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!