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.