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.