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".