Thursday, 20 December 2007


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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, (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.