Thursday, 30 April 2009


Sometimes it’s easy to forget that there are countries in the world where some of the basic human rights that we take for granted are non-existent. Women remain second class citizens across the greater part of the globe and children are frequently regarded as little more than objects to raise funds. Take this appalling case of divorce involving a child of eight in Saudi Arabia. It seems that social pressure at least brought the husband in this case to do what we in the West would consider the decent thing but, in the meantime and until the age of marriage is raised legally in countries like Saudi, there are countless children effectively being sold into marriage on a daily basis. Who, more than them, should be able to say,"I don't know why I married him?" Who, more than them, should be entitled to seek a divorce if not avoid marriage in the first place.


This evening I have been to a committee meeting preparing for the launch of a new ladies’ networking group called Assist. One of the unique facets of the group is going to be its buddy or chaperone system, pairing one member up with another, to help and provide support where required. We’ve even come up with a special name for this entity of Proficiam from the Latin word proficiere meaning to assist.

There are many times in our lives when we need the help of someone, to lean on, aid and guide us. That’s why everyone should try to seek out a sensible, reliable person to assist them when they go through the trauma of separation. A friend or relative who will accompany you when you see your solicitor can be invaluable. A pal who will sit up with you when you want to unload late at night is very special. But that brave person who is prepared to be honest and subtle as well as supportive, is irreplaceable.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


One of the depressing side effects of divorce or indeed any stressful experience can be the havoc it plays with our weight. Some people turn to comfort eating, others find it impossible to eat properly or regularly. In time, a strict regime of sensible eating is often required to turn things to normal.

I have known both clients and friends flirt with various fad-diets. One of them I recall requires replacing two meals a day with bowls of cereal. I was therefore somewhat surprised to read in the results of a Which survey today that such breakfast cereal contains as much sugar as a helping of chocolate fudge cake premium ice-cream. I’m sorry but if I’m in need of sugar, and there’s a choice between ice-cream and an insipid cardboard-tasting breakfast cereal, I know which way I’d prefer to ingest it.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


There is obviously nothing good to say about swine flu, save that it appears to have snatched the headlines from the global financial crisis. Yours Truly was helping spread the news today when she gave a radio interview but it failed to refer to either topic; instead I was grilled about the opening up of the Family Courts to the press and why Resolution doesn’t think the changes go far enough, for which see my blog entry on Saturday. Mind, I have to say I was a little disappointed to have spent the greater part of yesterday in Darlington County Court without a sniff of a journalist present. I assume that our local reporters view attending court as something of a waste of time, if they can’t actually print what they witness. Hunting down potential flu sufferers or would be holidaymakers now heading for rainy Blackpool rather than Cancun must be far more fulfilling.

Of course some wit has asked me if I expect swine flu to affect the number of divorce cases I’m handling. “Only if I catch it,” I replied.

Monday, 27 April 2009


Last month an eviction took place in the village where I live in the full glare of TV cameras. A man who had been living in a caravan and various ramshackle buildings he had erected in a field was forced to move on when, after 7 years of legal battles, representatives from the planning department accompanied by police moved in to demolish what had become a shanty town for one. Losing one’s home is inevitably an emotional experience and it is something that regularly happens in divorce proceedings when short of splitting a home in two, one or both must leave. The Courts however cry shy of pre-judging who should be able to retain the home, leaving that issue for a final hearing unless and in the meantime it is necessary to intervene for the sake of protecting one of the couple from violence by the other.

How often do divorce solicitors have to warn clients to stay calm in the face of what appear to be overt attempts to cause an inflammatory scene, involve the police and have the unsuspecting other half caught like Professor Plum in the library with the lead pipe in one hand? In the present recession when houses are failing to sell and couples want to separate but can’t, more and more couples find themselves continuing to live together in the same home. If only for the sake of their children, I urge them to remain on civil terms.

Saturday, 25 April 2009


New rules to open family courts to the media rushed in by the government represent a missed opportunity to allow thorough and effective public scrutiny, Resolution is warning, as it calls for the establishment of a Family Courts’ Inspectorate.

From Monday accredited journalists will be allowed to attend divorce, custody and care proceedings, unless the court has specifically excluded them. But the new rules will not allow journalists to report on what they hear in court and cases not considered newsworthy will presumably continue to be conducted in private.

Resolution believes that:
• The provisions should be further extended to allow journalists to report on specific cases but with appropriate safeguards to ensure anonymity and prevent identification
• An expanded Family Courts' Inspectorate, consisting primarily of lay members should be set up to report on consistency within the family courts.

Friday, 24 April 2009


The Mighty Queens of Freeville is Amy Dickinson’s story of her life and the effect upon it both of her own and of her parents’ divorce. It’s easy to read and in places more like a novel than an autobiography. Importantly it is not a tale about divorce itself, so there are no gory details of fallings out (unless you can count reference to an argument about the Prime Minister of Pakistan) nor does it seek to wash dirty linen in public. As Amy says they divorced “nicely.”

What it does do is normalise the emotions that accompany marriage break up, describing how she loved her husband dearly and still did when she woke up the next day, until she remembered that he was leaving her. She recounts how she used to congratulate herself for not calling him and would lie in bed promising not to telephone the following morning either. She recalls the pain at handing her young daughter over for contact, the child’s arms locked around her in an embrace that she could not undo. She even remembers the emotions she encountered as child when her own father left and she visited him and his new partner. She describes dashing from work to collect her daughter from school and building her whole life around their relationship together.

The book is spiced with moments of humour including her first attempts at dating again. She learned to forget to worry about a career and instead concentrate on the family that was important to her, returning eventually to live in the hometown she had grown up in.

She rails at the family values enunciated by politicians and concedes that hers is the imperfect broken unit they attack whilst failing to recognise that, though not perfect, it functions adequately.

There cannot be many Agony Aunts prepared to be so honest in print and in acknowledging that divorce runs through her family “like an aggressive chromosome” she also thanks her family, particularly the women in it, for the support they gave her in helping her come to terms with and handle the experience.

Any complaints? Only that I thought it should have been longer.

My thanks to the publishers Hyperion for forwarding a copy of the book to read and review.

Thursday, 23 April 2009


Today is not only St George’s Day but also the anniversary of the birth and death of William Shakespeare in 1564 and 1616 respectively. Now as everyone knows William Shakespeare is England’s most famous playwright, renowned the world over for his masterpieces such as “Macbeth” or “Romeo and Juliet.” English literature’s role model you might say. That said, had he lived today, he might equally have been described as the scourge of politicians; married in a shotgun wedding at the age of 18 before his wife gave birth some 6 months later, he proceeded in due course to move to London leaving his wife at home with a young daughter and a set of twins. In those days Stratford upon Avon was hardly within commuting distance of the capital and although it is reported that he returned there once a year, details are very hazy and there subsists a suspicion that away from home he formed a relationship with another woman. Regardless he remained married to his wife. Who needed divorce in those days when an alternative home in London might as well have been at the other side of the world? Nevertheless Shakespeare delivered an equally cruel wound to his marriage from beyond the grave. When his will was read, it left only his second best bed to his wife!

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Not entirely unrelated to the recent scientific comments in relation to the sun, I recall the occasion once upon a time when I had my first ever instructions from a Druid. He told me that he wanted a divorce because his wife had grown dimmer and had become very quiet!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Henry VIII with Gloriana in back - Claudius Messing
Originally uploaded by

It is 500 years since Henry VIII came to the throne and it can hardly be co-incidence that Prince Charles is planning a visit to the Pope, nor that yesterday’s papers were full of stories about how the Vatican would be presenting him with a luxury bound facsimile copy of the papers relating to Henry’s request for the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Turned down by the Pope, Henry, as we all know, severed relations with Rome, installed himself as head of the Anglican Church and proceeded to dissolve his marriage to Katherine, ransack the monasteries and confiscate Catholic lands. Of course it didn’t stop there and indeed when he finally died a further five wives later, the concept of divorce had become embedded in English tradition, even though one of his wives actually died and he found it easier to accuse of treason and behead two of them than go through a proper legal process again. Resolution has issued a press release indicating the need to modernise our divorce laws further and distance ourselves from the concept of blame which Henry repeatedly sought to heap on his wives. I won’t repeat the release as John Bolch has done a wonderful job of including it in his blog which you can read by clicking here.

Sunday, 19 April 2009


Yesterday Little Girl cajoled me into taking her and a friend to the cinema to see what I understood to be a teenage film.

“Don’t you dare snore,” Little Girl whispered as we entered the entertainment complex. “It’s a comedy,” she added as an afterthought, “And whatever you do don’t cry.” That of course is my forte when watching a film.

I strolled into Screen 3 accompanied by my two young companions each clutching a bag of pop-corn. I expected to be bored to the limit but was pleasantly surprised when "17 Again" turned out to be about a divorce; more than co-incidence you might think, though Little Girl denied it.

Needless to say the storyline struck a chord and I found myself choking back the tears at the divorce hearing which only proves that even long-standing divorce lawyers are never inured to the process.

Whilst it wasn’t a movie that I would necessarily recommend to anyone over the age of 17, least of all if you are actually going through a divorce. There was, however, a strong moral message which may be of interest to those only in the process of considering separation. Married young, he blamed her for holding him back for 20 years and denying his opportunity to play college basketball; she him for not appreciating her for what she was. Against the background of divorce papers and a nostalgic trip back in time, however, there was a realisation as to why they had married in the first place and what it was that was really important to them both. With the benefit of hindsight, they had no wish to change their marital set up after all.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


Anyone who has ever visited my messy home will know that Outdoor Man and I believe that there’s more to life than DIY and tidiness. That said, spring arrives and the sight of blackbirds flitting around the garden with twigs in beaks building nests, arouses in me instincts that are otherwise alien. Hence my morning spent de-cluttering.

I am not alone, for now is not only the season for couples to commit to each other through marriage vows but also for others to take legal advice concerning their perceived incompatibility and desire to divorce. Spring causes her to contemplate life without the constant need to pick up half empty mugs and dirty clothes scattered around the home and the desirability of that extra space presently turned over to his collection of “good” wood and “it will come in useful” plastic and metal bits. Conversely he begins to fantasise about a life without credit card bills incurred so far as he can see on adding more to already bulging wardrobes, overfilled bathroom shelves and all those perfumed candles on the window ledges.

Outdoor Man has a penchant for cardboard boxes in all shapes and sizes which we apparently might need one day, but which presently serve no purpose other than adding extra insulation to the loft and garage. During the course of my spring-clean, I had a brainwave. I suggested that I should take them to Latimer Hinks where any potential divorce client brought to breaking point by the state of their home could help themselves to a free receptacle to take rubbish to the tip. Not only would this clear space in my home but just imagine the extent to which others could be helped and the divorce rate in Darlington plummet. Outdoor Man is having none of it. They’re his and he’s keeping them. Forget his love of boxes; I think he just wants to keep me in work!

Thursday, 16 April 2009


One of the many things that I find irritating about TV talent shows is when a participant is interviewed and without exception bursts into tears and describes the experience of competing as an incredible journey. I have no quibble, however, with the idea of a journey as a metaphor for life itself and the ups and downs that it throws at us.

Last Wednesday I began a week’s holiday with a journey of my own. It was across Switzerland and started in cloudy conditions at Zurich where I landed by plane. To begin with there was the mad panic of finding my way from airport arrivals to the appropriate station platform along with assorted pieces of baggage. Travelling through urban scenery there was the highlight of the first glimpse of a lake as the cityscape began to recede and the downside of changing trains with that heavy luggage to heave from one platform to another. My journey proceeded south-eastwards, climbing gradually into the mountains. The spring buds which had been in evidence in the UK before my journey began were non-existent and the countryside I passed through was still in the grip of winter. Whilst snow at the side of the tracks had thawed in some places, in others it resolutely remained, deep and frozen.

Arriving at my destination in the middle of the afternoon, however, the sky was blue and cloud-free; the sun was shining and the local inhabitants were smiling and welcoming as they helped with the luggage. Yes, my journey too was complete; I had arrived.

Monday, 6 April 2009


It has been suggested to me on occasions that divorce has produced more female millionaires in this country than work has. I don’t know if that is true but certainly a view persists that women can do very well financially in our jurisdiction by marrying a well-heeled gent and then divorcing. I was surprised to learn today, however, of the arrest of a woman in India whom the news reports appear to be making out is operating a scam as a career divorcee. It seems that even in India, where wives bring a dowry to the table when they marry, there can still be potential gains (especially when combined with alleged threats and harassment) in separating and divorcing very quickly afterwards.

Saturday, 4 April 2009


The traditional “British cuppa” has recently come under attack. To begin with Iranian scientists claimed to have found a link between drinking tea that’s too hot and cancer of the oesophagus. Then an elderly Lancashire man was arrested for allegedly trying to poison his ex-wife by adding mercury to her cup of tea.

There was a time when the biggest danger in drinking tea was being asked to read the tea leaves afterwards. These days, however, it seems that it needs to carry a Government Health Warning: “Divorcees beware, drinking tea can seriously damage your health.”

Friday, 3 April 2009


The last working day of the tax year and was it any wonder that I came in this evening and collapsed in a heap? There are occasions when in resolving financial and property issues between clients there can be good reasons to transfer certain assets in one tax year and others in the next. However, generally it makes life much easier for solicitors and their clients if such transactions can be identified well in advance and matters not left until the eleventh hour. Why then oh why did I find myself just minutes before our normal closing time driving through the Durham Dales to ensure that a deed was signed? I did it because it ended up being a challenge in which we overcame one party stranded in a car park with an unresponsive mobile phone; another at the other end of the globe with an intermittent internet service; an argument as to the provisions of a deed and a deadline to meet. We finally did it, but please, please dear clients follow my advice and instruct your lawyers at the beginning of a tax year and not at the end, carry your phone charger with you at all times, leave the safari till the legalities are complete and don’t ever separate until you’ve had legal advice on the tax implications.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


However harsh Mr Myerson may think the decision of the Court of Appeal yesterday, surely it was correct. Briefly, Mr Myerson sought leave to appeal against a divorce settlement to which he had consented in March 2008 because since that time and as a result of the recession his wealth has shrunk from the £14.6 million he should have had as a result of the consent order to minus £539,000. The Court of Appeal however decided that on the basis of settled legal principles, for which see John Bolch’s helpful blog at Family Lore, there was no justification for latitude.

Putting the decision into context it, of course, now hits on the head the possibility of all those who have paid over the odds for their spouse’s share in the family home, reclaiming part of the purchase price. It excludes those who hung onto equities from coming back as a result of their losses. It stops those who accepted cash, on the basis that it would earn massive sums in interest from which they could live without drawing the capital, from seeking more. It also prevents all those divorcees who just went and blew it at the races from seeking compensation because their horse didn’t come in!