Wednesday, 30 January 2008

MEMORIES


Recently I have been rationalising my vast collection of photographs, sorting through some of my oldest albums and selecting only specific photos for a new pristine album spanning the first thirty years of my life. Whilst on the one hand you can find yourself wallowing in nostalgia and memories looking at old photos there’s also a sense of empowerment when you come to decide whether to jettison or retain, determining what you want for the future and with it the ability to appear to re-write history. I suppose when I move onto my digital collections, I’ll even be able to get the airbrush out! Except you can never rework the past, photographic memento or not it really happened. Still I don’t have to carry all the memories around with me forever and with time they do fade; a little bit like those photos I’ve found from the era when black and white Polaroid pictures were all the rage, some of which are now virtually blank glossy paper.

Monday, 28 January 2008

PAID LEAVE


It was reported today that staff at a Japanese marketing company are permitted paid leave to recover from the heart ache of a relationship break up. Even better, the older you are the more time off you get; the logic being that it takes older staff longer to find a new love and therefore their break-ups tend to be more serious.

Now before everyone gets very excited and decides to apply for jobs in Tokyo, I can tell you that it would appear that the company concerned, Hime & Co, only has six female employees and that the paid leave extends to one day a year for under 24s; two days for those between 25 and 29 and three days for the over 30’s. It sounds to me that this could be more of a marketing ploy than a serious employee benefit or opportunity for recovery.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

NEGLECT


I have been guilty of neglect. It came home to me tonight when I realised it was time to go round and water my house plants. Now I really love flora and fauna and my house plants in particular but there still never seem to be enough hours in the day to tend to their needs. Hence it was with guilt and realisation that as I finally undertook this little job, not only could I not remember when I had last wandered around my home with a jug of water, but I was also appalled to see how unhealthy they all looked. When others rely on you for a two way relationship, you have to fulfil your side of the bargain. I have not.

Friday, 25 January 2008

COHABITATION - LAW REFORM


Findings from the British Social Attitudes report published on Wednesday by the National Centre for Social Research back the case for urgent reform of the law affecting couples who live together. The new report revealed widespread confusion over what protection live together couples have under the law, with 51 percent of people believing that cohabiting couples have rights as “common law” spouses – but no such rights exist.

A government-funded awareness campaign in 2004 has clearly failed to get the message across that living together does not provide cohabiting couples with financial rights if their relationship ends, even if they have lived together for many years and have had children together. Instead, these couples face increased insecurity and distress at the time of break up.

Resolution has been calling for a new law to protect cohabiting couples since 2000. Its members, including myself, regularly witness the injustices created by the current situation, including financial hardship and even homelessness.

On a more positive note, the report found that nine in ten people think that a cohabiting partner should have a right to financial provision if their relationship is a long-term one, includes children and has involved prioritising one partner’s career over the other’s.

Resolution very much hopes that the Government is listening and urges it to commit itself to reform that will provide cohabiting couples with a legal safety net.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

HAUNTED


Last night in the company of fellow members of our local business club, I enjoyed a tour behind the scenes at Darlington’s Civic Theatre. As well as getting to stand on the stage, we peeped at areas the audience never gets to see whilst the manager entertained us with ghost stories. It seems that Flyman Jim treads the rafters; Signor Pepi, the original owner, occasionally comes through from his private quarters to observe the odd ballet and an unnamed gent in top hat and tails rocks on a seat in the dress circle. All three are purportedly trapped between this world and the next, condemned to revisit old haunts in perpetuity.

None of the spectres made an appearance during our visit. If they had, and drawing on my expertise as a divorce lawyer, was there anything that I could have said to try to help them out of their predicament?

I don’t think that “You have to let go, look to the future and get on with your life,” would somehow have been appropriate.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

CHANGE OF NAME


It is an enshrined principle of English law that we can change our names by usage and repute. There is also no binding rule that women must take their husband’s names on marriage. Most do, but personally I rejected the title Mrs Outdoor Man.

Not surprisingly many women also revert to their maiden names after divorce and whilst some make deeds to verify the change, theoretically this is not necessary.

We recently reached a milestone in our house when Little Girl (not yet 12) measured in taller than me. I confess to being somewhat peeved by this, it having taken the greater part of half a century to acquire at full stretch my total height of 5 feet and 2 inches (1.57 metres) and she being barely out of nappies! Hence and despite her repeated requests for a name change, I am resisting and wearing high heels indoors instead.

Monday, 21 January 2008

ONE WIFE GOOD; TWO WIVES ILLEGAL


If any bigamists out there wanted a salutary lesson on the consequences of their illegal act, it was given in our local Crown Court this month. A former soldier who married for a second time without divorcing his first wife was given a 9 month suspended prison sentence and a 3 month curfew between 9pm and 5am.

He had split from his wife of three years in 2001 and then gone through a second marriage ceremony with another woman at an army base in Germany in late 2006, declaring himself to be a bachelor. It was reported that the offence came to light when, in an argument with wife number 2, he shouted “I wish I had stayed with my first wife.” Something of a giveaway you might say.

The Judge took the view that as offences of bigamy go, it fell into the less serious category, the second marriage having been conducted for neither gain nor reward and with no obvious motivation.

I can only assume that the curfew is designed to permit time for a divorce whilst reducing the opportunity to meet anyone else and marry for a third time in the interim.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

IT'S RAINING

It rained today.
Yesterday it rained too.
Everywhere is dull and grey and sodden.
It rained last week and the week before that too. Before that there was wet snow.
It rains. It drizzles. It pours.
It’s forecast to rain again tomorrow, and the day after.
There was a brief period of respite yesterday when I spotted the first garden flower of the year, a tiny yellow polyanthus.
I can’t see it today. It’s too misty and it’s raining once more.
I wonder if the sun will ever shine for me again.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

THE AFTERMATH


I’ve just spoken to Constance on the telephone. She’s inconsolable. Following on from the events I reported yesterday, Toby Mug has left her. Poor chap, they’d only been together 5 minutes and already he’s had to bear the costs of relationship breakdown and without even a marriage certificate in sight.

No wonder so many young people (married or simply living together) organise their finances around a joint account with no overdraft facility into which they both contribute to meet the household expenses but otherwise keep their finances separate.

It still isn’t easy if one is a spender and the other isn’t but, as poor Mr Mug found out, if that is the scenario you can always cut your losses and run. Constance, of course, thinks he’s been rather unfair and should have been more understanding of her need for retail therapy after all she’s been through in the last few years. The trouble is, as I’ve had to tell her, a pile of presents on Christmas morning, a hotel break away afterwards and a hefty deposit for a summer holiday you can’t afford anyway, aren’t adequate compensation for a negative bank balance and money worries for months to come.

Constance is no longer speaking to me.

Friday, 18 January 2008

CREDIT CARD DEBT


It’s that time of year again when credit card bills drop through the letterbox and remind you of your pre-Christmas excesses. Limits on cards can easily exceed £10,000 and with many households having more than one card, it’s easy for debt to spiral out of control. It’s even worse when only one of the couple knows about the level of debt and far too often it is that scenario that can act as the trigger for separation and divorce.

My friend Constance called to see me again this evening. She’s hiding a guilty secret from her latest boyfriend, Toby Mug. He must be besotted because when they went out shopping together in December he foolishly opened a new credit card facility and authorised Constance as a user of the account. Sadly his trust could cost him dearly, although I do hope that I have persuaded her to act honourably, own up and offer to pay back.

There are two kinds of cashless people in our society:



  • Those who can use credit cards properly and don’t need cash

  • Those who can’t handle plastic and never have any cash either.

Constance is one of those who can’t and if she’s to have any chance of building and keeping a successful relationship she needs to adopt strategies for keeping her spending under control. For the time being I’ve stood over her as she’s sliced the offending card in two and extracted a promise that she’ll make a full confession before either Toby receives his monthly account or she enters a world of subterfuge and tries to hide it from him.

There’s still a chance that their relationship will hold and so long as the debt is containable, she may be able to clear it with a personal loan or a further mortgage advance at a lower rate of interest. Of course, I suppose Mr Mug might be prepared to overlook the whole matter. Indeed if I understand Constance correctly she’s of the mind to bring their relationship to an end and leave him with the debt (for which he alone is legally responsible) if he can’t see the funny side and appreciate her for what she is! After all she apparently treated him to an exotic break at a luxury hotel last weekend, using his credit card facility, of course. Honestly, I give up but I shall keep you updated.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

ONLY WORDS


I have been talking to Little Girl’s English teacher this evening, and was treated to a discussion about the written word by someone who loves her subject. I was also handed the school newsletter in which the Head Teacher quoted something he had heard on a news programme about the forthcoming Presidential elections in the USA, when it was said that “we campaign in poetry and govern in prose.”

I think I can add to that: We marry with poetry, live together with prose and sadly can divorce with slang and insults.

Monday, 14 January 2008

THE LURE OF YEAST


It was announced last week that 600,000 jars of marmite laced with champagne and sporting a romantic message on the label are to be released in readiness for Valentine’s Day. Just one problem, who, apart from Outdoor Man, eats the stuff? If there are others, do their partners share my abhorrence of the taste and smell?

I predict an influx of new divorce cases on February 14th if certain spouses, including my own, get carried away and try to serve their loved one marmite on toast with a red rose for breakfast on the Big Day.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

FAITH


If a lack of sanitation and a propensity for tropical diseases were not enough, India’s roads must rank among the most dangerous on the planet. Apparently 8% of the world’s vehicle fatalities occur there with 250 people killed very day. Although, like the UK, they drive on the left hand side of the road, no sane foreigner would ever venture behind the wheel of a motor car in India. Safety standards are far below those of the west, both in the construction of the vehicles and of the roads themselves. There seems to be little adherence to such rules of the road as may exist; 3 lanes of traffic where only 1 is intended; a plethora of tuktuks (autorickshaws), motorbikes, buses, lorries and cars, their drivers weaving in and out between slower transport; the odd cow, goat or even elephant in the middle of it all. I trust you are beginning to visualise the picture. Throw in a cacophony of honking and screeching brakes and you can hear it too.

Fortunately we saw the aftermath of only 1 accident a few vehicles ahead of us as we wound our way up the hairpin bends of the foothills of the Western Ghats. We were unsure what had happened but it was apparent that most of the men in the nearby village came to the scene to render assistance and move the vehicles to the side of the road and the injured into transport, presumably to take them to hospital.

As we edged past, a car had lost its roof completely in the impact and nearby there were puddles of blood and abandoned flip-flops.

It was no wonder that our driver, a Christian by the name of John, regularly stopped outside of Churches, to offer candles and gifts of flowers. That and making the sign of the cross before he turned the ignition were obviously designed to assist in ensuring our safe conveyance.

Faith, if you have it and whatever the religion or belief, can be of great comfort in delivering us through all kinds of situations. However, in India there could just be a caveat on the religious front for which see this entry in
Family Lore.


Saturday, 12 January 2008

CULINARY DELIGHTS


In what is frequently referred to as God’s Own Country, it is not surprising that food plays an important part in Keralan culture. Whilst there we were treated to dosais (pancakes made from rice and lentils), idlis (steamed rice cakes) and vadais (fried doughnuts made from lentils), bhajis and pakoras as well as curry and freshwater fish, seasoned with tamarind for taste. With an abundance of coconuts, pineapples and bananas not only are monkeys and elephants well-fed but even Little Girl managed to find enough to eat without resorting to the more heavily spiced curries favoured by Outdoor and Apprentice Men.

It was not surprising, therefore, that when I dipped into Bollywood Movies, I came across the following culinary linked expressions in the English sub-titles:
“Gruel, chutney and sprouted lentils for you!”
“I won’t let his lentils cook in Kerala.”

If I understood the meaning correctly then I think that they could be readily translated into gourmet divorce English as:
“I’m not cooking for you any more. Instead you can live on porridge made with water; pickled onions and seed potatoes!”
“I’m not letting him cook toast and warm his slippers at my fireside again.”

Of course feel free to leave your own translations by way of comment should you wish.

Friday, 11 January 2008

THE PACE OF LIFE


It was so obvious from my experiences in India that despite what we would consider to be hardships in every day life, all the people we met were friendly and apparently content with life. Everywhere we were met by smiles and a willingness to shake hands and talk, some English language permitting.

The pace of life is noticeably slower than in the UK and everything operates at a different pace; service at meals, travelling from one place to another and even, I was told, the court system. It is choked with such a backlog of cases that it’s purportedly guesstimated they could take 400 years to clear. Now imagine waiting that long for a divorce!

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

THE D WORD


On Monday I blogged about D Day, today it is the D Word. For a family lawyer the D Word is, of course, “divorce,” denoting a legal process that releases you to remarry but which invariably carries with it traumatic and emotional undertones. It is not, therefore, a step that should ever be entered into lightly and without full consideration of all the other options. On our recent trip, we also had a D Word, but this time it stood for “Delhi-belly,” denoting an acute illness invariably caused by food contaminated by bacteria.

Are there any similarities between the two?

Well we travelled in a group of fourteen of whom twelve succumbed making a ratio of 1:7. That compares to 1:3 marriages ending in divorce in the UK and it is, therefore, more prevalent.

What of the symptoms? Well along with the obvious vomiting and diarrhoea (whilst not unknown, neither are a common complaint in divorce), there were feelings of utter exhaustion and weakness which lingered after the other symptoms had receded. It felt awful at the time, but was over within 48 hours and therefore far less deleterious than similar indications in divorce.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

KATHAKALI


Kerala Kathakali Center. Kochi.
Originally uploaded by
Masha Dubrovskaya


Whilst staying in Kochi (formerly Cochin) we visited a local Arts Centre for a display of Kathakali- an art form based on dance and hand and facial movements, especially of the eyes. The actors are heavily made up, necessitating expressive eye movements, something Apprentice Man and Little Girl have spent hours trying to imitate. There are no words; only a drum beat and the lone intermittent wailing voice of a side stage singer.

The tale portrayed was from Hindu culture and told the story of attraction, seduction, betrayal and rejection. Nothing new there then!

Monday, 7 January 2008

D DAY


7 January is widely regarded as the day on which most couples file for divorce. Evidence suggests that for many families, far from being a relaxing break, the Christmas holiday is a time of huge stress. Instead of fixing troubled relationships, it can be the final straw.

Add to this the financial strain early January brings, the reality of returning to work, no let up on the cold weather and relationships can come under intolerable pressure.

Acrimonious breakdowns can have a devastating effect on families, especially on children, and should be avoided at all costs.

An estimated one in three marriages ends in divorce - a painful and often long-winded process with significant emotional and financial costs. Collaborative family law is a relatively new process that aims to reduce conflict. It offers an alternative to the traditional divorce process in which couples agree not to go to court and instead work out solutions together.

More and more people are taking the collaborative approach and identify three key benefits; it’s a private process, it’s less contentious than going to court - and therefore less anxiety ridden - and the outcome is often fairer for both parties because they have reached it together.

What’s more, it sends out remarkably positive signals to children who benefit hugely from knowing that their parents are working out their differences together.

Resolution lawyers and mediators can help separating parents to reach agreements without the need for costly court battles.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

THE BACKWATERS


Whilst away, we spent a night on a converted rice barge, cruising the backwaters. My little family of four lived like Maharajahs, waited on by three men who steered the boat and cooked lunch, dinner and breakfast for us as well as banana fritters between meals. Our hosts floated the barge along the waterways. We were not permitted to help. Instead we either sat on plush sofas or, and (how decadent is this?) lay on a mattress under a thatched canopy towards the bow of the boat. From there we took photos and observed the passing village life. If only life could always be so idyllic.

As night fell we tied up to a large palm tree. The local insect population then invaded and despite the cumulative effect of four bodies covered in deet, mosquitoes buzzed incessantly and moths larger and uglier than anything I see in Darlington landed on my shirt and trousers.

Whilst forcing me to appreciate the constitutions of the early British colonialists who presumably survived without insect repellents and air conditioning, it also proved that even the most apparently harmonious of situations can have a crueller, darker side.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

ANIMAL PAIRS


The water buffalo lives in the marshy fields of Kerala as does the cattle egret. The two enjoy close proximity with the egret eating leeches from the buffalo’s back and legs whilst the buffalo moves its hooves to reveal a gourmet’s delight of species of mud insect for the egret to feed on. To see the two living dutifully side by side is a contrast to so many cattle and species of bird at home. Unlike the humble elephant (click here for my blog entry on elephants), I don’t think the buffalo and the egret will ever divorce.

Two creatures which do not live so harmoniously together are the ghekko and cricket. Whilst sitting one evening last week, we observed the former pounce on the latter and kill it by what can only be assumed to be strangulation using its jaw muscles. Many of my clients are inclined to quip that murdering one’s partner may only result in a 30 year prison sentence compared with divorce and maintenance payments for life. However, even if you do have the constitution of a ghekko (which incidentally also proceeded to eat the evidence), I do not recommend murder as a remedy for relationship difficulties.

Friday, 4 January 2008

GLOBAL DISHARMONY


Whilst I’ve been blogging about India it seems that there has been an influx of global tales of marital disharmony.

It started in the East with news that a cheated wife in China gatecrashed a televised presentation of the unveiling of the Beijing Olympics’ channel to denounce one of its presenters (also her husband) as an adulterer. Needless to say that piece of television has now made its way to YouTube for which click here. Congratulations should be offered on the lady’s composure but personally I’d prefer to make such allegations in a court room rather than in front of the burly chaps who seemingly muscled in to persuade her to move away from the cameras.

Here in the UK we had a decision from the Court of Appeal effectively giving the green light to pre-nuptial agreements which for so long have been disregarded as being contrary to public policy (and the sanctity of marriage), Now it seems that if
1) you are perhaps worth £18million at the time of your marriage and regardless of the fact your husband may be worth 3 times as much (but nobody knows because the court wouldn’t allow any disclosure),and
2) you enter into a deed agreeing each to keep your own and to make no claim against your spouse should the relationship break down, and
3) it does (after a period of only 18 months or so),
then you just might be held to your agreement!

Next there was news that a wife in Egypt is going to court to establish whether or not she has been properly divorced by her husband under Syaria law as a result of declarations of divorce received from him by text message. Muslim law permits the pronouncement of talak, whereby the utterance of words denoting divorce by a husband on 3 occasions result in an automatic end to the marriage. Malaysia has apparently already outlawed the use of text message for this purpose; as a result of lobbying by divorce lawyers presumably.

Then in the newspapers today there were reports of the criminal prosecution of Mr Medley who allegedly, in a fit of pique following the sale of the personalised plate on his Ferrari by his wife, disposed of a shoe from every one of the many pairs in her £1,000 collection. They are now happily divorced but apparently not speaking.

Finally we also had further news concerning Britney Spears. It was only 2 days ago that we were told her legal team no longer want to act for her because of communication difficulties. On the basis that they still have telephone, e-mail and postal services in the USA I guess that this means she is being reticent in the delivery of instructions. Today we are advised that she was carried out of her house on a stretcher after some kind of altercation relating to the custody of her two young toddlers when police, the father’s lawyer, a helicopter and numerous police cars were all called to the house. Spare a thought for the children, presumably in there at the time, and at the centre of what can be best described as a horrible mess

Thursday, 3 January 2008

ELEPHANTS


No holiday in India could be complete without riding on an elephant. The Indian elephant, like the dog and horse, goes back in history as serving mankind. Thus in time honoured tradition we strolled around a spice plantation astride one of these graceful creatures, She was a female named Monica and differed from her male counterpart in that she readily responded to commands to smile for the camera. She did not shame herself by shouting for more pineapples which she munched delicately, initially rejecting the leafy stalks whilst he crunched his whole. Further she did not relieve herself in front of guests who were all visibly shocked by the heaps of dung and flooding created by her partner.

Trust me, as elephants evolve they’ll learn to divorce rather than to wave their trunks for tourists’ cameras.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

DOMESTIC BLISS

In Kerala which is the state in South India where we spent our holiday, Hindus, Moslems and Christians live comfortably side by side. I’m sure the tropical climate and abundance of wonderful foods in what is after all the spice garden of the country must play their part in aiding this compatibility.

It was noticeable however that, whilst it was predominantly men who were talking on the village streets, it was women we saw picking tea, weeding the paddy fields and washing pots and clothes in the canals. I couldn’t help wondering, therefore, if there was the same level of domestic bliss in the home as between the differing religions on the street.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

HAPPY NEW YEAR


Happy New Year and my best wishes to everyone for 2008. This year, as well as the new look I have created for this blog, I have resolved to enhance my understanding of global cultures. My family and I have just returned from a Christmas spent travelling in South West India where we have been forced to acknowledge the enormous gaps in our knowledge. I hope you will bear with me as I indulge this blog with our experiences.

India is a country of many contrasts and our guide was keen to provide statistics. From these I learned that 85% of marriages there are arranged but the numbers are falling whilst the divorce rate, which is currently 10%, is rising. To what extent the two are connected I have no desire to speculate, although I predict that as India becomes more and more westernised that divorce rate will inevitably increase.

For the present it remains a country where the vast majority of the population continue to live in poverty. It has a population of 1 billion people and after China is the largest developing country in the world and host for many of the UK’s much maligned call-centres. Despite its reputation for prospering on the back of I.T. it is estimated that only 10% of the population have a washing machine and half that number a car; 26% of urban households do not have running water and 9% no electricity. In the countryside, where the majority of people still live, these figures are higher; water is generally drawn from wells and only 47% have electricity. Even in the socialist state of Kerala in which we travelled and where Communist initiatives have resulted in 95% literacy and the lowest infant mortality rates in India, the physically disabled and ragged orphans still congregate outside churches, temples and railway stations. Many locals collect water from standpipes in the streets and rely on rivers and backwaters for washing dishes and clothes. Litter abounds especially in Kochi where clearance appeared to amount to a series of small fires at the roadside. Migrant families from other states sleep rough amongst the piles of rubbish on waste-ground, their few possessions spread around them.

We spent our final night at a hotel on a beach overlooking the Arabian Sea. Whenever a tourist ventured onto the sand, local children asking for money came buzzing like the indigenous fly population. You can’t give to them all and any alms must therefore be given discreetly.

I was left with an overall sense of sadness at my inability to do anything effective to alleviate the situation. How long will it be before everyone in India can expect to benefit from basic standards of sanitation and how politically can a country with so many people move towards such a goal within a realistic timescale?

Witnessing the deprivation forced us to appreciate what we have and to know that however bad life can feel at times, it could be thousands of times worse.