Tuesday, 30 June 2009


The recent death of Michael Jackson coupled with the reports that his mother has applied for guardianship of his children inevitably prompts queries from worried clients as to the position should they too die prematurely leaving dependent children. Is it automatic that their divorced spouse will have the children live with them or need they do something to ensure or, in some cases, prevent this? Has the fact that they have made a will appointing someone as guardian sufficient?

In English law, generally only the parents will have parental responsibility for their children and this cannot be usurped by a guardian appointed by will unless both parents have died. However, the fact that a surviving parent has parental responsibility does not mean that the children will automatically live with that person. As with all cases involving children, their best interests are paramount. So and to this end a court has power to make a residence order in favour of another person if that is the outcome which better serves the needs of the children. As a result I have been involved in cases where orders have been made in favour of grandparents or other relatives or friends, remembering always that a child’s wishes and feelings are also taken into account.

Further and importantly even where, as is invariably the case, there is no dispute between surviving relatives as to where the children should live, it is important not to overlook the need to apply for parental responsibility. If you do not have this, you may encounter difficulties consenting to medical treatment for a child or applying for a passport to take them on holiday.

Also and ridiculous as it may sound, even if you are named on the birth certificate of a child as the father, you do not automatically have parental responsibility unless your child was born in or after December 2003. In those circumstances a child may have lived with you throughout their lives but legally you still need powers conferring on you by a court to act on behalf of your child!

Saturday, 27 June 2009


The Catholic Church counselling service, Accord, reported yesterday that too much time spent on the Internet is causing marital problems in Ireland. Not surprisingly it believes that the worst sites are those providing online gambling or dating services but additionally one partner can be perceived as simply spending too much time at their PC, leading a virtual life rather than a real one with their spouse. I note however that blogging didn’t feature in the comments reported although, and here I speak from experience, it is truly addictive but presumably perfectly harmless when it comes to marital relations. Indeed I’m now two years into this blog yet Outdoor Man still speaks to me, despite logging on occasionally to read what I write about him!

Friday, 26 June 2009


This is going to make me sound somewhat old, but in the days before the Child Support Agency it was common for me to act on behalf of clients seeking or defending affiliation orders, in an effort to establish paternity of a child. At the time, analysis was based on blood compatibility tests as opposed to DNA testing as is the case now. The reports giving the results of the blood tests were generally expressed in such a way that the likelihood of a defendant being the father of the child was given on a percentage basis. It always struck me as strange when a woman insisted she had only had one partner to be given results that virtually excluded him from paternity, and likewise for a man to insist he could not be the father on the basis of a relationship that consisted of little more than a one-night stand, only for the results to be weighted to the contrary.

Indeed once upon a time I recall having to tell one young man that regrettably the outcome of the tests suggested that the odds on successfully refuting paternity were stacked against him. He was downcast to hear this but then immediately pepped up when he read the report which confirmed that on the basis of the samples analysed only 0.07% of men could be the father of the child and he fell into that 0.07%.

“Double O, Seven,” he read out aloud. “From now on,” he exclaimed with a smile on his face, “I shall call myself James Bond.”

All of these stories came back to me when I received a call this morning. It was Outdoor Man.

“We have a problem, Jude,” he said. “One of the Roborowski Brothers isn’t a brother after all and it’s given birth, but we can’t work out which one’s the mother, or the father for that matter. Apprentice Man and I are just off now for our weekend of sailing and you’ll need to deal with it!”

Obviously I was slightly bemused but totally unclear what I was meant to do about the situation from my office desk.

“We just thought as a family lawyer, you’d know what to do.”

Does anyone offer DNA testing for hamsters?

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


Fake Stig looking serious
Originally uploaded by

After months if not years of speculation the country was surprised to discover that The Stig was Michael Schumacher, then everyone shrugged their shoulders and dismissively implied they’d thought as much all along. There’s always something of a surprise, then anticlimax, when a disguise is lifted to reveal the true identity underneath. One only has to look to The Merry Wives of Windsor for confirmation when Caius declares with both astonishment and disgust “Mistress Anne Page is a boy!”

It’s the same with marriage. Lifting the veil from the bride’s head does the groom ever imagine that one day, as my clients complain, she’ll turn into her mother? Conversely wives bitterly resent the fact that their husbands never change, despite their best efforts!

Sunday, 21 June 2009


Yesterday I took Apprentice Man to Hull so that he could represent the County in an Athletics Tournament. It was a 160 mile round trip and effectively took up the whole of my Saturday. Fortunately he maintained his county standard and everyone was happy.

It reminded me however of all those instances when clients describe with regret how they put themselves out over the years for their partner, only to find that he or she leaves them for another.

During the day I had plenty of time to ponder and daydream. I wonder, come the Olympic Games in 2012, should Apprentice Man find himself running in London will he secure a ticket for his girlfriend rather than his mother? If so, will I remember with indignation the fact that it was me who got up early to drive him all that distance to Humberside; sat on a hard seat for 4 hours wrapped in a fleece and cagoule to protect me from the constant and heavy rain showers; that he was lousy at navigating causing us to miss the correct turn on more than one occasion; that the moment we got home, he was straight out again with his friends, leaving his kit on the floor for me to wash?

Whilst few would say they expect a material return for investing time in their loved ones, many would nonetheless feel embittered if that investment is not reciprocated. In matters of relationships, whilst we may live for the moment enjoying what we have and what we do, equally even the most altruistic person might feel cheated if ultimately there is no gift of reciprocity and they are abandoned.

Friday, 19 June 2009


There follow extracts from that well thumbed lexicon, "The Embittered Divorcee's Dictionary of Life,":

Man man (noun) a foolish knave
wuman (noun) a frivolous maiden
luv (noun) an illusion
marrij (noun) reality
separayshun (noun) purgatory
devorss (noun) hell
marree (verb) wed
devorss (verb) future tense of marry
fynanshall setulment (noun) robbery
pree nup(noun) insurance
maintenanss (noun) lifeline, if the recipient; millstone, if the payer
Lump sum
lump sum (noun) blood money
Pension share
penshun share(noun) penury in retirement

Tuesday, 16 June 2009


A novel punishment made the headlines in Turkey today when a Judge sentenced a man who had inflicted a beating on his wife, to distribute a leaflet to 1,000 people personally. Apparently it read: “I apologise to my wife and all the people of Arac for hitting my wife.” It seems the punishment arose from a law introduced as a result of Turkey’s efforts to join the EU. Maybe a few more countries, our own included, should be made to reapply for membership and come up with some unique and effective punishments of our own.

Thursday, 11 June 2009


Originally uploaded by

This evening I found myself in the company of other family lawyers in a room piled high with broken crockery. A scene from a domestic dispute open to forensic examination you might guess. No, I was being entertained in the somewhat novel surroundings of the MIMA art gallery in Middlesbrough where the exhibition I was treated to was of something known as conceptual art, expressed in this instance through the medium of ceramics. Apparently it was a moving portrayal of the loss of industry, particularly the closure of pottery kilns in Staffordshire! Thank goodness we had a guide to explain it all and, as one of the party quipped, “It must be good, even the barristers are speechless!”

Wednesday, 10 June 2009


After hearing evidence and watching the DVD of the wedding of Gillian Hudson and Robert Leigh in South Africa, Mr Justice Bodey sitting in the High Court commented that it was a splendid and romantic ceremony. Apparently it took place on a rooftop complete with priest, full wedding trousseau, well dressed guests and the sea as a perfect backdrop. The Judge however ruled last week that nevertheless the couple were not married.

It seems that, sense of occasion apart, the couple, who had also intended to have a civil ceremony in Chiswick Register Office, separated before they could get there and the format of the ceremony they undertook was insufficient for the court to determine the existence of a valid contract of marriage. Unfortunately for Miss Hudson that means that she cannot divorce Mr Leigh and her financial claims against him are now essentially limited to support for their child and not for her.

Weddings have changed greatly over recent years with many no longer held in church but at non-traditional venues such as hotels, stately homes and even football pitches. This trend for personalising weddings has been fuelled by TV shows, such as “Gavin and Stacey”, where, as part of the ceremony, characters have quoted their own declarations of love to demonstrate the depth of their feelings.

In olden times it was accepted that jumping over the broom together was sufficient to form a common-law marriage. In England today all marriages must conform to statute law and the idea of a common law marriage is a myth. You can jump over the broom with whomever you choose, in as many romantic settings as you want but, at the end of the day if the necessary formalities are not complied with, you remain unmarried in law.

Furthermore if you are not married and your relationship breaks down, financial claims are severely limited, if not non-existent. That’s why
Resolution continues to campaign for a change in the law in this area

Sunday, 7 June 2009


The Roborowski Brothers could be the name of an acrobatic troupe but it isn’t, or at least not as far as I’m aware. Instead it’s the name given to Little Girl’s latest pets, three dwarf hamsters whose ancestors originate from the Gobi desert. Apparently in the wild these little things run 20-25 miles a night. In our home they do the same, but on a hamster wheel. Tedious you might think and I’m sure they’d agree, if they stayed off it long enough to consider their predicament.

Instead, the pace of life for them gets quicker. They have become more accomplished, dueting together in the wheel or, when time is really pressing, with a third running behind. It’s non-stop activity 7pm-10am daily. The only break from the tedium is when petty squabbles break out among them, especially when one seems to be on that wheel continuously. We’ve been told that sometimes these little tiffs can escalate to the point where they will be unable to live in harmony together and will need to be popped into separate cages. Sounds familiar? Get off the hamster wheel!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009


If you are going through a difficult separation, you could find yourself feeling tired, depressed, and incapable of functioning or even indulging in non-customary behaviour. These are, of course, perfectly normal side effects for someone enduring the pain of rejection.

For an extreme example, take heart and look at the case this week of Susan Boyle. She was the runner up in a television talent show on Saturday and on Sunday was admitted to hospital officially suffering from exhaustion but with rumours abounding that it could be more serious. She has never been married but she now nonetheless knows the agony of rejection, in her case at the hands of the British TV viewing public, for it was they who brutally condemned her to second place.

Furthermore it appears that the Prime Minister has intervened by ringing one of the Judges in the show to express his concern. Regardless of the level of your pain, don’t expect him to show the same interest when your divorce case comes up before a Judge.