Wednesday, 24 December 2008

CHRISTMAS PRESENT


The trouble with specialising in divorce cases is that you can begin to spot divorce everywhere even at Christmas time. So it was that I became extremely disturbed when visited by one of my neighbours this afternoon.
“Ran out,” she said, “And on Christmas Eve too. I wouldn’t care so much if it was just us, but it’s the children I’m more bothered about. It could hit them hard.”
Now just as I was beginning to think that my holiday hadn’t started after all, I realised we were on different planets. Certainly I came back to Earth with a bump when she mentioned the word “sellotape.”
“Have you got some I can use? I have to get their presents wrapped?”

Saturday, 20 December 2008

CHRISTMAS POST


Today was apparently the last day for posting anything you want delivering before Christmas. Apologies therefore to all those people who will instead receive greetings cards from me between Christmas and the end of the year; it turned out our last collection was at 10.45am and I missed it! Still don’t our rules on service deem first class post duly delivered on the second working day after posting? Well that’s going to have to be my defence as I’m struggling to come up with anything else.

Our postman is, of course, very busy at the moment, delivering cards and seasonal messages from people I always mean to see during the year but never quite manage to do so, relying on a two liner in a card instead for a quick update. Little Girl loves Christmas. She told me the other day that “It just feels so warm, it’s lovely.” I know what she means; a traditional time for peace and love.

Not so for my friend Constance who sent me a card. “Peace and goodwill to all men,” it said inside, and then she had added: “Except the ex and his solicitor, of course.”

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

LOOKING FORWARDS


This evening I have been to a school awards evening. The guest speaker was a person who had survived adversity and in so doing, and with the help of family and friends, had striven to take on new and more demanding challenges. His advice to students will have a particular resonance for many readers of this blog for he stressed that life's unexpected traumas can be the seeds from which to achieve greater things and that there is no point looking backwards, only forwards where your future lies.

Friday, 12 December 2008

SHANGHAI PYJAMAS


Shanghai Pyjamas
Originally uploaded by tiantiande


I learned today that officials in Shanghai are horrified by people taking to the streets in their pyjamas. Apparently parading in nightwear is a demonstration of wealth.

All of which reminds me of a divorcee who once upon a time took to parking his car outside his ex-wife’s house. He’d felt extremely bitter at the breakdown of their marriage and even a huge lottery win a few months later did little to assuage his pain. Whilst he invested a large chunk of his winnings in prestige motor cars with personalised plates, his hurt still showed when he parked them in rotation in front of the ex’s sitting room window. I confess I do wonder what he might have done had he lived in China; parked himself in nightshirt and cap outside her door perhaps?

Thursday, 11 December 2008

BLACK ICE


Anyone attempting to walk or drive along the footpaths and roads in my village this morning was in for a tough and traumatic time. Unexpected and almost imperceptibly they had changed into skating rinks of the treacherous kind. You think you know your route; you travel it every day; suddenly black ice hits and crack, with no prior warning, you’re down on your back or sliding and spinning out of control and into a ditch. Getting yourself back on your feet or onto the road, can seem like a herculean task, and shaking and nervousness lasts for hours or even days. Relationship breakdown, when it comes like a bolt from the blue can have the same effect, but it hurts deeper and lasts longer. Fortunately black ice does melt and bruises also heal.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

THE PANTO SEASON


The Panto Season is here again and it’s that time of year when “Oh no he didn’t,” “Oh yes he did,” rings out in theatres across the land as well as in the family courts. Little Girl and I made our annual pilgrimage last night, when we were also treated to the story of the couple who went round together after meeting in a revolving door, only for it to end in a travel agent’s with the last resort.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

MATCHMAKING


One of the organisations I am involved with has iron railings that are badly in need of painting. New laws may mean that absent parents who default in the payment of child support maintenance or parents with care who breach orders imposing contact arrangements could find themselves doing unpaid community work in the future. Maybe there’s some scope for matchmaking here!

Monday, 1 December 2008

A DOWNWARD TREND


As proceedings to repossess homes for non-payment of mortgages rise in number, a timely report from the Institute for Social and Economic Research, has concluded that falling house prices lead to more couples splitting up. Indeed the report states that “the partnership dissolution decision of owner-occupier couples is particularly responsive to unanticipated adverse real house price movements compared to unexpected gains”. In other words when your major asset loses £25,000 of its value and potentially plunges you into negative equity, it puts pressure on your relationship.

However, it would appear that a decrease in house values is not all bad news for couples, well not if they are living in the rented sector anyway. In such times, those couples are more likely to stick together as the prospect of being able to buy a property together becomes more feasible.

Friday, 28 November 2008

CELLULOID MOMENTS


If your partner has cheated on you, a trip to the cinema tonight may not be the best distraction:
“I’ve Loved you so Long” (12A) but never knew you were of such “Easy Virtue” (PG) and after the “Body of Lies” (15) all I need is a “Quantum of Solace” (12A).

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

JUNGLE ESCAPE


Television these days seems to be dominated by TV competitions where the public ultimately determines who wins or leaves the contest and our screen. I can only assume that such shows take their roots from the spectacle of gladiator combat in Ancient Rome when the decision as to whether a defeated gladiator lived or died, lay in the hands of the baying crowd. Little Girl is presently very much taken by one such competition entitled “I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here,” where a group of purported celebrities appear to lie around in the wet but humid Australian jungle until called upon to participate in some kind of stomach turning task, invariably involving tropical insects and reptiles or else the consumption of revolting sources of protein including strange parts from kangaroos.

I confess that I can only identify one or two of the competitors although I was surprised to see Martina Navratilova of tennis circuit fame amongst them. The Daily Mail seems to believe that she could be there because she’s lonely, following a reportedly acrimonious split from her partner after a seven year relationship. From what I've seen, however, anyone feeling down and alone after a break-up of whatever length should be extremely guarded if contacted to appear on a reality television programme, especially one set in the jungle. Forging friendships with stink bugs, cockroaches and snakes can hardly be the perfect antidote to loneliness; try meeting people closer to home instead and if you really do fancy getting closer to nature what about dog walking in the countryside; it has to be better for your health and well-being.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

IN MEMORIAM

Our elderly guinea pig died this week. Both Outdoor and Apprentice Men dug a hole at the bottom of the garden this weekend, so that we could bury him today. In the meantime Fuzzball, as he was known, has been lying in state in the garage, inside a shoebox lined with lace. Outdoor Man hadn’t wanted to dig the grave during the week, when the only times would have been before or after work. He was concerned lest, as the husband of a divorce lawyer, the neighbours might suspect the worst. “After all, they hardly expect we’d divorce like everyone else,” he explained. “As soon as I start digging a hole in the dark, they’ll be round here quizzing me about your health and safety!” Yes my husband does have a macabre sense of humour, but just in case there is any truth in the theory, maybe I’d better make a mental note to check on absent colleagues in future.

The trouble with death is that whilst we know it will happen one day, we never know when. That’s why I advise clients to make or change their wills as soon as possible. Whilst divorcing couples don’t necessarily make a habit of dying before completing the process it’s always prudent to have paperwork in order.

Once upon a time I received a letter from a client whose divorce I had just concluded, telling me that she intended to contact our wills department as I’d originally advised and in the meantime had been in touch with her pension scheme managers to nominate payment of her death in service benefit and had given them my firm’s contact details. A couple of years later I heard from the same scheme managers asking for my bank details as the client had died unexpectedly and wanted me to receive her death in service lump sum benefit valued at three times her annual salary. Obviously there had to be a mistake; no matter how good a job I had done for her, I did not believe that I could have been the intended beneficiary. Despite the letter that the client had written to me, there was no will and I extracted my old file to re-read the correspondence. It had clearly been the client’s intention for her two children to benefit and she also believed that she had done no more than pass my firm’s contact details to her pension administrator. Fortunately we were able to sort this, but how much easier if the paperwork had been in order.

Monday, 17 November 2008

CONSERVATIVE POLICY


The Conservative Party risks getting its policy on cohabiting couples badly wrong, judging by the proposals on family law announced this week by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith. Denying legal protection to couples who live together, however, is no way to strengthen the institution of marriage. The fact is that governments have a responsibility to make law based on society as it actually is, and the number of couples living together in the UK continues to increase. Governments should also ensure legal protection for the vulnerable.

Members of Resolution regularly see the injustice suffered when the relationships of cohabiting couples break down. Even after decades together, many people find themselves homeless and facing real financial hardship. This is fuelled by a widely-held misconception that cohabiting couples have “common law” rights combined with existing law that is unclear and inadequate.

That’s why Resolution wants a new law to protect cohabiting couples and hopes that the Government will support Lord Lester’s ‘Cohabitation Bill’ which he will be introducing in the Lords in December, aimed at giving rights to couples who live together.

Friday, 14 November 2008

VIRTUALLY DIVORCED


CORN furniture store 22
Originally uploaded by
Linden Lab


I confess that I don’t understand the fascination of virtual reality games. “What’s wrong with real life,” I find myself screaming. Little Girl and her friends, however, enjoy playing with Sims and I now learn that for adults addicted to the online world there are sites such as “Second Life”. There you create an avatar and then presumably live either a mirror image of your own life or, if you have the imagination, a totally different one. The website itself claims to offer “a 3-D virtual world created by its Residents..(which).. has grown explosively and today is inhabited by millions of Residents from around the globe.”

A real life London couple are reported today as divorcing because of the antics of the husband’s avatar. It seems it has been found indulging in extra-marital relations with a female avatar and both the real and virtual wives have taken umbrage. So much so that the real wife has spoken to the press and is quoted as describing the actions of her husband’s avatar as the “ultimate betrayal” and “cheating.”

Mind much can be explained by the names of the avatars involved. The wife’s was called Skye, leading one to assume that she could go round with her head in the clouds. The husband’s was called Barmy, which could well have summed up his whole view of virtual life, especially as the husband himself has purportedly said that it’s “a big fuss about nothing.”

Of course, if virtual break-ups are to become commonplace I am wondering if there’s any scope for me to get involved. I was thinking of an avatar called Miss Fortune offering virtual sympathy and divorce. However, I’ve since read that the wife has found a new relationship playing “World of Warcraft” so maybe I should just think about opening a firm in a virtual Anderson shelter under the style of Armageddon and Phoenix.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

SATISFACTION GUARANTEED


Today I had cause to return a faulty electrical item to a major high street store. No questions asked, the shop assistant obligingly took back the broken appliance now 6 months old and handed me a new one. It had of course come with a warranty guaranteeing it to be free of defects for 24 months and offering a replacement if it wasn’t. All of which reminds me of the client who once upon a time asked me how she could invoke the guarantee under her marriage certificate. It seemed she didn’t particularly want a divorce but was looking instead to return her husband and get a substitute in his place. Interestingly she wasn’t bothered about a younger model either; something pretty much the same would do fine, she explained. When I advised that marriage didn’t work like that she chuckled and told me she’d had her doubts but as the certificate was the same colour and lay-out as the one she was given for her double-glazing, she thought it was worth a try.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

FIREWORKS


This evening my peace has been interrupted by loud bangs as the sky has been lit up by fireworks. At first I thought we could actually see and hear the celebrations on the other side of the Atlantic; congratulations America, by the way, on your electoral outcome. It has however now dawned on me that tonight is of course the evening that we celebrate the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot and the foiling of the plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament way back in 1605. Now of course in those days this could hardly be described as a victory for democracy when there were no elections anyway and the plot was hatched with the sole aim of killing the King when he visited Parliament for the state opening along with as many members of his family and the Protestant aristocracy as possible. Still it provides this country with a cause to celebrate with pyrotechnics and as result there cannot be a man, woman or child in the UK today who does not know what a firework looks and sounds like when it explodes in the sky. So much so that clients regularly use such terminology to describe the behaviour of their spouses: light the touch paper and he goes off like a rocket; she just explodes like a Roman Candle; she’s a right little firecracker when she starts; or, and I never did understand this, it’s as though he spins round and round like a Catherine Wheel!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

FLUSHED WITH SUCCESS


At the moment it is very difficult if you want to separate from your partner but are unable to move out and on until your property sells. The housing market seems to have ground to a very definite stop especially at what traditionally has always been a slow time of the year anyway. Imagine therefore my dismay to return from holiday and realise that I had missed one of the biggest sale success stories of recent times. It seems that a public convenience in Walham Green London sold at auction for more than 4 times its original guide price! Is there a moral here? If you want to sell your house should you try living in the bathroom? Or what about seeking planning permission to turn your des res into a toilet block?

Sunday, 2 November 2008

GOING BACK


I am just back from my first sustained period of sunshine this year. Yes a whole 7 days of it! Mind I had to go all the way to the Canary Islands to find it. It’s true that sometimes you have to leave home to find whatever it is that you are looking for. In my case there was no problem in returning as the whole family went and came back with me. Leaving and then returning, however, isn’t necessarily always so easy.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

AN ECONOMIC DOWNTURN


I am taking a lesson from the political spin doctors. No longer will any of my clients suffer from marriage breakdown, crisis, crunch, turmoil or meltdown. Instead and in an attempt to instil a feel-good factor, they are going to have relationship downturns!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

PETROL PRICE


At last Petrol Price has returned (to less than a pound a litre at local filling stations). Good news for Ms Motorist tormented and devastated by the recent hike. But how is she responding? Will she give up her bicycle to readily embrace the power of Petrol again and what about those other Motorists who have been cautiously crawling along at 30 mph in derestricted areas or catching the bus? Are any of them able to believe that Petrol Price will remain static? Is it in fact only a matter of time before Petrol Price is off again?
It’s always difficult to shake off dependency but sometimes things can become so hard or heartbreaking that it’s the sensible option.

Monday, 20 October 2008

PEACHES


The newly-wed daughter of one of our better known but now older pop stars has apparently given an interview to Heat magazine in which she claims that she doesn’t necessarily believe that her marriage will last forever. Some will call her a pessimist, others a realist and there are those who will criticise her for being prepared to readily forget that part of the marriage vows which requires the couple to affirm their commitment “till death us do part”. Whichever, she’s only reflecting statistics and her own take on what she’s seen amongst family, friends and society at large.

Friday, 17 October 2008

HOLLYWOOD


Friday night and both Little Girl and Apprentice Man have disappeared out, leaving their parents with the TV and each other for company. Little Girl has gone to a friend’s for a sleepover but Apprentice Man told me he was off to Hollywood, or at least I thought that was what he said. I got quite excited at the prospect and handed him a bundle of my business cards in anticipation that he might give them out whilst he was over there; well you never know who could have been ringing for advice on Monday morning. Turns out, however, that it’s only a fancy dress party. Mind, unshaven in beanie-hat and sunglasses, I’m not sure which A list celebrity he’s supposed to be. Still so long as he keeps those glasses on, nobody will recognise him as my son!

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

IN POVERTY


Finally the news everyone had been anticipating for sometime broke to day. Madonna and Guy Ritchie are to divorce. Immediately speculation has mounted as to the extent of the financial settlement which will be agreed or else determined by a court. One thing is for certain, neither will be in the position of having to worry how to meet their utility bills or buy shoes for the children.

It isn’t always the case and in most marriage break-ups the simple truth is that the income that kept one household can’t keep two households to the same standard. Fortunately that doesn’t mean that divorced families live in poverty, however hard their situations might seem.

Every day 25,000 people die as a result of malnourishment, and illnesses such as chronic dysentery, pneumonia, tuberculosis and aids are all rife in the most poverty stricken areas of the world

Sadly and sometimes to properly understand our predicament we do have to make comparisons and realise that there is always someone worse off than we are. The bills might be stacking up but how many people in the UK today are actually suffering from starvation or going unshod or unclothed? In the Third World it is a very different story. I urge everyone to make some gesture to help. If you feel you have no money to donate to a worthwhile fund to relieve poverty, don’t fret; sit still and click here and/or here to give help without even dipping into your pocket or leaving your PC.

Friday, 10 October 2008

COD WAR REKINDLED


A couple, let’s call them Ms I and Mr U.K, used to argue about fish, particularly cod. In time they learned to compromise and share. Now, however, they’ve become openly hostile again. This time it seems the issue is about money. He put some in her accounts and she is claiming that she can’t return it. As a result he’s seized everything he can of hers and isn’t giving it back. There is at least a dialogue going on, but it’s understandably heated.

In the meantime the gossipmongers have got to work and amongst the scurrilous scandal being whipped up about Ms I, I’ve heard that she eats rams’ testicles and believes in elves.

Have you ever wondered why divorce lawyers don’t have more success in resolving matters without undue acrimony?

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

A GLOBAL NIGHTMARE


Finally I am giving in and blogging about the credit crisis. With the world’s banks in turmoil, everyone understandably seems to be discussing and worrying about global meltdown and the credit crunch.

Not to be outdone, I found myself participating in such a discussion with one of my colleagues in the office this morning. As he specialises in insolvency work, I suggested that he could at least draw comfort from the fact that his must be an area of work that sadly will be in high demand in such times.

“Insolvency Practitioners have a saying,” he responded, presumably trying to reassure me also, “when the money runs out, so does the wife!”

Saturday, 4 October 2008

UNSUNG HEROES


On Thursday evening I attended the region’s Charity Awards, when the unsung heroes from Durham and Tees Valley were recognised for their contributions and we were entertained by children from a local dance and drama organisation.

In cases of family breakdown, it can often be the children themselves who are the unsung heroes of drama. Despite their tender years they begin to move from one to another with all the skills of UN peace envoys as they negotiate, manipulate and barter. Regrettably there are times when they can appear to show the strains of conflict and I recall a time when parents with care would regularly raise the issue of bed-wetting after a contact visit as a potential reason for stopping such. “Sounds like we can deal with that with rubber sheets and some judicious parental encouragement,” one of our local District Judges would remark.

All of which reminds me of a second awards evening that I also attended recently. This time it was to recognise teenage sporting achievements. Fittingly the certificates were presented by Jo Jackson, an Olympic bronze medal winner from North Yorkshire, who had claimed her victory at Beijing in the swimming pool. The Master of Ceremonies couldn’t resist telling the audience that he too had learned to swim at an early age, although not apparently through choice. He claimed that he had shared a bed with his older brothers, all of whom would wet the bed, causing him to wake up in the deep end!

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

CARNIVORES


Amongst the tributes paid this week to the late Paul Newman, I heard that in talking about his longstanding and devoted relationship with his wife, he was known to have expressed the view that there is no point going out for a hamburger when you can stay in and have steak instead. I understand that he wasn’t actually talking about food either.

As a divorce lawyer I can certainly say that I deal daily in cases where clients have gone for the hamburger option instead. Whether they’re any happier as a result I don’t know, though I suspect the McDonald’s and Burger King Empires might be.

Monday, 29 September 2008

PUTTING PROBLEMS INTO PERSPECTIVE


I have just got back from a weekend in Venice. Flying into Marco Polo airport we were able to make out various landmarks from the sky, which helped to put our destination into perspective. It didn’t help us, however, when down at ground level we found ourselves lost in the labyrinth of narrow streets, criss-crossing the canal system. It’s the same when calamity strikes. Caught up in the midst of the crossfire, it’s hard to see a way to deal with the problem let alone analyse its causes. Put some distance between you and it, and gradually everything can be brought into perspective.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

PANDORA'S BOX


Media coverage this week of redundant employees leaving their workplaces with personal possessions in cardboard boxes was reminiscent of the situation so many clients find themselves in. Frequently they opt to move out hastily taking only what they can carry with them and decisions have to be made about what they leave behind. Indeed I’m regularly asked what the potential departer should take in such circumstances. Invariably my advice suggests those items of sentimental value that cannot be replaced.

Once upon a time however a client called Pandora chose to vacate her home of 22 years at 8 o’clock one morning, immediately she had eaten her breakfast. In her haste to get away, however, she left all her worldly goods behind, including a box she had carefully packed and placed on the table in front of her. When she came to see me, she was distraught and I duly wrote to her husband’s solicitor proposing that the box which my client had left on the table be delivered to my office.
Three days later a package arrived.
“I wonder what’s in there,” mused my secretary as she gave the box a shake and the package responded with a rustling noise.

I telephoned Pandora who dashed down to collect her belongings. In her impatience, she ripped off the wrapping in my presence to reveal…………… a box of cornflakes from the breakfast table! Somehow I don’t think it was what she was expecting, though she had to concede it had been on the table when she left. On my part this episode has always given a completely different meaning to the expression “Pandora’s Box.”

Thursday, 18 September 2008

MAPPING OUT THE FUTURE


Many people, whether they realise it or not, map out their lives. High achievers begin to do it at school as they plan their A’ level studies, choose universities and career paths, linking these in turn with relationships, marriage and children. Others give higher priority to domestic plans; indeed my friend Constance regularly boasts that she achieved her main ambition by marrying at 24. Understandably divorce never figured in her plans. “That was the unexpected bit,” Constance says.

We like to feel that we are in control of our lives and then something calamitous happens to challenge all those presumptions and the natural order of things as we had understood them to be. Not everyone can cope with the unexpected like Constance. “I guess I just like feeling and behaving in a totally dysfunctional manner,” she’s told me. For most people, however, it’s scary when their neatly ordered existence begins to spiral out of control.

Thanks therefore to Soul Mating for listing 50 divorce blogs to find comfort and help in hard times. Constance too is beginning to get her life back into order. Apparently she even made a will last week and reckons that next week she’s going to plan her funeral service and wants to know if I’ll say a few words. “Not if I’m 107 and don’t have any teeth,” I’ve told her.

Seriously though we never know what’s round the corner and that’s also why a group of my colleagues has organised a free session offering advice on how to plan for a secure and happy future; somehow I don’t think many employees from Lehman Brothers will be attending.

Monday, 15 September 2008

A PAMPER DAY


When stressed or depressed wisdom dictates that we need to look after ourselves. So it is that Spa Days with mud baths and massages have grown in popularity and are highly promoted as a means of inducing personal well-being.

Yesterday in the company of a group of friends, I had the pleasure of a walk in the Eden Valley. Whilst the weather was kind, conditions underfoot were affected by the weeks of dismal rain we’ve been enduring. Squish, squash, squelch, squelch was the order of the day. Needless to say I fell in it, got my leg stuck in it and was generally covered in mud when we were finished. Now I don’t suppose that mud did much to cleanse my pores or moisturise my skin, but at the end of the day I had a radiant complexion and felt totally de-stressed and fitter than when I had set off. What’s more all the exercise and fresh air ensured that I enjoyed a long and peaceful night’s sleep.

As an alternative therapy muddy walks in the countryside have to be recommended and, unlike many spa treatments, don’t cost a penny!

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

NOW HOW DO I WRITE THAT?


The President of the Spelling Society, John Wells the Emeritus Professor of Phonetics at University College, London, is reportedly calling for the English language’s strict rules of spelling and grammar to be relaxed. He favours greater freedom and believes that the English used in text messaging and e-mails is leading the way forward.

GR8. DO U FINK IL EVA B ABL 2 DIVORSS CLNTS USIN DIS MANA OF TXT & PUNKTU8SHUN?

Monday, 8 September 2008

WIFE DUMPING


The UK’s first ever Wife Carrying Championships took place at the weekend in Northern Ireland. According to Wikipedia the sport was introduced in Finland but has since spread to Estonia, the USA and Canada and now it seems here as well. There is an International Wife Carrying Rules Committee and this has provided that the track must be a mix of sand, grass and gravel; be 253.5 metres in length and contain two dry obstacles and one wet one. Also the wife must be at least 49 kilograms in weight and, somewhat disturbingly, need not be the carrier’s own wife but could be his neighbour’s or even unmarried. Whatever the relationship, several were reportedly dropped on the ground at the weekend, not least when couples attempted the water jump. Oh well it’s gratifying to learn that divorce and separation aren’t the only way wives get dumped these days!

Thursday, 4 September 2008

BEST FRIENDS


The results of a survey by Petplan which insures dogs and cats in America were released today. It disclosed some interesting statistics including the fact that over 66% of those participating would rather share a desert island with their pet than their partner, and some 70% sleep with their pets! So what did I learn from that? America is a country full of unhappily married people perhaps or alternatively I could have a much more satisfying relationship with Little Girl’s guinea pig than Outdoor Man?

Curiously I don’t think it asked how many would divorce their cat, dog or guinea pig if they could.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

SAYING IT DIFFERENTLY


These days there seem to be greetings cards for every occasion. So, if you want a break from texting and can remember how to set pen to paper and stick a stamp on an envelope, it could be a novel form of communication. Divorce cards are no longer a novelty but hats off to Brenda McCants for coming up with something a little more unique: cards for what she describes as “blending moments.” Drawing on her own humorous experiences of uniting two families as one, she has created some comic offerings for when the spoken word just isn’t enough. The pictures are all based on cooking ingredients or utensils, so that you can presumably “say it with vegetables.”

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

A MISMATCH


During our recent holiday, my feet were picked out by my family as objects of derision which apparently no sensible person would choose for the ends of their legs. Of course, I didn’t help myself when it came to light that the trekking shoes I have worn for years are a complete mismatch in that the left one is three sizes bigger than the right. Curiously I’ve never noticed before, but now that I have they’ve become most uncomfortable; incompatible you might say. I now have to stop every hundred yards to retie the laces on the left and the days of feet striding out in unison seem to be gone.


Looking back it’s strange nobody ever pointed out the defect to me at the outset or that I failed to inspect the labels carefully. We felt so comfortable together that it was all that mattered and there was no reason to look further. Moreover we’ve had great times together: climbing the steps of the Eiffel Tower; trekking in India, wandering along footpaths and bridleways where hiking boots would have seemed like overkill and pounding the streets of so many towns and cities both here and abroad.


In a mix of soft beige leather, manmade fibre and black rubber I thought they had an almost sophisticated look; that is until parts of them began to stray and stretch with age.


That moment long ago when I tried them on in the shop and my feet declared them a perfect match is now but a distant and tainted memory.


Despite the criticism thrown at them, however, my feet themselves remain a perfect couple. Further, and just for the record, they do intend to continue living side by side, happily ever after; once I find a new pair of matching shoes, that is!

Friday, 15 August 2008

IN FLAMES


Nobody ever knows how they will cope in a stressful situation; will they go to pieces or will they find themselves in the middle of an unwanted learning curve coming out stronger at the other end? Well today my resource levels were put to the test when I was awoken by the phone ringing at 6.30am with an urgent request to contact the police as a result of a large blaze at the hotel adjoining our office which, so the helpful police officer informed me, was still burning out of control. Half asleep and with the vague notion that my means of earning a living was going up in smoke, I grasped for my copy of the firm’s Disaster Recovery Plan and so began a morning of telephone calls. At least having a set of written instructions went some way to helping me cope; that and the limitless support of staff. It was 2pm before I was allowed inside to inspect the premises in the presence of a fireman. Amazingly and despite the heat and flames which had caused the local brigade to bring in reinforcements, there appears to have been no damage and once the street is allowed to re-open (hopefully over the weekend) it will be business as normal.
What did I learn?
1 Stay calm
2 Don’t get cross about all the people who want to gawp or gossip
3 Ask for help where it’s needed
4 Have a strategy and work to it
5 Don’t be afraid to ask questions and insist on talking to the people who really know what is happening

Thursday, 14 August 2008

REVENGE!

Whilst I disagree totally with the whole concept of revenge, the extent to which many hurt spouses will go to seek such never ceases to amaze and in some instances amuse. Take for instance an advert which has appeared on Ebay where a woman called Anna in Queensland is seeking to auction souvenirs from a lovemaking session that she interrupted in her own bedroom between her adulterous husband and a lady she now knows only as Kylie.

She did try to advertise the lady’s panties but the advert was apparently removed by Ebay as it does not permit the sale of second-hand underwear on the site, so now and at a reduced price you can bid for a photograph of them instead!

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

ALL A MATTER OF ODOUR


So now we have it – the reason divorce rates have soared since the 1960’s: it’s the good old contraceptive pill. Well it’s been blamed for the breakdown of moral values before but now it seems that it actually causes women to pick the wrong partner!

A team at the University of Newcastle has discovered that the odour preferences of women on the pill are affected, causing them to pick Mr Wrong instead of Mr Right. Later in their marriage when they come off the pill, it’s only to discover that he doesn’t smell right after all and then the bickering really sets in. Imagine waking up one day and finding a skunk in your bed!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

BELFAST


Belfast is a city with a recent history of violence and therefore until recently shunned by tourists. Fortunately all that is changing and during our holiday we spent a pleasant afternoon a couple of weeks ago, strolling around its centre.

Greeted by the delights of the Crown Liquor Saloon (a Victorian Gin Palace now in the hands of the National Trust), we moved on past the Opera House, City Hall and Albert Clock Tower (Belfast’s answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa) to the River Lagan and views of the twin cranes named Samson and Goliath that dominate the skyline. The sights mentioned all contrasted with the new developments that are taking place including the recently completed Victoria Square Shopping Complex and around the dock area.

Tours are also offered to the slipway from which the Titanic was launched and around Harland & Wolff’s historic offices. “Going down like the Titanic,” is not however a phrase that you want to hear when you are sailing, so we shunned that option along with a black cab tour of the Shankill and Falls Roads area of the City.

I’m not convinced that we should ever be keen to promote ourselves by showing a pride in violence or troubles at home, though finding the strength of character to overcome such and being proud of that achievement is another matter. So it is that, akin to the regeneration that has been taking place in other northern industrial cities like Newcastle and Liverpool, Belfast is now quickly becoming an attractive place to live and visit.

Friday, 8 August 2008

THE OLYMPIC GAMES


The Olympic Games' Opening Ceremony in Beijing this evening was a showpiece, celebrating the union of the young of the world as they gathered in the presence of 90,000 invited guests and onlookers. It was not a coincidence that today was also the luckiest day of the century in China and that the Olympic Ceremony starting at 8pm shared the day with countless Chinese couples all looking to tie the knot on 8.8.08.

Let us hope that something which began with a ceremony of such extravaganza and is to take place under a flame of passion draws on the good luck charm of the date and that the oath by the participants to show each other respect and not to cheat is a lasting one.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

KINGSHIP & SACRIFICE


On our recent sailing trip we paid a visit to Dublin. In a city famed for Guinness and friendly craic, if a change of scene is sought then I can certainly recommend the National Museum of Ireland particularly its exhibition area entitled Kingship & Sacrifice. There amongst the other exhibits of an earlier age are the actual remains of Peat Bog Men uncovered in Ireland. They had all met gruesome deaths especially the young man destined never to be King, whose nipples had been cut so that devoted subjects would be unable to suckle from them. It would be nice to think that almost 5,000 years later the human race had moved on and abuse and violence no longer exists. Sadly, as we know, this is not the case, not even in the home where everyone should have the right to feel safe.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

LETTERS HOME


It is now accepted practice in most schools that, when a couple has separated, letters home about little Johnnie, Simon or Rebecca, are written to both parents individually. Where there is a failure to observe this practice it has become customary for family lawyers to contact the Head Teacher or even the Local Education Authority to point out the implications of Parental Responsibility.

I note that the latest plans, commencing next month, are for more letters to be written to parents. This time they will relate to their children’s size because parents themselves are no longer deemed capable of judging whether or not their son or daughter is a healthy weight. Although the word obese is not to be used, the term “very overweight” being considered politically more correct, I can’t help wondering if these missives will generally be referred to as Obesity Letters.

Also, on how many occasions will lawyers get involved in correspondence with the relevant Primary Care Trust to ensure that letters are sent to both parents separately, or will it do this automatically? Will there also be scope for legal argument in courts concerning the welfare and best interests of a child based on their contents?

Beware! Allegations that you feed fried Mars Bars and potato crisps to your children for breakfast may soon have the weight of Nanny Government behind them.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

THE SHIPPING FORECAST


I am just back from bobbing around on a little boat in the Irish Sea for 2 weeks, moving from marina to anchorage in a partnership of wind and sail. As in any relationship you have to be aware of external factors to keep the momentum and to move in harmony from place to place. Inevitably this means that you don’t always go when or to where or you planned and the itinerary changes according to sea and weather conditions. “Wind variable South to South West 5 or 6, 3 to 4 later; sea state moderate or rough; visibility poor,” becomes your staple diet and it is important to be ready to adapt and change course accordingly. If you don’t at best you’ll be miserable and at worst your boat will surely founder.

Friday, 18 July 2008

CHINESE WHISPERS


The divorce story to hit the press today involves a stand alone website set up by divorcee Gary Dean who wants to set the record straight and correct Chinese whispers to the effect that he fleeced his former wife of 20 years. He does this by revealing the terms of their financial settlement agreed in the High Court in Preston, last year and which he says comprised a £3.7 million settlement along with jewellery, cars and school fees. I wonder if the site has succeeded in quietening the rumourmongers and if there have been any other repercussions: begging letters or queues of potential second wives spring to mind.

Mr Dean reveals that he originally offered more than £3.7million to settle the case but his wife issued legal proceedings regardless. “I don’t quite get that bit,” he confesses. “Quite why we both went through almost two years of huge legal bills and the stress of fighting the financial aspects of divorce, I really don’t know,’ he muses.

I doubt if his ex- wife , who is understandably keeping her thoughts to herself, is going to set up a website in reply, so we too can contemplate on the wisdom of that move. Certainly, court applications are made for a variety of reasons, for instance: by some in anticipation that it will force the other side to increase their offer; sometimes because it is believed that there are more assets than are being revealed; on occasions because the client believes that if a court decides he’ll find the decision and process easier to accept and manage than having to negotiate and agree terms; frequently because those offers to settle which have been made are woefully pitiful. Also we mustn’t forget those cases where the issue of proceedings is completely absurd and it can be seen from the outset that economically there will be no winners and only losers.


Sunday, 13 July 2008

LIVING TOGETHER INJUSTICE


Resolution is joining forces with one of Britain’s top law makers to introduce a Bill in the House of Lords this autumn. Resolution is supporting the Bill as part of a new campaign to end the injustice and financial hardship faced by thousands of cohabiting couples, carers and siblings who live together. The Bill to give rights to couples who live together will be introduced by Lord Lester of Herne Hill QC, a veteran human rights lawyer who successfully introduced the Forced Marriages Bill and was instrumental in developing the recent Civil Partnership Act.

It is a scandal in modern Britain that existing law does almost nothing to prevent people from losing their home or sliding into poverty if their relationship breaks down or their partner dies. Sensibly drafted legislation is urgently needed to tackle the vulnerability not only of unmarried cohabiting couples and their children but also co- dependent carers and siblings who live together.

The Bill’s introduction is part of a new “Living Together” campaign, launched by Resolution and Lord Lester’s Odysseus Trust.

Joyce and Sybil Burden, the elderly sisters who took their 30-year fight to protect their home from inheritance tax right up to the European Court of Human Rights, have added their support to the campaign: “We have always tried to secure each other’s future after the death of one, but have found it impossible under this system. It was a bitter disappointment to lose our case at the European Court. We do hope you can help us, as after all these years, we are getting quite past it for ourselves.”

One in six couples in the UK co-habit and do not marry according to the Office of National Statistics and this is predicted to rise to one in four by 2031. More than half of cohabitants (53%) still falsely believe in the existence of Common Law marriage. However, the Government has decided to postpone action on recent Law Commission proposals to reform cohabitation law pending research into the cost and benefits of reforms introduced in Scotland.

Lord Lester says that Britain’s more than two million cohabiting couples and co-dependents should not be made to wait any longer for justice: "The Government's proposed research won’t even begin until 2010 and if cost was the issue, one has to ask why the Government specifically excluded research on cost from the Law Commission’s original brief. Many other countries, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand already have protection for cohabiting couples. It is high time that Britain had a family legal system fit for the 21st century.”

The Government’s timid response also flies in the face of growing popular support for reform. Findings from the British Social Attitudes Survey, published earlier this year, show that almost nine out of ten people think that a cohabiting partner should have a right to financial provision if their relationship is a long-term one, has involved prioritising one partner’s career or includes children.

The campaign will also look at ways to extend protection to those who cannot marry but nevertheless live together in a co-dependent way. For example, it would cover siblings such as the Burden sisters, elderly parents and children who live with them and care for them.

The Bill would protect the vulnerable without equating living together to marriage or civil partnership in every way. For example, the Bill would apply only to people living in the same household for a minimum period of time in which the parties have provided a financial or other commitment to each other.

To protect freedom of choice, couples who wish to do so could “opt out” of the scheme provided legal advice is sought by both parties to protect the vulnerable.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

A HAMMY TRIAL


Today in Great Dunmow, Essex an historic competition took place to find the happiest married couple. Known as the Dunmow Flitch Trial and dating back to 1104, the event takes place every 4 years. Entrants have to convince the jury that in a year and a day they have not wished themselves unwed. The winners are rewarded with a flitch of bacon (otherwise known as a half pig), whilst runners up make do with a joint of gammon. It must be the only set of proceedings involving couples where the aim is to show how much you love each other rather than to seek a divorce.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

RUSSIAN REVENGE


Oh dear we’ve just had another story of the effect excessive drinking can have on relationships in Russia. Like this report, it’s nasty and presumably will require a full investigation and the potential for criminal sanctions. Dear reader, never ever murder your spouse no matter how enraged you might feel and stick to couch potatoes not sandwiches.

Monday, 7 July 2008

THE GREEN DIVORCE


Everywhere we turn these days green alternatives are being offered. Browsing through magazines, I have come across both eco-dating and the environmentally friendly wedding. Options for eco-dating vary widely but can include pursuits such as compost heap building, litter picking, dry stone walling or saving wildlife or rain forests in far flung destinations. I even read about a speed version where you start an assigned task with one co-volunteer and then every 10 minutes you change partners until presumably either the task is finished or you meet the labourer of your dreams. Conversely earth-saving weddings involve invitations on recycled paper, rose petal confetti and a wedding present list of fair-trade goods, not to mention a cycling honeymoon (using a tandem of course).

It has set me thinking and so I would now like to be the first to offer the ultimate green divorce. What about all communications by e-mail save for forwarding the decree absolute, which should be kept in a safe place, in an envelope that can be recycled; payment by telephone using a credit card and all work conducted under energy saving light bulbs. Any further suggestions will, of course, be given serious consideration.

Friday, 4 July 2008

A CONFLICT OF LAWS


Why is it that the media has twisted remarks made by Lord Phillips the Lord Chief Justice? In a speech at the East London Muslim Centre, reminiscent of comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury not so long ago, the Lord Chief Justice is reported as saying that Sharia Law has a place in the English Legal System but that severe physical punishments such as flogging, stoning and the cutting off of hands would not be acceptable. The Lord Chief Justice was, of course, talking about the possibility of parties agreeing to use Sharia law as a basis for mediated settlements rather than using court proceedings, whilst emphasising that there is no question of Sharia courts sitting in this country and that so far as the law is concerned those living in this country are governed by English and Welsh law.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was pilloried recently for suggesting that Sharia law should be embraced giving the example of family disputes in particular. The Lord Chief Justice, however, pointed out that our system already goes a long way towards accommodating this suggestion. Indeed my own experience in divorces concerning a dowry is that in cases between Muslims, Sharia requires the woman to keep her dowry and this is inevitably the anticipated outcome. Conversely though the Lord Chief Justice was clearly not suggesting that women oppressed and treated unequally by a set of legal principles should be forced to agree that their future financial position will be determined by Islamic religious law and nor that the talaq (where a husband can divorce a wife simply by reciting “I divorce you” on three separate occasions) should apply.

As Resolution stated in response: “ Individuals should be allowed the freedom to govern their lives in accordance with their religious beliefs provided that those beliefs and traditions do not contradict the fundamental principle of equality on which this country’s laws are based.

There’s a strong history of religious law living alongside civil law in this country, and certainly mediation and other forms of dispute resolution are useful methods for people to use to resolve family disputes but they must be used to find solutions which are consistent with the basic principles of family law in this country and people must always have redress to the civil courts where they so choose”.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

TAX CREDITS


The sun has been shining long after I’ve left work and I’ve been able to spend the evenings pottering in the garden. It’s always a shame to be tied to your desk or inside a court room when the weather is so nice, especially when it invariably seems to rain at weekends. Curiously one of my colleagues at Latimer Hinks was even laughing last week at the prospect of another summer of wet weekends and we all being unaware of how nice the weather is during the week, as we beaver away dispensing legal advice indoors.

One of the difficult things about divorce is the fact that, save in exceptional circumstances, the income that kept one household cannot realistically keep two households to the same standard. Hence where one spouse previously stayed at home or worked only part-time, separation can bring with it the prospect of returning to the workplace or increasing hours. No more weekdays tending the garden or stretching out on the lawn as the fancy takes you. Fortunately the current tax credit system is designed to ease the pain with financial incentives for those who work at least 16 hours a week and, better still, there are no deductions for maintenance payments.

I suppose you could describe them as a ray of sunshine amongst what might otherwise seem an impossible situation. Locked away working during the summer months, everyone can do with a little drop of sunshine. For more information click here.