Tuesday, 14 December 2010


So it’s your first Christmas apart and you’ve decided to send your ex a card. The dilemma that now faces you, is what do you write inside and how do you sign off? “Best wishes,” sounds a little too distant; “regards,” is far too formal; “love from,” is just plainly inappropriate. Then if you can work out the correct sentiment do you put “xxx” after your name or not? Yes, you do write it on Aunt Ethel’s card but she is elderly and she is not your estranged spouse. Of course you could just write your name, after all the card itself will carry a printed message in any event; but a name by itself looks exactly that and you don’t want the ex thinking of you as all alone, one short name on a piece of paper.

Frankly the time spent agonising over “Do you, don’t you and if you do, how?” is not worth it. Far, far easier to pick up the phone and wish them a Merry Christmas verbally. If you are unable to communicate directly in that way then don’t send a card; it’s meaning is going to be misinterpreted and you may regret it later.

Thursday, 9 December 2010


A hint of a thaw in the air today and despite the piles of snow along the paths, the streets of Darlington were again full, as shoppers browsed at a Christmas market. There seemed to be a roaring trade in boxes of Christmas Crackers. I do think “crackers” is a lovely word with its various connotations verging from biscuits to bonkers.

“I used to be ‘crackers’ about her”, clients will tell me, as I take instructions for the first time. “Now I just think I’m cracking up.”

Crisp and crackly and in the case of the humble Christmas cracker related to the firework version of the same name. In fact so close in genetic make-up that I understand that, as result of recent European regulations, the boxes I saw being sold can only be bought by those over sixteen! Crackers or what?

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


In times of sub-zero temperatures, such as now, separated girls can do with a plumber’s telephone number stuck to her memo board, ready for when the pipes begin to burst. Conversely and with Christmas approaching, many men could do with the number for a gift wrapping service. A client recently gave me a helpful tip: stay on good terms with your ex and just call them instead!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of re-modelling. If your nearest and dearest has walked out on you and you want to look good, or not, as the case may be, it’s your life; your choice. One word of warning though beards might keep your chin warm but they don’t look as good on women as they do on Santa Claus!

Monday, 6 December 2010


I finally gave in. 2010 will be known as the first year I let Little Girl (now 14 by the way) have a chocolate Advent calendar. Well it’s always been a point of principle before, but how could I resist when I spotted one where the profits go to charity; the chocolate is Fairtrade; the Nativity scene is posted on the front, and behind each door there is an instalment of the Christmas story? I’m not sure that I approve of the hearty dose of chocolate immediately after her breakfast but on the basis that the weather has been somewhat cold even for early December and she cleans her teeth afterwards, I’ve decided not to nag.

In fact I’m now going to recommend chocolate Advent calendars to any lady contemplating divorce in the New Year. On the basis that women are reputedly all chocoholics at heart, go on, get yourself one. If it makes you feel better and gets you through the run up to Christmas, who cares? After all, come January, you can sign up to a gym, solicitor and dieting classes.

Sunday, 5 December 2010


I’ve received an e-mail from the theatre. “The snow must go on,” it said. And on and on and on. Yes it’s now Day 11 and I’m heartily sick. The last production Little Girl and I saw at the theatre was “Romeo and Juliet” by the RSC. Little Girl rather thought that went on too but I suspect she has inherited from Outdoor Man some non-dramatic genes and a dislike of seating, fixed in narrow rows.

A classic love story ruined by warring families. “Never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” It certainly puts the work I do into perspective but it is only fiction, whilst relationship problems resulting in divorce are reality.

Saturday, 4 December 2010


Have you started your Christmas shopping yet or are you like me and do you put it off to the last minute? Are you divorced or do you know somebody who is? If so, The Divorce Saloon Store, open 24/7, might have all the gifts you are looking for. Check it out now at :

Friday, 3 December 2010


So ladies, he’s going to be off to Russia in 2018. Prepare now if you don’t want to become a football marriage casualty. What better way to spend your winter evenings for the next seven years than poring over holiday brochures and guidebooks as you plan your ideal holiday taking in St Petersburg, Moscow and if it appeals even Siberia. Don’t let him go alone. Take up Cossack dancing, a love of red, fur hats, vodka (in moderation) and borscht. Insist on being a WAG.

I’m not so sure what to suggest for Qatar in 2022. I did once change planes at the airport there and it was very clean with air conditioning and wonderful views (of a desert).

Thursday, 2 December 2010


I received an e-mail this morning promoting an album by The Irreconcilables entitled “Merry Ex-Mas- Holiday Songs for the Divorced and Soon To Be”. It includes songs, such as “Frosty, My Ex-Wife,” as featured on You Tube, with such notable lines as “Frosty my ex-wife was the coldest thing I know.” It’s clearly written by songwriters who share my view that divorce is painful but can be easier to bear if you can bring yourself to smile.

Monday, 29 November 2010


All this snow reminds me of the alleged story of the woman who put her husband’s pyjamas in the freezer, because he had been unfaithful to her. I have no idea whether or not it is a true story but certainly icy conditions and heavy snow seem to lend themselves to matrimonial mischief. Certainly I recall a client once upon a time confessing that the great thing about winter wasn’t just the handsome postman who delivered the Christmas post but also the fact that the snow immediately covered all her visitors’ footprints, so her husband never knew how many people she sipped coffee with during the course of his working day. Unfortunately for her the snow was so heavy that, on one occasion, her husband was unable to get to his office and so returned home unexpectedly. Footprints or no footprints, he still found one of her visitors in shall we say a compromising position with his wife, and divorce proceedings ensued.

Friday, 26 November 2010


Mr Justice Coleridge made a speech this morning to the Association of Lawyers for Children. In it he expressed his concern that there is a creeping tendency towards disrespect for court orders in family proceedings especially in so far as they relate to contact with children. As we might expect from Mr Justice Coleridge he wasn’t shy in putting forward innovative solutions to this disturbing trend. Whilst Judges re-donning their robes might sound like a backwards step and removing carpets and houseplants from courtrooms would suggest he hasn’t visited my local County Court, his “three breaches and the child transfers place of residence” could have a certain resonance. He also criticised the extent to which the wishes and feelings of the children themselves are taken into account reminding the audience that the court, not the child, must make the decision.
“Times demand more open discussion and debate,” he insisted.

I do believe that the learned Judge has a point. So,if a suggestion box is called for and we’re aiming for a nostalgia trip, let’s start it off here and now:
  1. On the basis that Parenting Information Sessions are being increasingly embraced, let’s add to them with defaulting parents being asked to do detention and copy out “lines” from their last session.

  2. If the excuse used for a lack of contact relates to the child suffering from a cough, cold or other minor ailment, three spoonfuls of cod liver oil sounds like an appropriate remedy; for the parent that is and not for the child who will of course have made a miraculous recovery, once the due hour for collection has passed.

  3. If men in suits, or even Judges’ robes aren’t deemed frightening enough, let’s add open court hearings with a baying public gallery, horsehair wigs and even gavels for sound effects.

  4. Oh and what about throwing away the cushioned seats and bringing back all those hard wooden benches that used to adorn our courts? Especially useful if we return to waiting 3 or 4 hours for a case to be called.

  5. Scope for deportation to one of our former foreign colonies on the other side of the world? Maybe not, after all the line will have to be drawn somewhere.

Thursday, 25 November 2010


  • In which country do at least 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime?

  • In which country do almost 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault in their lifetime?

  • In which country do 1 in 5 women experience being stalked in their lifetime?

  • In which country have some 66,000 women had their genitals mutilated?

Sadly the answer is the UK, according to data collected.

Today was prescribed as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, took the opportunity to confirm that £28 million for frontline support services will be protected for 4 years as she confirmed a cross-government commitment to end violence against women and girls. The Government also announced that Domestic Violence Protection Orders will be introduced next year when police forces in Greater Manchester, West Mercia and Wiltshire will pilot powers to protect victims after an attack where there is potentially insufficient evidence to prosecute. They will be able to exclude an alleged perpetrator from the home for 48 hours (sufficient time to allow the victim to obtain an injunction if necessary) with scope to go to court for an extension of up to 28 days.

Small steps perhaps, but they are in the right direction.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010


Guess what? Christmas is coming again! How on earth have I sussed out this amazing fact before anyone else? It must be something to do with being a divorce lawyer I guess and not at all because of the tinsel and flashing lights that have begun to adorn Darlington not to mention the Santa Clauses in the shop windows. Sadly it’s that time of year when solicitors’ offices are besieged by enquiries from estranged parents about Christmas contact. It may shortly be the season of goodwill but there’s a surfeit of malice and vindictiveness in the air when one parent seeks to deny the other contact with their children without good cause. Contact with both parents is the right of every child and it should only be curtailed or severed where, in the most serious of circumstances, this is necessary to protect the child. How many times do we hear people say Christmas is for the children? So come on let’s all have a very happy yuletide, stop the bickering and let them enjoy quality time with each of you.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


It’s a sign of our cynical times I suppose but no sooner is the engagement announced than I receive a call asking if I will pop into the local radio station on my way home from work and make a comment or two. It’s a strange request of a divorce lawyer.

“Will it be good for business?” No, I can’t have heard correctly. Does the presenter think I’m actually a man of the cloth licensed to undertake wedding ceremonies or is she anticipating that a swift divorce will follow the happy nuptials? Will Prince William and Kate Middleton (no relation) set a trend and will more happy Darlington couples follow suit only to land at my doorstep in a few years time?

Nobody goes into marriage thinking it will end and if anyone hedges their bets believing that if it doesn’t work out they can get a divorce easily, they will be disappointed. Divorce is amongst the most traumatic events you can endure and is only for those for whom there is no alternative. Far better, as I know my clients have done, to work hard at your marriage and try your best to save it. At the point of no hope my doorstep is there but it is very much a last resort.

P.S. The presenter was actually alluding to pre-nuptial agreements.

Monday, 15 November 2010


So the Law Society’s victory in the courts against the Legal Services Commission a few weeks ago was a Pyrrhic victory. The LSC as you will recall had sought to cut dramatically the number of solicitors’ firms offering a family law legal aid service. Its action was rendered unlawful and in the interests of access to justice was reversed. However, today proposals announced by the Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke once again put thousands of vulnerable people at risk and deny justice to countless families, as Resolution has warned.

The proposals mean that the only private law family cases that will still get legal aid for court are domestic violence or forced marriage proceedings. The only option available to separating couples going through divorce or separation will be to attend mediation, which does not work for every family, or to represent themselves.

David Allison, Resolution chair said: “Families need legal aid for a whole range of reasons. Suggesting, as these proposals do, that couples in dispute about contact arrangements for children or financial issues are simply wasting taxpayers’ money by unnecessary squabbling ignores the reality that 90% of couples already reach agreement outside of court. Those that do need legal aid usually do so for good reason – intimidation by one partner over another, or an imbalance of financial power in the relationship. Resolving a financial dispute through legal aid can prevent a vulnerable spouse from becoming dependent on the state.”

David Allison continued: “We are deeply worried that mediation is being seen as a universal panacea. Whilst mediation has a real and useful role to play there are real dangers in this approach, which ignores the range of non-court options. Family disputes are complex. There cannot and must not be a one size fits all approach.”

Sunday, 14 November 2010


On Friday a judgment was handed down by The Honourable Mr Justice Moylan in the High Court in which he carefully analysed the evidential value of hair-strand testing for alcohol. “While hair analysis for the use of drugs other than alcohol has been used for many years, hair testing specifically for alcohol use is a relatively recent and developing science, at least in the field of forensic toxicology,” he said. “It is clearly particularly important when new scientific tests are being used for forensic purposes that they have a sound basis which makes it appropriate for the results to be used in court proceedings and which is sufficiently explained so that the court and the parties have a full understanding of the evidential basis both of the tests themselves and of any opinions based on the interpretation of the results of such tests.”

The tests have been designed to establish a pattern of drinking over a period of time but are not conclusive because ethanol is present in all hair, even that of teetotallers. Indeed traces can be the product of the environment, or the body’s metabolism and can result therefore from certain foods and cosmetics.

All of which reminds me of a case I was involved in once upon a time when Mrs Hardened Drinker’s contact with her children was severely limited because of allegations that they were at risk in her care. Hair strand testing was suggested by her husband’s lawyer as a means of satisfying both her husband and the court that, contrary to his client’s assertions that she even kept a stash of beer and brandy in the bathroom cabinet, she was not an alcoholic. Mrs Hardened Drinker was keen to prove her innocence and readily admitted the store of alcohol in the bathroom claiming not that it was medicinal, but that she used it to wash her hair. I have to admit that whilst she had a tendency to sway and slur her words when she came to see me, her hair was always glossy.

Inevitably hair-strand testing was deemed unlikely to be conclusive in the circumstances and much to Mrs HD’s chagrin she was asked to take a series of blood and urine tests instead. When the results were known, she was again able to explain them with reference to her bathing techniques. Apparently she didn’t just wash her hair in an alcoholic cocktail, but was accustomed to filling the bath with the beer and liquor before lying back to gloss her hair and occasionally and accidentally swallowing some of the alcohol that surrounded her. It was unfortunately clear from the results of those tests that she must have been taking more than the odd sly sip.

Saturday, 6 November 2010


This week a large part of my spare time has been spent making inventories of house contents for a property that I am involved in the letting of. It’s a tedious task, especially when you get down to the minutiae of the cutlery and lamp shades; it is however a job that many separating couples have to undertake before determining a split of their possessions. However making a list is only the beginning; next, one has to agree the division. During my time as a family lawyer, I have come across various bizarre proposals for the division of chattels including the notorious physical and equal division of everything, with the use of a saw of course. It’s not to be recommended and anyone going down that route can find themselves severely penalised when it comes to dividing the proceeds from the house sale or cash at the bank.

Less commonly, however, I recall the couple who once upon a time agreed that one would have the contents upstairs and the other those from downstairs. There was a certain logic to this in that both were surveyors and agreed that the floor areas up and down were identical. Their solution was, however flawed when they couldn’t actually agree on who would have which floor.

Then once upon a time there was the occasion when a Judge suggested to my client that she prepare two lists of contents, one for each of them. One might have expected the client to unduly weight one list in her favour but the Judge stalled this by indicating that the each list should be put in a separate unmarked envelope and then drawn as if from a bran tub with neither husband nor wife knowing which list they would get!

More frequently there is the regular threat by the court that if the couple can’t agree then everything must be sold and the proceeds divided between them. With second-hand goods selling for a fraction of new, that has to be an incentive for commonsense to prevail. After all chattels are just that, only things.

Friday, 29 October 2010


Not uncommonly, and as a result of a relationship breakdown, the house which a couple own and occupy together can become empty as both decide to go their separate ways and for whatever reason neither continues to live in the home pending its sale. Whilst the lawyers will invariably become involved in ensuring agreement as to how the bills are paid, one thing over which they have no control is the ongoing issue of buildings’ insurance. Although most insurers will continue to insure a property, the perils covered by the policy after a property has been vacant for a set period (commonly 30 days) reduce. Unfortunately not every couple is aware of this dramatic change in risk.

Once upon a time I advised a client working abroad for 6 months a year to check the small print of his house insurance policy after his wife vacated the house owned solely in his name. “It’s fine,” he told me, “If the in-laws torch it, throw objects at it from passing aircraft, or ask Thor to hurl thunderbolts at it, I’m covered. If they try to break in and cause malicious damage I’ve got a great big Rottweiler living there and it’s going to be hungry if I’m only home twice a year to feed it!”

Thursday, 28 October 2010


I took a few days away from work this week to keep Little Girl company during her half term holiday and ended up decorating. It had never occurred to me before though how much our house walls are like personal relationships. As cracks revealed themselves, there was the ongoing dilemma of how best to deal with them. Do you paper over and hope nothing untoward will happen? Do you ignore them, slap on the paint regardless and trust nobody will notice? Do you reach for help in the form of filler, sand down and hopefully produce a smooth and perfect result? Whichever route you choose, will they reappear and after how long?

Thursday, 21 October 2010


Ever had one of those days when you don’t know whether to laugh or cry and end up doing both anyway? Well yesterday was one of those. First the Chancellor told the nation about the drastic public sector cuts that are going to take place, including 23% at the Ministry of Justice, presumably hitting courts still harder. Then the Supreme Court took the opportunity to confirm that there is indeed a place for pre-nuptial agreements in English law and perhaps the budget cuts and the need to use those hard-pressed court services didn’t seem as bad; well at least there was an alternative. Indeed in the Press Release it issued today, Resolution, which has been campaigning for pre-nuptial agreements to be made enforceable, said:

"This judgment is a major step forward. We know that financial uncertainty is one of the most stressful elements of any divorce, and a pre-nuptial agreement can be a useful tool for couples wishing to reduce this uncertainty.

However, until now the enforceability of pre-nups has been very uncertain because they were seen as contrary to public policy and an attempt to override divorce laws. That principle has been swept away by yesterday’s judgment, which paves the way for these agreements to become more mainstream and less the preserve of the rich and famous.

With second marriages on the rise, people marrying later, and many couples entering marriage with money and property already to their name, it is likely that there will be more and more demand for pre-nuptial agreements. This much-needed judgment clarifies their status and is a victory for fairness and common sense.

The judgment is clear that pre-nuptial agreements are presumed to be enforceable except where they lead to unfair outcomes. Any arguments about unfairness are to be left to the courts to decide.”

Thursday, 14 October 2010


“Drip, drip, drip it’s like living with a leaking tap,” he said, “Constantly nagging; years and years I’ve put up with it. It never stops, constantly wearing you down. Oh well at least it never kills. Water can’t do that to you.”

Except it can. It is estimated that there are nearly a billion people without access to clean, safe water on this planet. So great is the scale of the problem that in July the United Nations declared clean water and sanitation a basic human right. No wonder when approximately 48,000 people a week die from diseases transmitted in contaminated water or unsanitary conditions.

Those figures certainly put divorce in perspective

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


After tonight’s headlines to the effect that student tuition fees could rise to £7,000 per annum, I wonder how many students regret that day in May when they cast their vote in favour of the Liberal Democrats. Weren’t they promising to abolish tuition fees altogether? Funny how once in power policies can change. It’s what’s commonly known as betrayal and somehow we accept that it’s what politicians do.

The closer to home however that trust is betrayed, the less accepting we are of it and the greater the emotional effect upon us. Friends and work colleagues stab us in the back and misery ensues. When spouses or partners leave to set up home with another person, emotions run riot. As William Congreve wrote: “Hell has no rage like love to hatred turned. Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.”

Just like the about-turn on university tuition fees, the ones who suffer are the next generation; those who were too young to cast a vote at the ballot-box or have a say when their parents broke up in anger and torment. They are the ones who will pay the price and, if the government implements this recommendation as appears likely, the ones who have been ConDemned.

Sunday, 10 October 2010


Access to justice is fundamental to any civilised society. Recently however we had the absurd situation where the Law Society had to take the Community Legal Service to Court for a review of its tendering process for legal aid in circumstances where and by severely cutting the number of law firms that could offer a legal aid service, access to legal advice and representatives was crudely reduced. Although the Law Society won that round, we now hear rumours that legal aid will potentially no longer be available for many family cases and only on Thursday the Justice Minister, Jonathan Djangoly, indicated on the radio that people in family breakdowns are using court too often and that the Government is determined to look at this, with mediation being viewed as a positive alternative.

Of course lawyers came in for criticism, being blamed as lacking knowledge of the mediation process. Well I have news for Mr Djangoly, many lawyers, myself included, have trained as mediators and collaborative lawyers and invariably promote these methods as alternatives to traditional negotiation techniques or litigation. In my experience and for good reason not every client wants to go down those routes and without a commitment to the process neither mediation nor collaboration will succeed. However, just because those options are repudiated, doesn’t mean that everyone wants to go to court. In fact I would struggle to think of any client for whom the issue of court proceedings has been anything other than a last resort. Experienced family lawyers will always endeavour to encourage clients to settle disputes by whatever method is the most appropriate for their circumstances and, more than anyone, are fully aware of the cost and trauma that court proceedings can inflict.

Thursday, 7 October 2010


Although I once again followed a tractor travelling at snail’s pace into work this morning, it is evident that harvest time is drawing to a close. The beans in my garden have reached their end turning bitter and stringy, the last of the broccoli has gone to seed and I’ve brought my own harvest in by digging up all our potatoes. In doing so I disturbed a black toad buried beneath the soil surface. I was so surprised that I actually let out a squeal of astonishment; it wasn’t what I was expecting at all. Worst still he just dug a deeper hole for himself as, cowering coward that he was, he continued to lie in the same place. Sounds familiar? How many have been surprised by the unexpected actions of their partner only to find that he or she tries to lie their way out of the situation? One lie leads to another and the hole gets deeper and deeper. Moreover, once trust has been destroyed in that way, it is rarely easily rebuilt. Now I realise why I have had so many clients who have referred to their estranged spouse as a "toad".

Monday, 27 September 2010


At the weekend I watched a bird of prey demonstration. Apparently Bengal Eagle Owls like to live in pairs and the female pictured above was rescued from a poor home to enjoy domestic bliss with a male counterpart, who had always enjoyed a somewhat pampered life. Needless to say they had a series of marital tiffs resulting in a separation and the female ending up working for a living. It was with something of a sense of déjà vue that my hand was therefore sought for support during the course of the display of her hunting abilities!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010


Having discovered early in life that I suffer from disco leg, I don’t rock-climb (nor indeed dance for that matter) preferring to leave the ropes, shackles and vertical ascents to Outdoor and Apprentice Men, joined on the occasional foray by Little Girl. I do however regularly skim books and magazines on the subject when the others leave them within reach. Whilst away in the Lake District recently I, therefore, found myself reading about climbing routes on Pavey Ark. It became apparent that as new routes are discovered they are given more and more flamboyant names, but one I really have to take issue with, Extreme 4 or not, is Assault and Matrimony. Whatever could have been going through the minds of those original climbers? Assault is a criminal offence and coupled with matrimony is domestic violence as well. Maybe they could think about calling the next one Assault Me Divorce You.

Sunday, 5 September 2010


I really do enjoy crosswords. Not those that sometimes pass between my clients and their estranged spouses but as in word games and puzzles. With that in mind let me give you two clues which I think are particularly appropriate for this blog:
1. One is apart (anagram) when marriage breaks down.
2. Death or award, on termination of marriage.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010


I’m told that going on holiday ranks amongst life’s top ten stressful events. Yes, that choking, stifling panic that sets in affects millions of us as the big departure day approaches. In my case, with three weeks between a wet week sailing in Scottish waters and a damp week walking in the Lake District, I suppose I should know. Indeed it probably manifested itself with “blog-block” and hence the paucity of entries here last month. However if you did suffer from stress as you prepared for your annual vacation remember that it still ranks below moving home or child-birth and doesn’t even begin to compare with divorce which occupies one of the highest rankings.

Was there ever a time when human life was stress-free? I guess not. Whilst stone-age hunter gatherers may not have had blogs to write or divorce to contend with, the fear of being clubbed over the head and dragged across the plain by one’s hair must have loomed large; that and being trampled by a woolly mammoth.

Saturday, 7 August 2010


Seen on a T Shirt in Whitby today:
“The longest English sentence:- ‘ I do.’”

Tuesday, 3 August 2010


Last week sailing through the Sound of Mull to Tobermory, we passed Duart Castle. There, in the sixteenth century when only English kings divorced, and believing his marriage to be a disaster, Lachlan Cattanach, the Maclean chieftain, ordered his wife to be tied at low water to a rock which dries out. As the tide came in, he left her to drown and then sent a message to her brother, the Earl of Argyll, telling him of their sorrowful loss. The Earl sent a message back offering his commiserations and inviting Lachlan to visit and dine with him. Touched by his brother in law’s empathy, Lachlan accepted. When he entered the dining hall, however, who should be sitting next to the Earl of Argyll but his wife! She had been fortuitously rescued by passing fishermen.

According to the story nothing was said and the meal passed pleasantly. Indeed Lachlan was even allowed to leave at the end of it.

Revenge, it is said, can take a long time coming. In Lachlan’s case it took some 30 years, before he was found murdered in his bed!

Thursday, 22 July 2010


When a new client tells you that he’s come to see you because he has always viewed you as his family solicitor, your eyebrows rise. When he then tells you that you divorced his grandfather and then his mother, you know you’ve attained a certain age!

Wednesday, 21 July 2010


Watching on television, as the US President, Barack Obama, and our Prime Minister, David Cameron, gave a press conference at the White House yesterday, you could be forgiven for thinking that in describing the special relationship between our countries they were really talking about marriage. They described the length and strength of the ties between us, supporting each other through tricky times (Iraq and Afghanistan sprung instantly to mind); also the respect for each other, especially as each goes down different routes in seeking to tackle the effects of a shortage of money. They even referred to the depth of feeling when one causes the other anguish; BP and the Gulf of Mexico were mentioned. Two allies, stalwarts together and well past their honeymoon period.

Nonetheless as any cynic, historian or even family lawyer knows, that still doesn’t mean there can never be a divorce

Monday, 12 July 2010


I appeared as a guest on BBC Radio Tees this morning, ready to voice my opinions on the news stories of the day. Of course the mid morning hosts, Neil and Diane, came up with a celebrity linked family law story and I found myself being asked about the recent split of Leona Lewis and her longstanding boyfriend Lou Al-Chamaa. It seems he is demanding a £1.5million payout for helping her to become famous and believes that as a common law husband he is so entitled.

Of course, I don’t know the full facts of that particular case but it was a great opportunity to re-iterate once again that couples who live together rather than marry, potentially have no rights whatsoever against their partner when they split up. Common law marriage remains a myth in English law.

Sunday, 11 July 2010


Events last week highlighted the dangers that can follow the ending of a relationship.

The news was dominated by the story of Raoul Moat allegedly shooting at his ex-partner, killing her new boyfriend and severely wounding a police officer, leading to the grim spectacle of armed police tracking him down in Northumberland.

In the same week Akmol Miah, a 15 year old boy, was given a life sentence at the Old Bailey for setting fire to his ex-girlfriend’s home after she’d ditched him, killing both her and her sister.

Whatever is happening here? Is the country filled with dumped maniacs fuelled by the passion of vengeance? Should would-be partners be asking to see the results of mental health and CRB checks before dating, or for police protection when ditching?

Wednesday, 7 July 2010


To divorce in England and Wales immediately following separation requires one to prove that their spouse has committed adultery or alternatively behaved unreasonably. If allegations are made which are not accepted, then as the spouse who receives the petition you can file an answer defending it. Protocol requires solicitors to discourage clients from embarking on contested divorce suits where appropriate and unless the allegations made in the petition are a complete fiction, it is wise to be wary.

Once upon a time I recall a client coming to me with a divorce petition that had just been served on him. In it his wife had alleged that in January he had promised to undertake long-needed repairs to their home as soon as possible but when he failed to do so the marriage broke down and they separated.

“It’s totally ridiculous,” my client explained. “I have to defend, there’s no truth in it.”

“Did you make a promise?” I asked

“Yes but to do the work ASAP.”

“Isn’t that what the petition says?” I enquired.

“No it says as soon as possible; I meant after September, August possibly!”

Tuesday, 6 July 2010


At first glance a headline like “More Men Being Forced into Marriage” might make you think that Alpha females, afraid of being left on the shelf, are now asserting their desire to wed on somewhat less committed and easygoing boyfriends. The truth is far scarier. According to the Forced Marriage Unit its helpline was used by 65% more men in 2009 than 2008 and it wants to raise awareness of the issue because naively we assume that the victims are always women. Apparently men too are vulnerable and indeed 14% of cases reported last year related to males perhaps to secure a visa, or to preserve a family’s reputation. 80 cases have already been reported to the unit this year and some involve the sexuality of the man in question, with his family forcing marriage to hide the fact that he is homosexual. The Unit believes that it is harder for men to seek assistance than women and is urging professionals who work with young people to be vigilant. This is not a situation where divorce is the answer. Instead our law now permits protection orders to be obtained to prevent a marriage taking place or to protect a person when it has and the Unit offers confidential advice.

Monday, 5 July 2010


Tempted by the adjoining spa and pool, I have recently joined a gym. It is noticeable how many husbands come into the gym to work out, whilst their wives prefer the attractions of the Jacuzzi. I regularly have the pool to myself; it seems there are only a few couples seeking to swim that extra length together.

Sunday, 27 June 2010


Image by courtesy of Durham Cathedral.
To launch collaborative law in County Durham and Wearside, family lawyers from across the county, hosted an event in the Prior’s Hall at Durham Cathedral last Tuesday for all professionals involved in family issues.

Collaborative law is an innovative approach to help reduce the emotional cost on couples and their children when families in the area split up. Instead of negotiating by letter or litigating in court, the alternative method, 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. Both parties and their lawyers pledge to work together to negotiate an agreement without going to court.

Where it has been practised elsewhere in the UK, it has achieved remarkable results. We are confident it will in County Durham and Wearside too.

More information on collaborative family law is available from
www.resolution.org.uk and www.collabfamilylawnortheast.co.uk

Monday, 14 June 2010


Yesterday I blogged about domestic violence and initiatives being taken to try to combat it here in the UK. Today I want to tell you about a letter I have received through ActionAid from a woman in Guatemala where it’s reckoned that over 4,000 women have been killed as a result of violence, rape, torture, or mutilation since 2000.

“I am 54 years old,” she wrote. “I have suffered from violence since I got married at 17. We were very poor and my husband would sell our few possessions to pay for his drink. I tried to leave him several times but he would threaten me. He would beat me and throw hot food and coffee over me. I felt very fearful every time he came home. I decided to finally leave him. I was tired and in pain from being knocked about again. I rented a room in another part of the city. He found me and beat me.”

“I want other women to know that it is never too late to stand up to violence,” she continued, “It will only be too late when they are killed. I want them to know that they can do it. I would also like to teach children that they must treat girls and women well. If we don’t do this then the problem will continue.”

Sunday, 13 June 2010


Well the World Cup has definitely started and even Outdoor Man appears glued to the television screen, although the continuous rain outside today may have played its part. It is feared, based on statistics arising from previous sporting events, that incidents of domestic violence will increase during the period of the tournament. Frighteningly when England were defeated by Portugal back in the 2006 World Cup, reports of domestic abuse went up by 30%. It is appalling but there are some households where sport and alcohol are a lethal combination and when the nation’s side loses (as it surely will at some point in the next few weeks), the touch paper ignites.

Police forces across the country are taking the threat seriously and are launching a variety of initiatives to try to limit the impact. Locally in North Yorkshire a confidential 24 hour telephone helpline has been set up, which will run until 25th July on 01904 646630. Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria police forces have joined together with a poster campaign to raise awareness: “What time is kick off in your house?” and again publicise their domestic violence helpline, 0800 066 5555.

Thursday, 10 June 2010


Last week I seized the opportunity to spend 4 days in a Spanish fishing village. The plan was to chill out on a sundrenched beach reading trashy paperbacks whilst grilling my flesh. I am pleased to report that all went to plan although the barbeque effect was hotter than imagined and the reading material, branded as “rom coms,” ended up providing something of a busman’s holiday filled with the scrapes of divorced and divorcing couples. They certainly weren’t the kind of reads I’d recommend for those suffering from the pain and heartache of the early stages of separation. Indeed a health warning on the cover would have been appropriate: “Not for those suffering the effects of divorce or of a prudish disposition.”

But what do you read assuming you are in that position and can settle your mind long enough to peruse a chapter or two? Is it a time for easy crime novels or historical sagas (Henry VIII excepted)?

What about War and Peace? It has an inspirational title and beats “Alone and Bereft in Benidorm” any day.

Monday, 31 May 2010


“Families come in all shapes and sizes. This week is national family week, and as well as celebrating your own family life it is important to remember those families who are experiencing difficult times. As national family week gets underway, Resolution is launching a new online advice centre with information on the legal aspects of splitting up, as well as advice on parenting apart, sorting out money and arranging child maintenance. The advice centre is available via Resolution’s website at www.resolution.org.uk/advice_centre.

The online advice centre is a useful tool with sections on the legal process of splitting up, tips on managing the relationship with your children post‐separation, as well as sections on sorting out child maintenance and other financial arrangements. The information is provided in a wealth of different formats, including video clips, factsheets and FAQs.

Sunday, 30 May 2010


Last week we received a lesson in British justice or maybe in the lack of it. We know that there is a well perpetuated myth that if you live together long enough you have the same rights as married couples on separation. It is only a myth and quite simply isn’t true.

Have we ever considered, however, what happens when you live apart long enough; 15 years (to the commencement of proceedings) to be exact? During that period and since the only person living in the still jointly owned home, paid the mortgage on it as well as all the other running costs and didn’t even claim maintenance from her former partner and co-owner for their children.

Now most right minded people, including the first two judges who heard the initial case and original appeal, might think that after what is now 17 years of paying the mortgage and other outgoings, the former cohabitant would be able to lay claim to a larger share of the equity in the home than their former partner who contributed nothing during that time. The Court of Appeal disagreed. Our law is clear, if unsatisfactory. At the time of the separation the parties had equal interests in the property. Nothing happened to displace those interests and the passage of time alone was insufficient to do so. Unlike in divorce proceedings there is no discretion on the part of the court to vary ownership of a jointly held property.

I can’t help thinking that the claimant in this case would have done better to have rented a Council property for 15 years and then exercised her right to buy at a discount.

Thursday, 20 May 2010


I heard Judith Holder (she of Grumpy Old Women fame) speak today at a Spring Lunch in aid of the County Durham Community Foundation. It was an hilarious and incisive insight into the weird and wonderful world of the older and not so older woman.

According to Judith they spend hours whingeing about the ironing and only 4 minutes doing it. They crave attention and seek it by sticking out from the crowd ; walking a rabbit on a leash for example. Their idea of a pin up idol is George Clooney but doing DIY or (can you imagine?) Jeremy Paxman complete in knitted jumper with guitar. They now think it acceptable to listen to Country and Western music and, of course, are entitled to complain (not moan) about everything. "Shoddy" and "poor workmanship" are their catch phrases. Oh and they get to wear big knickers and obsess about tidy sock drawers and piles of neatly pressed shirts.

Is it any wonder that the last decade has seen a rise in divorces amongst the over 50’s? Couple a grumpy woman with a grumpy old man and you have to admit it has the characteristics of a lethal combination.

Thursday, 13 May 2010


Guidelines for judges meeting children in family proceedings were issued last month. Reading them, I have to acknowledge how much more sophisticated proceedings are now than when, once upon a time and more years ago than I can properly remember, I first started to frequent court as an eager trainee. I do recall, however, one instance when a senior Judge insisted on seeing a young child alone in a dispute over custody. Both parents were claiming that the child wanted to live with them to the exclusion of the other and, the child having lived happily with the mother for several years, the Judge was determined to get to the bottom of the father’s claim that she had changed her mind. The meeting took place in the Judge’s Chambers in private with a Court Welfare Officer present. In due course the Judge emerged and triumphantly declared that he had solved the puzzle and the child would not be changing homes. It seemed that her father had attempted to bribe her with the promise of a holiday in the exotic location of Skegness, if she moved to live with him.

Of concern at the time, however, was then whether or not the child was scarred by her experience of seeing the Judge. Not at all. She was overheard giggling with delight at seeing Father Christmas in November rather than December, though she did ask her mother if he always wore black and purple rather than red when he wasn’t riding in his sleigh!

Friday, 7 May 2010


Originally uploaded by

May I suggest that the best way to make sense of the outcome of our election is to compare it with domestic relationships?

Ms Electorate used to be married to Mr Blue, for 18 long years in fact from 1979 until 1997. During that time she was oppressed, unemployed and denied health care that she badly needed. Greed and rudeness dominated their time together. By the time their marriage was dissolved, she was depressed and disillusioned.

However, along came Mr Red and together they bloomed. The marriage endured for 13 years, although it had its ups and downs. He went off to fight in foreign wars and mortgaged the family silver without telling her. Unsurprisingly and on the verge of bankruptcy, Ms Electorate began to think that maybe it was time to call time on that relationship too.

Lurking in the background was Mr Yellow; a perfect chap for a brief flirtation, but that was all it could ever be.

Then who should come back on the scene but Mr Blue. Talk about emotional mayhem, but smooth talker that he might have turned into, Ms Electorate couldn’t quite bring herself to forget.

Ultimately, and resisting the solution of pistols at dawn, Messrs Blue, Red and Yellow insisted that she choose between them. Ms Electorate however has matured over the years and would not be drawn. Can you blame her, but what happens next?

Thursday, 6 May 2010


Originally uploaded by

I thought the X Factor would be an appropriate title for an election night entry to this blog. However, I anticipate that you will already have visited your local polling station to place an X against the name of your favourite candidate. Accordingly what I really want to talk about is something else: the ex-factor.

It never ceases to please me when I hear about how well some people get on following their divorce, in some cases even when the proceedings themselves had been fraught or even hostile.

Conversely I can be re-consulted by people months or years after their divorce when an issue arises usually concerning child maintenance or contact.

Bewildered, my client complains that they used to get on with their ex but suddenly communication has become difficult and he or she is now behaving in a ridiculous manner. Careful probing invariably reveals an innocent trigger on one or the other’s part; perhaps a new relationship, a house-move, a different job even a hair cut or weight–loss. Jealousy, competitiveness, bitterness and envy can all come sweeping to the fore and nobody knows when.

The truth is that you may have been married to your ex but that was in the past. You don’t know them now. You have no idea where they have got to emotionally, whether they have moved on or if they are locked steadfastly in the past or somewhere in between. Never, ever assume that, at the same pace, you have both reached the same place or even planet. Assume anything and you assume at your peril.

Remember even if you don’t think you have the X Factor, there may be the ex to factor.

Sunday, 2 May 2010


Last week was apparently National Shed Week and, just for the occasion, Cuprinol announced the results of some research which not only showed that the average man spends a year of his life in his shed, but also that 77% of men have a shed. Traditionally it’s stated that one third of marriages end in divorce. By any chance are the marriages which end with divorce the same 33% of relationships where the man does not have a shed? If so, it would appear that Cuprinol has found an easy answer to domestic bliss- ladies save your marriage and get yourself some peace: buy him a shed for his birthday!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010


Sometimes being a divorce lawyer is like running an election campaign. Take the client who once upon a time told me: “It was a disaster - they should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous..."

Prejudiced, dogmatic, opinionated, intolerant, narrow minded, blinkered. “Ugh… she’s just a sort of bigoted woman.”

Wednesday, 21 April 2010


Today I want to pay tribute to a brilliant lady, Pauline. She was my secretary and we worked together for over 14 years until her retirement on health grounds at the beginning of last year. When she left, it really was like losing my right arm and half my brain too. For so long I relied on her powers of telepathy, it was as though she could read my mind and it was amazing how many bits of paper she could always find in my in-tray when I had searched fruitlessly for what seemed like hours. She knew exactly what was happening on every file and regularly spoke to clients on my behalf, updating them and offering empathy and kindness. Her humour was superb and we started most days with a laugh. It was her funeral today. Pauline, rest in peace; you deserve it.