Friday, 18 December 2009

LET IT SNOW



Never being one to leave Christmas shopping until the last second, I had arranged to use my last day’s annual leave today for that very purpose. Determined not to let a few inches of snow impede the task in hand, I set off for a local shopping centre. Imagine my delight to arrive there amongst the ice and snow flurries to find it open for business as usual with only a limited number of other shoppers. “Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow,” I shivered.

Wandering around I bumped into a client who shared similar thoughts. “Every snow storm has a silver lining,” she confided. “Once divorced your shopping takes half the time, with only half the people to buy gifts for!” Tempting, I thought, as I surveyed shelf after shelf seeking something called “inspiration.”

Mind if anyone is stuck trying to find the perfect Christmas gift for that would-be divorcee, it seems Lloyd Platt Limited, family lawyers in London, have incurred the criticism of the Church of England by offering divorce vouchers at £125 for a half hour’s advice. Can I disappoint readers by letting you know that Latimer Hinks will not be doing the same this festive season, but then it already offers a free no obligation half-hour session to divorce clients and its regular fees are less than that anyway.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

THEY TOOK HALF


When Outdoor Man and I married, rather a long time ago now, we considered a wedding present list something of a vulgarity. As a result we had only ourselves to blame when we received numerous duplicate gifts.

With the advent of the internet and shared spaces, of course, it is possible to have such a list and yet almost keep yourself removed from it as though its very existence on the internet makes it impersonal and therefore an acceptable part of organised life. What’s more registers for such lists are widely available, taking the hard work out of even finding a host site for the list. I was absolutely tickled though to come across this register. After all why should only soon-to-be-married couples have all the fun? What could be more useful than a site for the soon-not-to-be-married? It boasts that it’s the only gift registry for the newly single and invites your friends and family to help your transition to your new found freedom. It’s for “when the love is gone and so is the coffee pot.” Of course if your marriage fell apart quickly or the family dug into their pockets rather deeply at the time of the Big Occasion, they might not be so keen to repeat their generosity but you’ll never know that unless you register.

Friday, 11 December 2009

THE PRIMARY SCHOOL NATIVITY PLAY


Did I imagine it, or did Mary really turn to Joseph when he dropped the baby doll and say (in a broad Yorkshire accent), “You drop my baby again Joseph and I’ll be out of here quicker than you can say ‘divorce’? ”

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

DEAR SANTA


Dear Santa

Thank you so much for the two Nintendo Wiis, the two black Labrador pups and the two complete works of William Shakespeare that you brought me last year. It was very kind of you, but after the two Siamese kittens, the two X boxes and the two complete sets of the Encyclopaedia Britannia the year before, I had rather hoped that you might have delivered different gifts to my parents’ separate homes. Of course, they were both very excited to each see me open my gifts but as you will appreciate it was very difficult for me to keep the enthusiasm going for their benefit.
Also neither was happy not to have outdone the other, although Mum was gutted to discover that my stocking at Dad’s house had an I-Tunes voucher in it, when there were only nuts and sweets in the one I hung from her mantelpiece; maybe the second one fell in the fire as you were coming down her chimney. Mind Dad was equally displeased when he learned that John, my Mum’s boyfriend, had given me a DVD player. So, if there’s anything from him this year, can you just leave it in your sleigh and give it to someone whose parents are still together.
Just so you know I’m at Dad’s on Christmas morning this year and then as soon as we’ve eaten dinner I dash to Mum’s for 2.30 pm and dinner with her. That said I don’t actually like cooked carrots, parsnips or brussel sprouts, and especially not twice in one day. If, therefore, your reindeers are feeling peckish they would be doing me a big favour if they’d eat those, rather than helping you with the mince pies.
Oh but please help yourself to as much as you fancy of the sherry that Mum leaves out for you. She can get very maudlin after she’s had a drop or two and then starts to cry about the divorce and how it’s spoilt Christmas for her.
Also, and I don’t know how this works but if it’s possible to give Dad some cash in his stocking I’d be grateful. That way he can give Mum the maintenance that she says he owes and she won’t threaten to stop our contact.
Finally if you get a chance to sprinkle any of that Christmas magic you bring with you, can you stop my parents arguing when Dad drops me off? It gets quite embarrassing the way they yell at each other in the street, especially when they are wearing paper party hats!

Yours sincerely
Name deleted to protect anonymity
xxx

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

ON BBC THREE


The National Council for One Parent Families says about three million children today in the UK have experienced the trauma of their parents separating, and a million of them never see one of their parents again, usually the father. Tonight at 9pm Alesha Dixon presents a new programme on BBC 3 called “Whose your Daddy.” Coming from a single parent family herself she describes her own experiences on the BBC website in advance of the programme and argues that it’s really important for both parents to be active in some way in their children’s lives

Thursday, 3 December 2009

WRITE AWAY


According to her website Leah Carey combines a background in professional theatre, training as a Spiritual Life Coach, and a lifetime of psychic experiences to support her clients in experiencing their own light. Leah's goal in all of her work is to support her clients in embracing and claiming their own self-empowerment.

On 18th November she initiated a free online writing experience called WriteAway for people who have been through divorce. The WriteAway concept is based on the use of writing as a healing art. Every weekday morning she posts a writing prompt that offers participants a vehicle for exploring their thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and experiences around divorce

At her website there is also a WriteAway Forum to support participants and once a week, she blogs in response to what she is reading on the boards. The primary aim is to maintain and promote an atmosphere of healing and forward movement.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

ON CAMERA


If you hanker after marrying again without the pain of divorce, don’t do what an unfortunate Peruvian man did and seek to re-marry in a mass ceremony in front of television cameras. If you do, you might just find yourself subject to an attack by your current wife’s family. Moreover, her aunt and sister could even be bigger than you, for which see this clip from Sky News.

Monday, 30 November 2009

I'M A CELEBRITY, GET ME OUT OF HERE


I have been pre-occupied with court cases and other commitments over the last week, preventing me from adding to this blog. During my absence I note that two divorce linked stories seem to have been making the headlines.

The first, of course, reported the alleged demands of Veronica Lario against Silvio Berlusconi, her estranged husband, for maintenance of some €43 million (£39 million) a year against a purported offer of €200,000 – €300,000 per month instead. Certainly a bit of a difference, but enough for most of us to live with every comfort we could imagine.

At the other extreme, recent divorcee Katie Price (alias Jordan) had been roughing it in the jungle, on the same TV reality show where she had originally met her former husband, Peter André. She endured 7 days of horror when the British public voted for her to undertake every Bushtucker trial going including eating live cockroaches, witchety grubs, the private parts of kangaroos and other equally tasty delicacies. It seemed a strange way to put her marriage behind her and I say that, even after reading reports that she was paid £250,000 for participating. If Silvio Berlusconi were to offer every Euro his wife is seeking by way of maintenance to enter that jungle, I’m sure most divorcees would still elect to stay at home and luxuriate in their poverty.

Friday, 20 November 2009

IN THEIR BEST INTERESTS


The newspapers were quick today to report two court decisions yesterday where the best interests of children formed the core of the judgments. Both served to demonstrate what a difficult quest it can be for a Judge in determining best interests when sometimes there can be a very fine line between the available options.
In the first case the Supreme Court acted to reverse earlier decisions made in the Court of Appeal and High Court thus enabling a 3 year old child to remain in the care of his grandmother who had looked after him very much since birth, rather than move to live with his natural father. In the second, the Court of Appeal has refused leave to appeal to a mother who has been ordered to hand over her 11 year old son to the care of his father against, it was argued, the child’s wishes. The boy is reported as being vehemently opposed to seeing his father, but his guardian for the purpose of the court proceedings and a child psychiatrist agree that he is suffering emotional harm by being estranged from his father as a result of his mother’s attitude.
One has to wonder, when you see criticism levelled at the courts about decisions of this kind, why they are always expected to get it right when parents, who are also entrusted with the best care of their children, don’t.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

SOAP OPERAS


Reports today suggest that in India too the grounds for divorce are becoming easier. Under the Hindu Marriage Act a couple can be divorced if cruelty can be shown. What constitutes cruelty, however, seems to be becoming more of a subjective test possibly even in line with divorces on unreasonable behaviour in this country. I say that because, despite the husband’s protestations that his treatment of his wife was in line with the normal wear and tear of married life, the court held that preventing his wife watching soap operas on television was indeed cruel. Some of course might argue that if the programmes were anything like some of our daytime viewing, then he was doing her a favour.

DOUGHNUTS


I am what might be described as a regular contributor to local radio. Hence yesterday afternoon I was interviewed on BBC Tees’ Drive-time show. I understood that the presenter wanted to quiz me about my reaction to the survey referred to in my blog entry yesterday. Imagine my surprise therefore when in opening she referred to the results of a survey by the consumer watchdog Which? suggesting that a child’s lunchbox can contain as much sugar as 10 doughnuts. A wave of fear swept over me; was it a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or had I just totally misunderstood my brief? I felt my fists clench as I struggled to think how I could possibly comment on doughnuts, perhaps something along the lines of “I’m not a dietician but...” might do it.

Fortunately she moved on to Children in Need and then the survey on the effects of separation; phew, panic over!

Monday, 16 November 2009

STAGGERING


“Staggering,” is the best description I can give to the results of a survey published today by family lawyers at London law Firm, Mishcon de Reya. The study of over 4,000 parents was commissioned by the firm to mark the 20th anniversary of the Children Act, implemented in November 1989.


Whilst seventy per cent of parents quizzed by the law firm cited their child’s welfare as the main priority during separation, the results also showed that:
Children said they felt used (19 percent), isolated (38 percent) and alone (37 percent).
Many admitted they turned to drink and drugs, played truant from school or self harmed.
For 38 percent of children the separation meant they never saw their father again.
50 percent of parents admitted putting their children through an intrusive court process over access issues and living arrangements.
25 percent of parents surveyed believe that their child was so traumatised by their separation that they self harmed or contemplated suicide.
20 percent of separated parents admitted that they actively set out to make their partner's experience ‘as unpleasant as possible’ regardless of the effect this had on their children’s feelings.

Sandra Davis, head of family law at Mishcon de Reya , says that, “This research shows that despite their best intentions, parents are often using their children as emotional footballs. They don’t have the tools to co-parent effectively following separation and their only solution is to turn to the courts. Children – alongside the economy - are suffering because of this. The millions of pounds spent each year on Legal Aid, running the courts and CAFCASS could be better spent educating parents about their children’s needs and gaining an understanding of how to resolve and avoid long term disputes and reduce hostility.” In short there is a need to “protect children from the worst excesses of parental conflict. Therapeutic input, not litigation, is the answer and will reduce the emotional and financial cost of separation.”

Resolution has already started to try to tackle the problem with its Parents after Parting workshops and its dedicated webspace for parents. Government funding however is needed if family therapy centres are to be set up and counselling available for all who need it. As the survey shows, 64 percent of parents quizzed said that if counselling was available they would consider attending.

Friday, 13 November 2009

SON ET LUMIERE


Yesterday evening I visited Durham City where a festival of light is taking place. The Cathedral itself was the setting for a spectacular son et lumière. Images showing the history of Christianity in the North East and drawn from the Lindisfarne Gospels, as well as from inside the Cathedral, were projected onto the outside of what has to be one of England’s most beautiful Norman buildings, accompanied by a harmony of monastic chants.

Sometimes you can look at the exterior of something and see nothing of the inside. Faces are the same; they can show a multitude of emotions, but on occasions nothing. When you hurt inside your facial expressions and demeanour can betray you or you can hide them behind a façade of stone. Either way we know you are aching, we just don’t always see or acknowledge it.

Monday, 9 November 2009

DIVORCE SPIN


My eyes were drawn to a story in the Telegraph today about MPs committing to divorce if they change political party. Whatever will they come up with next I wondered and then realised that the MPs in question are in Malaysia where they are all members of the Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party. Apparently they’ve taken a verbal oath not to transfer political allegiance and if they do to pay the penalty by divorcing their wives. The oath has drawn criticism from various quarters who believe (understandably) that it is trivialising marriage and according to Malaysia Women’s Minister “degrading and mean.”

However, Teresa Kok a lawmaker with the Democratic Action Party is reported as hailing the pledge as meaning that “they will not leave their party or their wives.” Funny, I thought marriage itself included a promise not to leave your wife and yet look how many men do! Leaving a political party as well can’t make life that much difficult surely. Call me a cynic, but maybe Malaysian politics are a bit like the British version with plenty of spin, not much substance and pre-election promises broken all over the place.

Friday, 6 November 2009

GRUMPY AND IMPERFECT


Have you ever considered your divorce lawyer to be negative minded? Does he or she keep telling you that you can’t do that which you wanted? In fact are there times when they seem downright grumpy? If so, you could have found the perfect person to advise you!

In its current edition, Australasian Science Magazine publishes an interview with Professor Joe Forgas from the University of South Wales in which he refers to details of his recent research showing that grumpy people cope with more demanding situations than happy ones because of the way their brains process information. It seems that critical or negative thinking people can actually be better at problem solving and make fewer mistakes than their sunnier natured counterparts; presumably this explains the personality traits of various occupations including lawyers. Hooray, there is a valid reason for my imperfections!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

ONE KINGDOM; TWO SYSTEMS


When you live and practise in the North East of England, you are inevitably aware that only a matter of miles away across the border in Bonnie Scotland the law is very different. So tonight, Alasdair Loudon of Edinburgh law firm Turcan Connell treated Resolution’s Tees Valley Regional Group to an illuminating talk on divorce, Scottish style. How on earth can it be that we have one kingdom with two such different systems? The English system is of course deemed to be one of the most generous in the world for wives when it comes to financial settlements and hearing Alasdair talk I wondered if the Scottish one is amongst the tightest, when maintenance for a spouse is restricted to 3 years and the scope for taking needs into account is severely limited!

Why is it that here in England we are struggling to persuade Parliament to allow no fault divorce before a two year separation, whilst further North you can terminate your marriage after you have lived apart for one year (if you both consent) or after two years if you do not?

I wonder what the potential is for marriages to break down over arguments as mundane as “do we live in Jedburgh or Berwick; Gretna Green or Carlisle?” Moreover the one, who wins the argument, presumably also wins the financial settlement!

When everyday life gets too much for us, banks go bust, politicians lie and the price of petrol increases again, Outdoor Man frequently expresses a desire that we should opt for a more simple life aboard his boat. I’d always thought this was nothing more than a pipe dream, but listening to Alasdair tonight I realised that there could be method in his madness after all; Outdoor Man keeps his boat on the West Coast of Scotland!

Monday, 2 November 2009

BUSMAN'S HOLIDAY


I was on vacation last week. The trouble is that as regular readers of this blog will know I keep coming across divorce everywhere I turn, not just in the office. So it was that whilst I was wandering across a beach in out of season Cornwall, a complete stranger, dressed in a wetsuit and holding a surf board, looked at me and said: “It’s not working. We can’t communicate about anything important; in fact we can’t communicate at all.”

Maybe I have a sympathetic looking face, but the term “busman’s holiday” springs to mind!

Thursday, 22 October 2009

WINNERS AND LOSERS


One of the pleasing touches I’ve invariably found in hotels in the Swiss and Austrian Alps is a newsletter on the breakfast table with a quote for the day. It is in such circumstances that I recently came across this offering by Denis Waitley, the American writer and motivational speaker. I believe it’s an entirely appropriate quote for a blog that seeks to delve into the complications of human relationships, though I make no comment on the accuracy or otherwise of the sentiments expressed:

Losers make promises they often break. Winners make commitments they always keep.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

DEATH KNELL FOR FAMILY LEGAL AID


Latimer Hinks withdrew from legal aid work in 1998 and numerous other firms across the country have taken the same step. Resolution has warned that new fixed fees for family legal aid work published today by the Ministry of Justice are likely to mean a further exodus of lawyers from family legal aid and so undermine access to justice for ordinary families.

The new fees represent a further cut in legal aid remuneration at a time when family legal aid is already in crisis. The number of family legal aid practices in the country has dramatically dropped, from 4,500 in 2000 to 2,800 in 2006.

“The potential of these new fees to cause substantial and long term damage to the provision of family legal aid for separating families has been grossly underestimated,” said David Emmerson, Chair of Resolution’s Legal Aid Committee, strongly urging the government to reconsider the fees for private law cases before they come into effect in October 2010,

“Some of these fees represent a cut of more than 40 percent to hourly rates that have already remained static for the last ten years. Faced with this uneconomic scenario there is a very real danger that firms will walk away from legal aid work, further undermining access to justice.”

Lawyers estimate that for a very simple child contact case taking around 14 hours a legal aid firm would currently receive £960 on the basis of the hourly rate. The new fixed fee would be just £471 a cut of more than 50 percent.

Similarly a legal aid firm managing a straightforward divorce finance case which goes to full hearing, would be paid £2,106 at present; this will reduce to £1,299 under the new fixed fee regime, a cut of almost 40 percent.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

BLOG ACTION DAY - CLIMATE CHANGE


That the climate is changing there appears to be no doubt. Scientists, however, seem divided as to the causes and also the solutions. As for politicians, without them would green or eco taxes have been invented? There seems to be an emerging policy to say that it’s to save the planet, in anticipation that everyone will pay without protest. I’m surprised they haven’t started to tax divorce, well not overtly anyway, although there is already VAT on the solicitor’s bill. Mind single parent families and relationship breakdowns are like gas guzzlers, only a thousand times worse, the multitude of sins they get blamed for. Come to think of it how long will it be before someone tries to make a connection between the rising number of divorces and global warming? There must be a scientific model somewhere, showing a correlation.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

HOW TO STOP HATING YOUR EX

Stop hating your ex must sound like a tall order for many people, but this book by René Ashton seeks to show you how. “I wanted someone to tell me how in the world I was to escape the grips of this ferocious animal wreaking havoc in my life,” she writes; she’s not describing her ex, however, but instead her anger.

René forwarded me a copy of the book in advance of its US publication date last week. I’m sure that it will only be a matter of time before it’s available in the UK too. More like a work-book than a reference source, it’s written in a very down to earth style and pushes the reader onward in a mission of self-healing asking for deliberated responses to questions posed, even providing lined pages for the replies.

“You cannot change your ex. Try as you may. Manipulate as you may. Punish, kick, scream, whatever your tactic, it won’t work”, she reminds us. “The only thing you can change is yourself to make things different.” Through the book, she endeavours to train the reader how to let go and draws on her own experience in illustrating the depths to which the broken hearted and wronged can sink but also how they can move on.

René clearly feels strongly that children should have the right to be co-parented properly. She spares no punches when she identifies those careless or vindictive comments that can cause untold harm and urges the reader to “talk to a professional (not your kids), unload on your friends (not your kids).”

If you feel caught in a trap of negativity or denial as a result of relationship breakdown, it could help but you mustn’t expect any sympathy. “You have the capacity to change,” and that’s what the author wants you to do.

Friday, 9 October 2009

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT


John Cleese kicked off his “How to Finance Your Divorce Tour” in Norway last weekend. He’s reported as telling his audience that he’d fallen on hard times because he had been ordered to pay $20 million to a woman he believed to be “the special love child of Bernie Madoff and Heather Mills.” Ouch! Divorce can have a tendency to bring out the bitter side of people as well as their ingenuity when they look to raise the necessary finances.

It all reminded me of once upon a time when I acted for a client whom I shall kindly describe as totally eccentric.

“You can call me Mr Praline,” he said when we first met, after he’d stepped across my room in three long and exaggerated strides, bowler hat perched precariously on the top of his head. He was a strange client; not easy to take instructions from when every few seconds he’d change the subject and yell out: “And now for something completely different.”

He was very fond of pets, I recall, with a fish called Wanda (or was it Eric?) and a large snake he referred to as Monty.

When settlement terms were ordered by the court, he completely broke down, banging a dead parrot on the desk and claiming to have to go back and live in a cardboard box. However, he paid what was required with borrowed funds, and then decamped to work as a lumberjack to pay for it all!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL


This novel by Anne Bronte was the token classic in my summer reading list. If there was ever a story that demonstrated the inequalities that used to exist between the sexes this is it. It’s set in the early part of the 19th Century when it definitely wasn’t considered acceptable for a husband to binge-drink and form sexual liaisons with other women, but some did anyway. Whilst divorce is actually mentioned once, it wasn’t really an option and nor was running away easy when your husband controlled all your finances and you’d promised to love, honour and obey him before an all-knowing God.

Even without a divorce though the story has a happy ending, or at least it does for the wife. The husband however dies from his excesses with a conviction that an angelic hereafter is not to be his destiny.

There are times when you realise just how much society has changed in the last 200 years and yet also how little.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

A BETTER WAY TO DIVORCE


In September I completed training in collaborative practice. Six solicitors in Tees Valley, along with many others across the North East region and the country nationally, are now offering a new way to divorce. It’s a revolutionary approach which helps reduce the emotional cost on couples and their children when families split. Instead of dealing through solicitors, the new approach, called collaborative law, involves couples working with their solicitors, all together in the same room, to reach agreement without the need for costly and stressful court battles.

In 2007, 128,000 marriages in the United Kingdom ended in divorce. Sadly, family breakdown is a fact of life. Unfortunately, the consequences are often devastating for spouses and their children and can lead to personal trauma and turmoil. Members of Resolution, a 5700-strong group of family lawyers, commit to minimising the financial and emotional pain it causes. We do this by adopting a conciliatory approach which puts the needs of any children involved first. Collaborative law is a natural extension of this idea. By all sitting together, we ensure that couples stay in control of their own futures, instead of leaving decisions to a judge in a courtroom. The focus is on solutions rather than confrontation. Where it has been practised elsewhere in the UK, it has achieved remarkable results. I’m confident that it’s going to do the same in the Tees Valley area too

Both parties and their lawyers pledge to work together to negotiate an agreement without going to court. If an agreement cannot be reached, and court is seen as the only solution, the lawyers involved cannot act for either party in the subsequent court case. This means that everyone involved (including the lawyers!) has an incentive to settle the case.

More details are given on the Resolution website and also on You Tube by Mogers Solicitors and on Richard Sharp’s Blog that has been titled Family Law Collaborative Blog.

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MILLIONS


The press has been following the tragic divorce tale of Mr and Mrs Young. They separated in 2006 when it’s alleged Mr Young was worth some £400 million. It is reported that sadly he now claims that, and partially as result of the credit crunch, he is £23 million in debt and facing potential bankruptcy. Understandably Mrs Young does not appear to accept that so much money could go missing in such a short time but it seems the time limit set by the court for an explanation expired on 7th September and the case was back in the High Court this week. It was claimed on behalf of Mr Young that he had been unable to comply because he had been admitted to hospital apparently suffering from a mental breakdown. According to the press reports, rather than sending him to prison for contempt, the Judge has given him another 6 weeks to provide full financial details, as well as a medical report on his condition. One assumes this is to enable him to justify the reason for his default in circumstances where there seems to be speculation as to whether or not his illness could be faked as opposed to co-incidentally convenient.

Reading the reports which alluded to rent of £10,000 per month, expensive cars, jewellery, yachts, and maintenance needs of £48,000 per month, one realises that this is clearly a situation far removed from the routine divorce cases being decided up and down the country. The sum which Mr Young has purportedly lost in a period of some 3 years is more than most people spend in a lifetime, whilst a monthly maintenance payment of £48,000 would support many families for at least 2 years.

Ignoring social comment and aside from the spectre of a prison sentence (which incidentally a Judge can impose on anyone who breaches an order of the court), what really interests the press is, of course, whether or not the millions are simply missing, or indeed well and truly lost. It’s a kind of modern divorce detective mystery unfolding across the newsstands. A perpetrator and a motive have been implied, but the evidence is awaited.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

THE ICING ON THE CAKE


Well Sunday was the big day. Outdoor Man and I dropped Apprentice Man off in a strange city, in another part of the country to start his university career. After checking the back seat carefully to ensure that he hadn’t stowed away to return with us (not that it was ever likely that he would do so), we drove away back up the M1.

Now three days later there is an unidentified gap in my daily routine, a distinct absence of smelly trainer shoes and one less to cook and clean for. Despite these clear and obvious advantages, Outdoor Man has identified me as feeling bereft!

“You need to keep yourself busy,” he has advised. “Why not take up a new hobby, like cake decorating for instance?”

Sometimes Outdoor Man has very strange ideas.

Nevertheless and in an effort to placate him I have been using the Internet to source what I am lacking when it comes to cake decorating skills. In doing so, I came across these pictures at Fresh Pics. Perhaps Outdoor Man is right after all, maybe icing cakes would be a very useful second line for a divorce lawyer!

Thursday, 17 September 2009

BUNDLES OF JOY


The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills announced this week that couples are to get new maternity/paternity leave rights giving them greater choice and flexibility in the first year of a baby’s life. Essentially they will be able to transfer up to six months of the mother’s maternity leave to the father, which can be taken by the father once the mother has returned to work.

As every parent knows having a baby can be a stressful as well as a joyous experience, especially if juggling work and home commitments at the same time. As every divorce lawyer knows, those early months can also be so stressful that the domestic disharmony that can ensue can also lead to separation and relationship breakdown as everyone seeks to adapt to their changing roles.

So will a benefit intended to alleviate stress and difficulties, also in its own way and in some cases, make a relationship crisis even worse? Come 2011, I can well imagine the cases where one party or the other bemoans the fact that the other shirked their responsibilities by failing to take the second six months’ leave offered. Alternatively what about those mothers who might complain that they had to return to work so that their husbands could have six months at home with little Jack or Joanna, only to come home from work every day and find the house in disarray; dirty nappies everywhere and no dinner on the table or smiling hubby to greet them.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

PROCRASTINATION


It was reported last week that the founder of Playboy, Hugh Heffner , and his wife are to divorce after living apart as next door neighbours for over 11 years. Why after all that time do people bother?

Well if like Hugh you are in your eighties, there might be a number of reasons especially if you’ve been living with someone else in the meantime and want to wed before it’s too late; it could also be something you always meant to get round to when you found the time, or, as a client once upon a time explained to me, have a desire to die single and avoid any potential inheritance disputes by getting financial issues sorted within the divorce. Hugh’s reasons appear to have been slightly different and accelerated by a dispute over property.

Of course, if you’ve lived next door to each other throughout then starting proceedings doesn’t involve any difficulty in tracing the whereabouts of your spouse. Believe me, after 11 years that isn’t always easy especially if you lived abroad as a couple or your spouse went “travelling” after your separation.

Conversely living next door to each other can’t be easy especially if your husband, despite his age, is notorious for residing with more than one young lady at once.

Monday, 14 September 2009

JUSTLY DESERVED OR DEGRADING?


The Times today reported on Baroness Deech’s call for an overhaul of family law. According to the article Baroness Deech believes that divorce laws are unfair to men, whilst multi-million pound settlements are degrading to women. Strange, I can’t think of many men being ordered to make such settlements if they don’t have the means to pay them, nor why women should go to court to secure a payment, simply to feel degraded upon receipt of it. The Baroness is proposing that judicial discretion to determine what is fair in any given case should be fettered and that instead we should have what appear almost to be draconian rules as to when for instance maintenance should be paid. The trouble is that the majority of divorce cases in this country don’t involve millions of pounds and instead outcomes are based on need as well as fairness. One size doesn’t fit all and we need to look no further than the Child Support Agency for evidence in that regard.

Resolution believes that discretion is an important part of the family law system, enabling outcomes to be tailor-made for families with the emphasis always on the best interests of children. But it agrees that there is a need for the Law Commission to review current legislation in an effort to see if greater clarity and certainty can be delivered whilst the benefits of the discretionary approach are maintained.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

TOGETHER UNTIL DEATH


John Marcotte believes so firmly in traditional values that he has filed a petition with the Secretary of State for California to try to ban divorce in the sunshine state where some 75% of marriages are estimated to end in divorce. “Previous generations had it right,” he writes. “It’s better to stay together in a soul-sucking sham of a marriage, filled with icy silence punctuated with passive-aggressive hostilities than to admit you might have made a mistake.” Somehow I don’t think he’s sat at my desk and listened to some of the tales of ill-treatment and misery that I’ve been confronted with.

I’m not sure that he’ll have the support either of all those A list film and TV stars who live in California and change spouses quicker than I change my motor car. If he did they’d presumably have the resources to back his campaign rather than letting it run on proceeds from the sale of T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan: “You said till death us do part. You’re not dead yet.”

Whilst I appreciate that an argument against divorce can be based on religious grounds, here in England and Wales we have a process known as judicial separation for people who for religious reasons don’t feel they can divorce. The process very much mirrors divorce, and financial settlements are granted as part of it. At the end of the day the couple remain married but are released from any legal duty to cohabit. In the 21st Century, society has surely developed to the point that it will never force a couple to live together, especially if one is at risk of harm from doing so.

Friday, 11 September 2009

WHEAT FROM THE CHAFF


Watching our local farmers taking advantage of an unexpected warm spell in the weather to bale the remainder of their cereal crop reminded me of that adage about sifting wheat from the chaff. Information on the Internet is now so vast that even with the assistance of your favourite search engine it isn’t always easy to find what you are looking for. That said, I came across this useful site today, intended to help couples understand each other and take steps to alter things before they end up visiting a divorce solicitor. The Couple Connection.

Also whilst on the subject of the web, Resolution has come of age and joined Twitter. You can follow it here.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

999


Today is of course the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninth year of the second millennium. In Chinese culture the number 9 is pronounced the same as the word for long lasting and so is often associated with marriage as a symbol for an everlasting relationship. The significance of today’s date was not therefore lost on the 500 Chinese Malaysian couples in Kuala Lumpur who participated in a mass wedding. Nor indeed on a Los Angeles budget chain, known as the 99 Cents Only Stores, which paid the bill for 9 couples to marry in a famous romantic location.

In our culture 999 is of course the number we dial for the emergency services. Perhaps with a bit of forethought our “Less Than a Pound” stores might have been persuaded to pay for 9 unlucky couples to travel to their solicitors with a police escort in order to get an injunction and be divorced, as well as giving them each 99 pence. Okay, it was only a thought.

Monday, 7 September 2009

HE'S LEAVING


Millions of women across the nation were devastated this morning by news that the other man in their life is leaving. “I'd rather leave while we're in love, as the song says, … while we still delight in each other's company,” he explained.

No longer will he be there when they get up on a morning. Their cornflakes and toast will never taste the same again. Yes, Sir Terry Wogan today announced that he will retire from the Radio 2 Breakfast Show that he has hosted for 16 years, at the end of the year.

Friday, 4 September 2009

THREE GO ON HOLIDAY TOGETHER


This week there was news that an Indian Travel Agency, KV Tours and Travels, has launched a new line of holidays with the aim of saving marriages. Branded as divorce tourism packages, couples book to stay in hill station resorts or exotic foreign destinations and get to take a marriage counsellor with them. Somehow I don’t think there will be the demand for our own High Street agents to compete in such a market. That said I’ve long wondered why if people marry in exotic locations they don’t consider divorcing there too, and taking the lawyer along with them; honestly it would be no hardship from my point of view!

Thursday, 3 September 2009

NORTH/SOUTH DIVIDE


It was reported in the newspapers yesterday that Manchester law firm, Pannone, has revealed a North/South divide when it comes to the outcome of divorce cases. Its findings, based on trawling the results of some 1700 cases it has handled across the UK since 2007, allegedly show that courts in the North favour husbands and those in the South wives. How can this be? As someone who has only ever practised int' North, I am outraged. Is this another opportunity for a slur on the upper half of our country with far more to offer than images of “dark satanic mills,” flat caps and pigeons? Then I remembered that client who, once upon a time, displayed profound dignity and understanding when I indicated that she must find work and support herself.

“Nae problem hinny,” she responded, “After runnin’ round afta ‘im for twenty years, cookin ‘is meals, cleanin’ ‘is shoes and mekkin up ‘is bait box evry mornin’ then tendin’ to the ten babbies ar’ve borne ‘im, workin’ll be a doddle and a’ll get paid for it!”

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

TILL DEATH US DO PART


I know this is supposed to be a blog about divorce but that has to allow me to talk about marriage from time to time doesn’t it? I hope so because I just wanted to highlight the sad news reported by the BBC today that one half of Britain’s longest married couple has died. Frank and Anita Milford (both 101 this year) met at a YMCA dance and married 2 years later in 1928. When they were interviewed in 2007, at the time of their 79th wedding anniversary, they attributed the longevity of their marriage to being prepared to “give and take.”

Strangely, that’s also how some divorcees describe the outcome of their divorce settlements: “I gave and she took.”

That’s not what the Milfords meant, of course, and I hope that their sentiments have inspired and helped many other couples with their relationships. I would also wish to express my sincere condolences to Mrs Mitford and the couple’s family at this time of mourning.

Monday, 31 August 2009

FOOTSTEPS OF A DEAD POET


Whilst staying in the Lake District last week, Little Girl and I undertook a series of what we called Dead Poet Walks in the vicinity of Grasmere culminating on Thursday with a visit to the Wordsworth Museum. I didn’t expect to find anything of interest to a family lawyer amongst the exhibits but all at once I came upon the tale of William Wordsworth’s visit to France in 1791. It seems that he couldn’t resist a trip across the Channel amidst the upheaval of the French Revolution (typical of a poet, some may say) and whilst there befriended a lady who became his travelling companion. She gave birth to his daughter but he then had to return to England and left them (typical of a man, others may say), promising to return and marry when the political situation allowed it. Needless to say in 1802 he instead married Mary Hutchinson from down the road.

I have no idea whether or not he paid maintenance, although there is some suggestion that before marrying he at least volunteered an acceptable settlement. Even today the CSA would not be able to make an assessment upon him, although reciprocal arrangements with France would mean that any maintenance order granted there could be enforced in the English Courts.

Why is it that an area of the country as beautiful as the Lake District can have inspired some, like Wordsworth, to write verse, others to paint but all I can come up with is a blog entry?

Sunday, 30 August 2009

SYNAESTHESIA

“Astonishing Splashes of Colour” is a novel by Clare Morrall whose interests include synaesthesia where emotions can be seen in colours. I confess that I enjoyed the somewhat tear-jerking experience of reading this unlikely tale of a motherless woman who would never be a mother herself, as she acted impulsively in the depths of her depression. Whilst the main character in the novel lived next door to, rather than with, her husband, there was nothing about divorce in this book. I couldn’t help wondering though about all the colours one would go through when experiencing the emotions that can accompany the trauma of divorce. The red and purple, crimson and puce, blue and indigo and ultimately beige, green then yellow.


Thursday, 20 August 2009

A MEANING TO LIFE


A’level results today and an important milestone in Apprentice Man’s life was reached successfully. Soon he’ll be leaving us for the distant world of university but today we are revelling in parental pride.

Many people after a separation, whether as a result of children fleeing the nest or relationship breakdown, feel they have nothing left to be proud about. They have lived their life in the shadow of or for the benefit of others and suddenly they are bereft, struggling to give meaning to their life or find a basis for their own self esteem. I was delighted therefore to come across this website recently: Healing Baskets. Yes baskets are available to try to provide help in all kinds of troubled times. You may never have thought of expressing your support with a basket, but some of the contents suggest exactly the sentiments the recently separated can need to hear in order to start the recovery process. For instance: mugs inscribed with “Once a goddess, always a goddess;” pewter pocket charms with the inscription “You make the World a better place;” garden kits because “every flower has to grow through a lot of dirt.”

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

TEARS


Once upon a time a client was telling me how emotionally draining he had found the experience of being sworn to a statement in support of his divorce petition in order to apply for a decree nisi. “I actually shed a little tear,” he confessed, and then asked, “Do most people cry when they complete that document?”

“Some do, some don’t,” I replied.

“I suppose it’s like the bride’s mother at the wedding then,” he said, “Some cry, others don’t. Mind in my case, the mother in law to be was laughing; it was only my family weeping. It must have been an omen.”

I wasn’t quite sure what to say when he chuckled and added, “Come to think of it, even the wedding cake was in tiers!”

I breathed a sigh of relief. Sense of humour intact, my client was on the road to recovery.

Friday, 14 August 2009

A BIG EGO


In the course of my work this week I was reminded that court cases over marital assets can be as much about pride as the financial principles. Obstinacy by one or both spouses within a relationship can lead to marriage breakdown and then spill over to spoil settlement negotiations.

Becoming entrenched in your position prevents compromise and when misguided conceit sets in, a marriage hurtles towards oblivion and a case towards a final hearing. Deaf to sound legal advice, arrogance can result in an otherwise unnecessary judicial determination of matters that could have been settled months before with the same outcome and at a fraction of the cost.

Walking a legal tightrope you topple over. Remember pride comes before a fall (in net worth as well as emotionally).

Monday, 10 August 2009

PERFECTION


“Perfection” is the title of a book by Julie Metz published by Hyperion in June. It kindly sent me a copy in advance of the publication date but I regret that it took a sojourn in Spain to set aside the time to read it. It’s an autobiography and is not directly connected to divorce. The writer was, however, widowed in her 40’s and devastated by her husband’s death is even more devastated to discover that he was a liar and serial adulterer.

The book tells the tale of the author’s anger and bitterness; she is described as a vengeful woman but in order to move on with her life learns to let go and reflect on the good times rather than the bad.

“You have to forgive him for us to move on together,” her new partner tells her.

Graphic language and description will probably limit enjoyment of this book for those who like a classically constructed novel. They are however used to effect, conveying the emotions, shock and betrayal suffered by someone denied the opportunity to confront the wrongdoer who continues to dominate and haunt her daily life.

Friday, 7 August 2009

ROLLER COASTER RELATIONSHIPS


News today that a Pennsylvanian woman is planning to marry a fairground attraction (I kid you not) filled divorce lawyers with excitement. The prospect of being able to market ourselves to all kinds of inanimate objects locked in unhappy relationships with human beings, pushes the boundaries for our workloads beyond wildest expectations. I’m even thinking that maybe I could specialise: acting for luxury cars and private jets springs immediately to mind.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

OYEZ


Little Girl excels at shopping. Last week on a whistle stop tour around North West England she had ample opportunity to put her skills into practice. Fortunately she’s too young for a credit card. I say fortunately, because whilst visiting Chester I was reminded that credit card debt can be a great divider.

Is there any husband here with a wife who’s spending too much?” yelled the Town Crier.

Almost every man in the crowd raised his arm.

“I have a cure for credit card madness,” proclaimed the Crier, “Who wants it for their wife?”

Again every man present raised his hand.
Now should your marriage be in difficulties because of spending habits, can I recommend avoiding Chester. The shops are great but the Town Crier might just hone in on you. Certainly one poor woman, volunteered by her husband was chosen and promptly placed in the stocks!

“I’ll let her out at 6pm when the shops have closed,” the Crier promised, whilst inviting the crowd to return at that hour to witness the release.

Maybe I should have gone back. I suspect after being locked up as public spectacle for 6 hours, any woman would be seeking out a family lawyer for advice.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

A SCENIC DETOUR

The annual summer holiday can put enormous pressures on families. Cloistered together in an unfamiliar environment the vacation in paradise can quickly turn into the holiday from hell. Last week we’d planned to sail around Scotland’s Western Isles. Outdoor Man, however, was quick to recognise that a hostile weather forecast could result in domestic disharmony and an uncomfortable time for all. A quick search using the Internet found us making a scenic detour by air to Andalucía instead. There we occupied a villa in the hills some 15 minutes from Nerja. Sitting in a mango grove, amidst a Spanish heat wave when temperatures on the Costa del Sol hit 42 degrees; no air conditioning and all the local bug life to contend with; how do you ensure that everyone continues to speak civilly to each other and you return to the UK with family life intact?

Here are my tips:

  1. Keep reminding everyone they could be sailing in rain, wind and mist instead.

  2. Use the pool frequently and preferably bring only one piece of flotation equipment for interest. That way everyone interacts trying to get to it.

  3. Don’t lecture when someone leaves crumbs in the kitchen and the ant armies invade. Just sweep them in a line to the transgressor’s bed and he won’t do it again.

  4. Hire the most underpowered car available that way it takes twice as long to get to the supermarket but on the basis that it has a climate control switch everyone cools down in the process.

  5. If things get really bad, hide the return air tickets and then offer them as rewards for good behaviour.

We had an idyllic week, honestly!

With the school summer holidays upon us however many children whose parents have separated spend longer periods with or away from one or both parents. It can be difficult to think about not seeing children for weeks at a time, and the changes of routine can create stress for your kids too. Here are Resolution’s tips:


  • Talk to the other parent about plans. If you disagree, make the best of things and focus on what is best for your children.

  • Plan ahead. How would you like to spend time with your children and what can you do to prepare them for holidays and special occasions?

  • Instead of informing children about plans, talk with them about how they would like to spend time with you.

  • Build in quality time with low-key activities like visiting the park, reading a book together or playing a game. Too many exciting activities can overwhelm children and tire them out.

  • Support your child’s relationship with your ex.

  • If travelling with the kids, give the other parent contact information and details – you both have a right to know where your children are.

  • Help children maintain consistent contact with the other parent by phone or email. Remember that children may miss their other parent.

  • When your children are with the other parent, use your time to get refreshed. Visit friends, take a class, read a book or enjoy a lazy day.

    For more parental advice from Resolution click here

Friday, 17 July 2009

WIFE


Last night I went to listen to Professor Germaine Greer speak.

“Wife,” she began, “is a reviled 4 letter word. Whoever wants to be one?”

She then presented us with a conundrum.

“But why is it that every little girl wants to be a bride and thinks herself a failure if she hasn’t married by her mid-twenties? Wherever do girls get that idea of failure from? It certainly isn’t from their mothers!”

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?


“What’s Love Got to Do with It” is the title of new research published by the Australian National University. It is reported that the study identifies factors that lead to couples separating and based on the couples tracked these include :

Wizened prunes or where a husband is more than 9 years older than his wife.

Parental example where one of the couple’s parents separated .

Ashtrays or where one of the couple smokes and the other does not.

Surprisingly factors which appeared to have less effect than assumed, included unemployment, children and a wife’s employment status.

All of which would lead me to believe that any influx of clients as a perceived result of the economic downturn, is more likely to be because one of them has taken to smoking to try to help cope with the situation, turned into a mature wrinkly in the process and/or been comforted by or taken advice from the older generation.

Monday, 13 July 2009

A TIME FOR REFLECTION


It was with a sense of déjà vu that I read reports about the Conservative party’s new think tank proposals calling for a compulsory three month period for reflection before a separating couple can begin divorce proceedings. Moreover, before and during marriage a couple, whilst not being compelled, would instead be strongly encouraged to attend some kind of relationship classes.

Somewhere along the way there must be statistics on what percentage of separated couples commences divorce proceedings within 3 months. In my experience, it is only after much soul searching and often counselling that people proceed. The only immediate grounds for divorce in this country remain adultery or unreasonable behaviour and any person who commences proceedings quickly invariably does so in circumstances that they feel to be fully justified. Moreover, the first three months are generally spent exploring arrangements arising from the separation, including financially and in relation to the children.

Divorce is a piece of paper that allows someone to remarry and for most separating couples is therefore of little consequence to begin with. Instead it is used to confirm financial settlements or allow the courts to help broker deals or determine arrangements where agreement has proved impossible. What difference will a three month prohibition make?

The Conservative paper however seems to suggest that expectations of marriage are now too high and relationships will be saved if couples can somehow learn to modify their aspirations. I am a supporter of any steps that can help save marriages and prevent or reduce the trauma for the whole family that inevitably accompanies a split. For relationship counselling to do this, however, it must be widely available and totally voluntary. To suggest however that couples should learn to compromise in order to save their marriage sounds to me both patronising and insulting. We are talking about adults, many of whom can be bitterly hurt emotionally or physically by their partner; surely they have the right to decide their future for themselves? What kind of political party seeks to legislate to try to curtail lawful, personal aspirations?

Divorce is not easy but it is now an accepted phenomenon. I suggest that it is the level of acceptance that has increased the number of divorces and not a shift in a willingness to compromise. There have always been dreadfully unhappy marriages. The difference is that three generations ago, people remained trapped in them.


Sunday, 5 July 2009

GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS


Last week there was both good news and bad news for divorcees. The Telegraph in its inimitable style published both on the same page in Friday’s newspaper. Headlined “Landmark victory for heiress in pre-nup case” it reported that “pre-nuptial agreements were recognised in English law for the first time” when the Court of Appeal held that family courts should give due weight to pre-nuptial contracts entered into. That of course is excellent, as so many divorced clients when intending re-marriage, have returned to me at Latimer Hinks in order to make a pre-nuptial agreement, unsure as to whether or not it will have any legal standing or not if the relationship goes awry.

However, and just underneath, the bad news for divorcees was headlined “Living alone can increase the risk of Alzheimer’s.” Apparently, living alone in middle-age doubles the chances of developing the disease according to a study published by the British Medical Journal. If it’s any consolation, I don’t live alone (far from it) but already my memory is far from what it used to be. Now where did I put Little Girl’s PE kit in readiness for school tomorrow and what have I done with the computer mouse; I could swear I used it only two minutes ago?

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

LIVING APART TOGETHER



Despite talk of an economic recovery, the recession is still making life hard for couples wanting to move on after divorce. Resolution, says that continuing problems in the housing market are preventing divorcing couples from moving to separate accommodation after their divorce. Selling the family home is often an important step for couples and their families making the transition from one home to two after divorce, but with limited mortgage deals, the increase in unemployment, and one in ten homeowners now in negative equity, selling up or moving on is easier said than done for many couples.

To help people in this situation, Resolution is today launching a series of online hints and tips for couples “living apart together” ahead of a national conference on the credit crunch and family law in London.

Having made the difficult decision to split, it can be incredibly stressful for couples to then have to live together – and to not know when this property limbo will end. That’s why we have launched these useful tips, which are available online, outline some simple practical steps to dealing with debt, property issues and how to cope generally with living with your ex.

Here are some of the tips for couples “living apart together”. For more tips, including those on dealing with debt and property, log onto
http://www.resolution.org.uk/advice_centre/

1. Try to agree some ‘ground rules’ – especially around subjects that are likely to prompt argument. If you can’t do this together – think about using a professional – such as a mediator – to help you to discuss and agree things calmly

2. Get short breaks from one another – a week-end with a friend, a day out or even a short holiday will help you to see things from a fresh perspective.

3. If you can, try to stay cost efficient whilst you are still under the same roof Continuing to share costs in regard to food, housekeeping items etc. will be better than doubling costs unnecessarily.

4. Play fair in regard to new partners or relationships – and don’t expect to use your home as a base for entertaining! – this is particularly important if you are a parent.

5. Don’t lose heart – no recession lasts forever – keep thinking creatively, get specialist advice in regard to finances, property and the lettings market.