the experience of its first Emperor. I seem to recall that Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1810 only to be the subject of a resounding beating by the British at the Battle of Waterloo, five years later. What’s that oft repeated phrase? “History has a habit of repeating itself.”

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

DIVORCE IS HELL


“Divorce is hell” was the comment from Sir Paul McCartney reported by the media this week. To make headline news, I must assume that this was previously an unknown fact although I find that rather startling. Isn’t it well documented that alongside bereavement, divorce is one of the most stressful episodes of life from which we can suffer?

Monday, 15 October 2007

PLANET EARTH




Today I understand is a Blog Action Day when we are all required to blog about environmental issues. Not an easy one when your passions are divorce and people, although the latter apparently are currently being held to account for an evil force called Climate Change that is attacking the planet.

Forget that, I thought I’d continue instead my theme from the last couple of days about forging friendships and networking. I’m not sure to what extent such activities are carbon neutral, so shan’t ponder on that line either.

Networking events produce relationships: people buy people; you put faces to names. It’s an effective way to meet and I understand that similar principles apply to Singles’ Clubs. Reality is suspended; strangers expect that you will talk to them because that is why they are there. Techniques that can’t be applied at the bus stop, (or swimming pool
) are allowed. With a good group of people and/or an effective host, the ice melts quicker than from global warming.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

INTRODUCTIONS


I’d like to follow on from my entry yesterday about making friends. As part of my business life I’m expected to attend a number of networking functions. This is not social networking as we know on the Internet (which appears to be a complete misnomer) but in the flesh, walking into rooms of complete strangers with the ultimate aim of selling your wares – never an easy task for a divorce lawyer!

I’m told that it is a bit like speed dating where you have to make a big impression, very quickly. The technique, of course, is to try to ensure that whoever you talk to is going to remember your name, what you do and maybe even ask for your telephone number. Hence on such occasions I am told that it is simply not acceptable to be Judith Middleton, divorce lawyer. Instead it’s: “Hello, I’m Judith, (pause), Judith (emphasis), Middleton. I’m involved in relationship breakdown, (another pause), and you?”

You can see why people prefer the virtual reality of cyber space; it’s more natural!

Saturday, 13 October 2007

CAN I BE YOUR FRIEND?


Funny how inhibitions are acquired over the years, presumably as a result of conditioning. Children don’t share the same reticence, and although they may be shy, it’s easy to respond when another child approaches and asks “Will you be my friend?”

I was reminded of this on holiday over the summer. Little Girl, splashing in the hotel pool alone, was asked exactly that question by another girl of similar age and consequently the two quickly became a pair for the rest of the holiday. It was simply done, in a matter of seconds.

It’s harder as an adult. Let’s face it, approaching a complete stranger in a swimming pool or wherever and asking if they’ll be your friend could lead very quickly to you being dismissed as mentally unstable and shunned. Yet the process of forging friendships in later life is substantially the same, even if it requires more time and subtlety. We still need to be outward going, altruistic and/or team up for a project or activity; always ready to offer the invite at the appropriate point, conscious that the recipient is probably as reserved as we are, if not more so.

Hence the growing popularity of, for instance, salsa and belly dancing classes where you can have a giggle with complete strangers and break down the barriers which otherwise prevent us from getting to know each other.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

PAY YOUR TAXES




In 1662 a Hearth Tax was introduced in this country. It was repealed in 1688 but in 1696 a Window Tax quickly followed. Fortunately, and despite the best efforts of Henry VIII in the previous century, divorce still hadn’t really caught on. Were such to be in force today the Treasury coffers would no doubt be overflowing as one household becomes two and windows and fireplaces double.

Lawyers are often accused of being parasitic in nature, there always being a need for one when life goes wrong, be it at a time of personal injury, divorce or death. The only other thing you can be sure of is that the Taxman is never far behind; clawing back income tax on specific types of compensation payments, collecting inheritance tax on death and of course rubbing his hands in glee when family assets are realised in divorce proceedings with the potential for a capital gain and yet more tax.

Am I just being cynical or was yesterday’s announcement by the Chancellor a big con? Is a flat rate of Capital Gains Tax at 18% with no indexation or taper relief really just a means to simplify matters (so that solicitors can undertake the calculation and give the client the bad news before the Inland Revenue)? Does nobody else out there think it could be a tax on inflation? Isn’t that immoral when it’s invariably government policy that causes inflation in the first place? Did the Chancellor consider the effect on divorcing couples and their need to realise often long-held assets immediately to create two homes, with little scope to stagger the sale of shares, businesses or second homes over two or more tax years? I bet he didn’t. Why doesn’t he just bring back the Window and Hearth Taxes; at least that way I could advise clients to go and live in potting sheds?

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

ONE SIZE FITS ALL




One size fits all – not when it comes to separating it doesn’t. We’re all unique individuals; our families are different and when it comes to divorce or separation how we go about it and how the family fortune gets carved up is exclusive to our own circumstances. That’s always a hard one to explain to a client especially when his father’s best friend’s cousin’s plumber has allegedly just emerged from the woes of divorce without having to pay his wife a penny and the client wants the same outcome.

It’s a bit like blogging where individuality comes to the fore. I was reminded of this when reading other lawyers’ divorce blogs which I stress bear no resemblance whatsoever to my humble offerings, nor indeed to each other. For instance Bloody Relations by Jacqui Gilliatt is an absolute Aladdin’s Cave of links and I defy anyone to visit her page and then fail to find themselves clicking to follow the trail she sets you on. In contrast John Bolch at Family Lore has to be commended for his ability to comment on changes in law and practice on an almost daily basis. Jo Spain offers informative and helpful explanations on the law itself whilst Divorce Solicitor is a gem of hilarious if not useful ideas. Wikivorce hosts blogs from those currently going through the process and I’m confident that regardless of how many divorce blogs you come across each will have its own unique angle.

Monday, 8 October 2007

THE WISDOM OF SOLOMON


Following on from my blog about Man’s Best Friend, I confirm that it is not unusual for animal-loving clients to enquire about the procedure for seeking custody of their favourite pet at the time of separation. This generally gives rise to an explanation that these days we don’t even apply for custody of children for whom the law prescribes a number of other applications, particularly for parental responsibility, residence and contact orders, none of which are available for pets. I had assumed that the lack of such a remedy for pet-lovers would be commonplace around the globe but have come across this video (directed by Eva Saks a graduate from Yale Law School) on You Tube which could suggest the contrary.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

THE DOCTOR


I went to the Doctor’s yesterday. I went because I had to and admit that I had put off doing so for too long. It’s the same with my friends, family, work colleagues and clients. Everyone seems to go only when whatever symptoms they are suffering from become so unbearable that they finally decide something has to be done about them. Strange that we are prepared to abuse our bodies in this way but are more than willing to get the car to the garage or a plumber in to mend a leak at home as soon as we spot a problem. Worse still is when we begin to accept our symptoms as normality or dismiss them as attributable to issues in our lives rather than a physical cause.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

ANOTHER POSTAL STRIKE


So the postal workers are striking again and mail is likely to be affected at least until October 15th. There would have been a time when, as the only means of communication, this would have been an absolute disaster instead of a frustrating inconvenience; now in business we simply rely on an alternative means of transmission and in our personal lives the text message continues to reign supreme.

Communication, however, remains the mainstay of our lives and on which all relationships depend. The handwritten letter, though, is very much in the descendency (little love notes tied up with red string and a miniature rose are surely passé), but the need to keep in contact is as important as ever. Hence whilst the desire to put pen to paper has diminished, the use of the mobile phone for text and conversing has increased, making it ever easy to stay in touch even when miles apart, away from home for weeks or even months. Indeed, the failure to answer a mobile call; answering one against the background of nightclub music when you are supposed to be on a business engagement; receiving a call from a member of the opposite sex in the presence of your spouse; can all be tell tale signs of relationship breakdown. Text messages can give an even worse signal, and if your partner cunningly grabs your phone only to read amorous offerings from your supposed work colleague at the next desk, that is invariably the end.

It was never this way with the post, or maybe it was, but life was slower, communication more formal, and the agony equally as excruciating. Waiting patiently for a letter to arrive, blaming the postman for days and then ripping open the envelope as it finally dropped on the mat, only to read those two heart rending words, “Dear John…”

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

FRIENDS REUNITED


On Saturday I met up with old school friends for the occasion of one of our number’s half centenary. Some of them I hadn’t seen for 30 years and I understand that a number of the invitations had gone out and the recipients tracked down through the Friends Reunited website. It is a solemn fact, however, that most divorce lawyers must have handled a case where Friends Reunited was involved in reintroducing one of the parties to an ex girlfriend or boyfriend from their school days. I’ve never quite understood the attraction in travelling backwards rather than forwards, but I must admit that the evening was enjoyably nostalgic and yes all the teenage acne had disappeared too.

Sunday, 30 September 2007

YOU ARE THE WEAKEST LINK, GOODBYE


Today’s announcement that Anne Robinson is to divorce her husband of 27 years, will no doubt give rise to playground quips in the style of: “What did Anne Robinson say to her husband when they parted?”
Please don’t expect this blog to sink so low as to give you the punchline.

Friday, 28 September 2007

A MAN'S BEST FRIEND IS HIS DOG


A man’s best friend is his dog and his wife’s too, or so it seems in some divorce cases.

Once upon a time I was acting for a very intelligent lady: from memory I recall that she was a chartered accountant who continued in occupation of the marital home, a large house in the country. Her husband, whom I assume to have been equally talented, had left and was occupying a flat in the city. During their 10 year marriage they had acquired a somewhat lively golden labrador by the name of Bonzo. In the absence of any children, Bonzo had been clearly treated as a child substitute. He had a special place in both of their hearts, to the extent that upon separation they agreed to share his care. The correspondence in which I became involved went along the lines of:

In future could you please ensure that Bonzo is returned with the same collar and lead as he had when he went to your client?

It is becoming apparent from the state of his fur that, whilst in your client’s care, Bonzo is not being fed the premium dog food to which he is accustomed and it is understood that he may even have been given titbits from the table

Bonzo is a highly strung animal and does not take lightly to strangers, please therefore ensure that he is not introduced and on no account left alone with your client’s new partner.

During contact with your client it is evident that Bonzo is being over stimulated to the extent that when he returns to our client’s home he does not settle down in his basket in the kitchen but insists on sleeping on our client’s bed suggesting that your client may have erred in sticking to the strict rules agreed for his upbringing.

Last week your client failed to advise our client of her intention to take Bonzo to Scotland. It is important that our client is aware of Bonzo’s whereabouts at all times.

If your client insists on walking Bonzo close to traffic, then he must be vigilant in watching him and ensure that he keeps a tight hold of his lead. Reports that he was seen playing chicken with motor vehicles on the nearby dual carriageway on Sunday are most distressing.

Our client has invested in an insurance policy for Bonzo protecting against vet’s fees. Please ensure that your client pays half.

So it went on..

I like to believe that Bonzo matured into a gentle animal with a special spot before two fireplaces, but I’m not too sure.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

CHELSEA AND MOURINHO SEPARATE


Originally uploaded by Free-ers

The English football season always deluges us with high profile divorces. The one that won’t go away at the moment is happening down at Stamford Bridge where Mrs Chelsea has evicted Mr Jose Mourinho and given him a multi million pound pay-off too, if the press reports can be believed. Of course, no female bystander can understand how any woman would want to dump a gorgeous looking man like Jose. Also it seems that the young lads (a devoted and supportive family who are noted for the blue shirts they all wear) aren’t too happy either. Apparently some of them have taken to standing outside on the terraces wailing for Mr Mourinho by name. I assume Mrs Chelsea realised the pain she would cause to those close to her, as well as her own purse, before she took this dire step and must, therefore, have had her reasons.