Saturday, 17 December 2011


Over the years, clients have referred to how they have ripped up, burnt, or even cut their former spouse out of, family photographs. I understand, however, that, in an age where couples take more photos than ever and proudly display them online in Facebook albums, a more cathartic remedy is available in the form of the delete button. It is no longer enough to simply change one’s status from “in a relationship” to “single”, but, and in addition, complete healing apparently stems from the deletion of all those offending pictures.

Ah, if only life were really that simple.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011


The report this week that Higgs Boson may have been spotted in Geneva is great news for physicists everywhere. One research scientist, however, is absolutely elated. Yes Mrs Boson has purportedly announced that it is about time the long missing other particle turned up and then proceeded to castigate him as an elusive loner, decaying whilst attracting mass.

Monday, 12 December 2011


I could almost feel sorry for the recession. It was only three years ago when banks were failing and the global economy went into melt-down that we were being told nobody could afford to divorce anymore. With share prices in free-fall and house values spiralling downwards to produce negative equity, we believed it. Figures published last week, however, show that the divorce rate rose by 4.9% from 2009 to 2010. Of course, it’s once again the recession’s fault; apparently all those monetary difficulties are driving a wedge between couples who then find solace in the divorce courts.

I wonder if there could be another explanation: like a catch-up from all those who deferred their split in 2008-09 in the hope that the value of their home or spouse’s pension might recover. A year on, they simply got sick of waiting!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


Divorce petitions are frequently based on allegations of unreasonable behaviour. What constitutes unreasonable behaviour is a subjective test, based on the experience of the person seeking the divorce. Examples given can frequently come in trends and as a result of the findings of a survey commissioned by Unilever this week, I predict that there will soon be an influx of divorce applications incorporating allegations to do with domestic bathing arrangements.

The days of “Save water; shower with a friend,” are now behind us. Sadly it would seem that we spend so long in the shower that we would actually use less hot water and, therefore, energy taking a bath. There is now clear scope for a green campaign directed at couples bathing together, with the added bonus that throwing in Archimedes’ Principle means two can bathe in less water and yet it will still be the same depth!

There has to be a snag, and of course there is, because two fully grown adults quite simply don’t fit comfortably in the average home bath tub! As a result any such campaign will need a major re-think and the best Judith’s Divorce can come up with, is “Don’t pull the plug; leave the bubbles for the mug.”

Yes divorce lawyers will potentially be inundated with claims that one half of the happy couple always insisted on being first into the tub, leaving the soap to dissolve and only a murky grime for the other half to wash in.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


Once upon a time, I saw a client who was looking to divorce his wife. I asked him the reason but was taken by surprise when he told me that their whole marriage had been dictated by the state of their bed and there was now no choice but to bring the relationship to an end. Was he sure, I enquired, suggesting that perhaps it might be less painful to change the bed.

“No,” he said, “It’s the mattress you see. When we were first married we had a spring coil version and we bounced along together happily. Then a few years back, we changed it for memory foam. Now she never forgets; I’m harangued day and night for everything I’ve done and everything I’ve not done.”

“Well if that’s the case, surely a change of bed will help,” I persisted.

“Oh, we’ve done that,” he replied, “But we got a waterbed this time and I can’t sleep on it because every time I fall asleep she tries to drown me!”

Oh dear, do you think it would have been more civilised if they had simply drifted apart?

Sunday, 13 November 2011


The Co-op is going to offer family law legal services as soon as it can obtain the necessary licence from the SRA. Its recent press release suggested that it would be looking to recruit lots of family lawyers as a result.

“Is it good news other than for those lawyers whose positions might be at risk with the demise of legal aid?” Of course it is, anything with the potential for increasing standards on the high street is always good.

“Why is the Co-op choosing to go down this route, surely it has no previous expertise in the area?” Maybe not, but it has already recruited well established lawyers to head up and advise on the initiative and don’t forget that it has a long history of offering services at times of human misery as its funeral parlours already demonstrate.

“Okay but what’s in it for customers?” (Note we no longer call them clients) Well there won’t be any old fashioned “divis” but we can probably expect a move towards fixed pricing rather than hourly rates although I don’t anticipate that we shall see any two for one offers.

“How do the traditional high street firms feel?” Oh they are over the moon. To know that in the future their opposition has to live up to their label of co-operative, is like manna from heaven for those solicitors and their clients used to being dragged through the court process. Maybe collaborative law will expand even further!

Thursday, 10 November 2011


Yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in the Kernott v Jones case again highlighted the urgent need to reform the law affecting couples that live together, according to Resolution.

The Supreme Court declared that an unmarried couple’s share in property can be adjusted after they separate, provided there is evidence of a common intention to adjust ownership, or such intention can be imputed.

Resolution said that although one in six couples in the UK currently live together without being married, huge numbers of people face distress, injustice and hardship because of out-of-date laws surrounding cohabitation combined with the “common law” marriage myth. Those affected include children who were not party to their parents' decision not to marry.

In making yesterday’s judgment, both Lord Collins and Lord Wilson were critical of the continuing failure of Parliament to legislate on cohabitation.

David Allison, Chair of Resolution, said: “The fact that it has taken four different hearings in four different places to determine the outcome highlights that the law for cohabitants is a mess and is in urgent need of reform. Despite the “common law” marriage myth, it is possible to live together with someone for decades and even to have children together, and then simply walk away without taking any responsibility for a former partner’s welfare. That is simply wrong. The current situation for people who live together often creates injustice and hardship, and the law fails to reflect the way people are choosing to live their lives.”

Resolution is calling for new laws for couples who have lived together for five years or more – or for less time in cases of exceptional hardship. For cohabiting couples with children, the law would offer protection regardless of how long they have lived together.

These couples would have an automatic right to apply for certain financial orders if they separate. If a couple wished to opt out of this provision, they could do so by way of a written agreement. Such a law would prevent injustice by allowing the courts to recognise a cohabiting relationship and decide on an outcome that is fair and reasonable.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


There was what I understand to have been a hoax circulating on the Internet over the course of the last week, claiming that the results of a study from the California Parenting Institute show that every parenting style causes children to grow up into adults with problems, becoming “profoundly flawed and joyless human beings.” Regardless of whether or not the parents are over protective or permissive, their children suffer feelings of bitterness and isolation throughout adulthood. Sham it may have been but perhaps it caught so many people out because there could almost be a resonance of truth about it.

It was Philip Larkin, who in his poem “This Be the Verse,” claimed:
“They f… you up your mum and dad
They may not mean to, but they do
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.”

Certainly Lord Justice Wall thought so too when he quoted Larkin in a judgment which he gave back in 2009, adding for good measure: “This mother and father are no different from many separated parents who make the damage to their children caused by their separation much worse by continuing their battles against each other in legal proceedings”

Thursday, 3 November 2011


The Family Justice Review was published today and despite the reports in a number of our national newspapers, one can’t help thinking it could be a “bit of a damp squib.” An opportunity has certainly been lost to propose any radical changes to the law and one has to wonder whether the money will ever be made available to follow the recommendations that are made. It’s all very well and good for the report to say that care cases should be resolved within a period of six months, but with the court system already stretched beyond belief are extra judicial hours going to be provided to achieve this and will staff- cuts at the associated agencies on whose reports the courts rely be halted?

An internet hub for the initiation of all divorce cases sounds marvellous but the Court Service has generally lagged behind the private sector so far as technology is concerned and one has to wonder whether there is the actual capability to develop this within the foreseeable future. Mind the Ministry of Justice is going to have to come up with something or it is shortly going to be swamped by litigants in person as we move ever closer to the withdrawal of legal aid from families in dispute at the time of relationship breakdowns.

That part of the report that appears to have really incensed the media is inevitably the about turn from the interim report where a legal presumption in favour of shared care of children as between Mum and Dad was touted. The Chair of the review, David Norgrove, appears to have anticipated this would be the case for I note that in his foreword he acknowledges that “some will be disappointed by our decision to recommend against a legal presumption of shared parenting.” Whilst he stresses that shared parenting should be encouraged, he qualifies this with “where this is in the child’s best interests,” and goes on to explain that the opinion of the review body was that shared parenting is best achieved by “parental education” and “information.”

“Progress depends,” he writes, “on a general social expectation of the full involvement of both parents in the lives of their children before separation, not on changes in the law.”

The aim of the report is to be applauded, namely to find a quicker, simpler, more cost-effective system, but if a cultural shift is required for the sentiment of the report to be fulfilled, that will never happen overnight. So will anything much change? We'll just have to wait and see.

Sunday, 30 October 2011


The clocks went back last night and half the population took advantage to spend an extra hour in bed whilst the other half got up early. Did anyone take advantage of the extra hour of rolled back time to do something completely different?

So many clients going through a divorce are prone from time to time to express regret about their marriage: “If only; if I’d known then what I know now; I wouldn’t make the same mistake again; if only I could turn the clock back.”
Of course we all make mistakes and bad things invariably happen, regardless. Isn’t that what life’s about?

But how many of us really would make different choices or could behave differently if we turned back time and were living our lives again?

Saturday, 29 October 2011


Did I hear it correctly? Did tomorrow’s forecast really mirror how some people can feel after divorce or separation: “Dreary at first, becoming cheerful again later!”

Whatever happened to the usual: “Overcast with sunny spells”?

Thursday, 13 October 2011


When you live in the countryside, many of the facilities that urban dwellers take for granted are denied to you. One advantage, apart from the mobile library service, is that your doctor can not only prescribe medication but also dispense it. So it was this evening that I went to the Surgery to collect a prescription.

Whilst queuing is not generally required, I did find myself behind a long-married couple. As he discussed his ailments with the member of staff on duty, his wife turned to me. “Which desk do you think I hand him over at?” she asked, motioning with her head in turn to the reception and dispensing counters.

I must have looked quizzical, because she then pointed to a postcard stuck on the wall. It showed two elderly ladies gossiping; above their heads were text balloons:
“I don’t like the look of my husband, so I’m taking him to the doctor’s this evening,” said one.
“I’ll come too,” said the other. “I can’t stand the sight of mine!”

Finally I have confirmation that clients are more likely to see a doctor about relationship issues than a solicitor!

Tuesday, 11 October 2011


This weekend’s report of the marathon runner in Northumberland who cheated when he dropped out of the race after 20 miles then caught a bus to complete the race and ended up clinching a place on the podium, reminded me of a story a client told me, once upon a time. She came into my office in her running kit. Every few minutes she would stretch or alternatively start jogging on the spot and, whilst doing so, complained that her husband had cheated on her although she’d only caught him out the once.

“Do you know the lady involved?” I asked.
“You mean the taxi driver” she said.
“Oh, is that what she does?”
“Yes and the distress at seeing him emerge from that taxi at the edge of the wood, when I thought we were both in serious training for the Great North Run will stay with me forever!”
“I am sorry,” I indicated.

“Oh, there’s no need for that, it’s done wonders for my fitness levels. He used to take off like lightening and I could never understand how he maintained the pace. We were like the hare and the tortoise to begin with, but I tell you what it’s certainly made me increase my speed, just trying to keep him in sight. Not that I managed it until that day when, my leg muscles working to perfection, I finally saw him getting into her taxi just over the first hill! ”

Thursday, 6 October 2011


As someone who has always played second fiddle to Outdoor Man’s love for his boats (of which there have been several during our long marriage), I would like to be able to say that I have some sympathy for Mandy Fleming who was jailed today for sinking her ex-husband’s yacht. I well know that constant expenditure on electronic compasses, rope, sails and other gizmos can be a source of frustration when, after all, the funds could have been spent on bouquets of flowers and other expressive gestures. But isn’t it a universal truth that men need their toys? Without them, what else would they have to polish?

More to the point why, if you are estranged, would you seek to entertain your new lover on board your husband’s yacht? Further, having done so, isn’t sinking the vessel somewhat excessive? I'd always thought that cutting up his shirts was plummeting to the depths; clearly worse wrongs can be inflicted.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


Financial settlements are intended to reflect fairness; the division of assets takes into account various factors set out in law including needs and resources, and measured against what is invariably referred to as a “yardstick of equality.” Both spouses are meant to get their “fair share” although often there can be a sense of losing out when one or both parties’ innate sense of fairness may not correlate with the law itself. Not every separation needs to end in bitterness and an acrimonious court fight. Indeed where a couple can remain amicable, I never fail to be surprised at all the things that can be shared between them. With an increasing number of couples resolving issues by mediation or collaboration, sharing rather than dividing invariably finds potential for discussion, although it can only be properly embraced by those who are fully committed.

Top of the list is always the children and sharing the parenting of their little-ones rather than creating divisions reaps benefits for the whole family. They may be rare, but some couples manage to continue to share days together with their children and I’ve even known some still take a family holiday.

Pets too are capable of sharing. Fido doesn’t always split his time between houses but one partner can take their turn at dog-walking especially when they want a companion for a long distance ramble.

Then there are keepsakes. The prize trophy won together in the best kept garden competition transposes from mantelpiece to mantelpiece every six months.

The timeshare too is a popular choice. With the potential for a loss on sale, many couples decide to retain their joint ownership and take their holidays and pay the fees in rotation.

Insurance policies are often continued on joint lives for joint benefit especially if there is the prospect of a large final bonus or life cover to benefit children perhaps to defray inheritance tax or help meet their upkeep.

Fields can provide grazing for one person’s sheep part of the year and be ploughed for the other’s crops the remainder.

A barn or other building in need of renovation is often continued as a joint project, enabling gains to be maximised and divided.

Cars are sometimes shared, perhaps where one person works at the end of a public transport route and has no need for the family car during the week but needs it for occasional weekend trips or to facilitate contact arrangements.

Lawyers never like this but there are even couples who keep a joint bank account for ease in managing one household’s finances and on the basis that they have agreed the ground rules for operating the account.

The one that always amazes me though is when someone tells me that although the marriage has broken down and they find it intolerable to live with their spouse, they intend to remain in partnership to run their business together. Some never manage to do so and the business relationship breaks down amidst the same rancour as the marriage, but others succeed in building vibrant, thriving enterprises together. As one entrepreneur told me: “A business partnership is like marriage in that you are tied together by a contract and money. Unlike marriage though, you are not expected to share a home with your business partner.”

Sunday, 2 October 2011


An article in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday has had UK divorce lawyers and their clients reeling with shock at the revelation that six figure mark-ups have been applied to solicitors’ fees for some of Baroness Shackleton's clients. However the explanation that she is slack with her time-keeping and makes herself available to clients out of hours appears to have been accepted and, moreover, her clients are reported as being happy with the service they have received. I guess when you are worth millions, there’s no need to worry about how to pay for your legal services.

For most people however costs are a major concern and they should be reassured by the fact that they are entitled from the outset to a full explanation of how costs will be calculated. Whilst it is always difficult to give a fixed quote in relation to cases arising from matrimonial issues, clients should expect to be given an estimate of the range of costs and a warning if an initial costs estimate is likely to be exceeded. Most family lawyers pride themselves on being transparent about their charging arrangements. Mark-ups, whether of the magnitude reported or otherwise, are not generally applied. On my own part, I endeavour to bill clients at monthly intervals and purely in relation to the time actually spent; that way there are no hidden shocks or mark-ups at the end of a matter.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011


I like to think that any client visiting Macks’ office is offered a tea or coffee. I have no statistics, however, as to the take up of the beverages. Recent research has suggested that caffeine in someway helps to combat the onset of depression. Separation and relationship breakdown can, of course, be an understandable trigger for stress and depression. In the interests of a holistic approach should I, therefore, be trying to entice all divorce clients to accept the offer of a caffeine-laced drink? Are the risks of addiction to coffee beans outweighed by the benefits? If I too have a coffee while we chat, will I turn into a happy, smiley personality? Outdoor Man says my drinks need something stronger than caffeine adding to them to do that!

Monday, 26 September 2011


Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that my trip to Spain this summer ended up as something of a busman’s holiday so far as paperback novels were concerned. Indeed it wasn’t easy lying on the beach in all that heat, trying desperately to refrain from handing out gratuitous legal advice to various characters in my choice of novels. Amongst them were:

Solar by Ian McEwan where the main character is five times divorcee Michael Beard. I found him a most unlikeable personality although curiously women (apart from his series of wives) didn’t seem to mind. Clever and ruthlessly ambitious, his downfall mirrors that of so many men in public life when he lets a certain appendage control his life as much as the grey matter between his ears.

One Day by David Nicholls which set me wondering if there really are people out there who lead such shallow lives. Comic in parts, emotionally moving in others, the book skipped over the misery of divorce and thwarted love suffered by the two main protagonists although they ultimately transformed them. Will I go to see the film, now it’s at the cinema? Probably not.

No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay, a murder mystery full of suspense and arising from dysfunctional family life. In my capacity as a divorce lawyer I couldn’t help wondering if divorce wouldn’t have been easier. Nevertheless I couldn’t put the book down until all the secrets and unexpected twists had been unravelled.

The Road to Lichfield by Penelope Lively, a story of suburban adultery in 1970’s Britain. Maybe wronged spouses put up with more in those days because the husband in this novel, after establishing his wife has had an affair, simply remarks to her that he trusts she won’t be making a habit of such liaisons. She meekly agrees she won’t be, before they walk out into the future together.

Next holiday, I’m going to stick to sci fi.

Thursday, 22 September 2011


I appologise for the lack of activity on my blog of late, attributable, I have to confess, to a very enjoyable holiday period and that despite the rather disappointing summer weather. However it’s the autumn equinox tomorrow and time for life to return to normal and, as the evenings draw in, blog-writing to resume. In Greek mythology autumn, of course, began when the goddess Persephone returned underground to live with her husband Hades. It’s arguably not, therefore, the most appropriate time of the year to be writing about separation. However, I confess that I haven’t been made aware of much underground living going on in Darlington at the moment, and nor have I any knowledge of reconciliations taking place in cellars or other subterranean places. Whilst I actively encourage anyone considering reconciliation to try their hardest, I always remind them that a meeting room at Relate may be a more supportive venue than a coal mine.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Originally uploaded by zimpenfish

Dear Agony Aunt

I have been in a loveless marriage for the last 10 years and had finally made an appointment with a solicitor in order to start divorce proceedings. I weigh 20 stones and have read this week that divorcing will mean I gain even more pounds. What should I do; I can’t continue to live with my husband but also can’t risk damaging my health by adding to my obesity?


Dear Janet

Despite what you have read in the newspapers, the study which was undertaken by Ohio University actually found that whilst marital transition causes women to gain weight following marriage, it is men who are more likely to add to their girth on divorce. In contrast most women actually lose weight dealing with the trauma of separation. Therefore you should go for it girl, get to that appointment and shed your fat!

Yours truly,

Agony Aunt

Dear Agony Aunt

I am a forty something male, recently separated and piling on the stones in the run up to my divorce. How do I cure this? Should I ask my wife to come back?


Dear Roly Poly

Definitely not. Just buy yourself a recipe book, cancel the takeaways and get yourself down to the gym. Your good wife left you for a reason and now you have to learn how to look after yourself properly and without recourse to convenience foods laden with calories.

Kind regards

Agony Aunt

PS. To all my readers out there – anyone for doughnuts?

Monday, 22 August 2011


Many people accuse lawyers of using incomprehensible words and phrases not otherwise employed in the daily use of the English language. Herewiths and hereuntobefores are accordingly and justifiably frowned upon. Resolution has, therefore, worked hard to try to deliver for family lawyers precedents for courts orders and deeds that whilst unambiguous, remain clear and so far as possible are written in everyday English. That said even those precedents have struggled to rid themselves of useful catch-alls like wheresoever, howsoever and whatsoever.

The other evening I found myself in the right place at the wrong time and was asked to sign a confidentiality agreement as a result. I believe the person who handed it to me must have been from Mars or some other galactic species. Gone were the “howsoever wheresoevers” and yet I fully understood that never must word of what I had seen or heard be divulged when I read: “Forever anywhere in the Universe.” I wonder what the family courts would think if solicitors began to adopt that kind of terminology when drafting orders?

Wednesday, 17 August 2011


I read today about the bride who didn’t know she was getting married until she arrived at what she had understood to be a retirement party. I have to confess I wasn’t convinced, or at least not until I watched the video; it wasn’t a YouTube spoof was it? I say that because in all my years practising family law, I haven’t yet come across anyone claiming they were coerced into a quickie marriage ceremony. Is that because grooms don’t normally arrange such things or because the would-be brides refuse to go through with the formalities? After all there has to be plenty of scope for this most romantic of gestures to fall completely flat on its face when the intended betrothed declines to proceed.

It’s much more likely, of course, that one half of a couple will spring a separation on their unsuspecting partner rather than a wedding. How many times do divorce lawyers find themselves attending a client who only found out their soul-mate was leaving from a note on the mantelpiece or kitchen table? Even worse there are some cowards who, whilst continuing to live with their spouse, get their solicitor to send a letter for them. Not only does that give a whole new meaning to the phrase “a solicitor’s letter,” it reflects badly on the client and lawyer who act in such a way and in so doing show a complete lack of understanding of the effect on the unsuspecting partner.

How easily the unexpected can become a traumatic shock.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011


Well I knew it wouldn’t be long before our high divorce rate and single families were invoked as one of the reasons behind the mindless criminal rioting and violence that has gripped so many of Britain’s cities in the last few days. To quote from one source: “Many involved seemed to fit a picture of youngsters from broken families marginalised by society.”

Others of course have been identified as a teaching assistant, a chef, a graphic designer, a fork-lift truck driver, a car salesman, a university student and so the list goes on. Broken homes my foot; these people were greedy and opportunistic, rightly deserving to be punished by our criminal justice system.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


My thanks to Next Media Animation for this video and its complete explanation of the reasons for this latest celebrity divorce, Taiwanese style. According to William Shakespeare, Mark Anthony was once heard to say "There's beggary in the love that can be reckon'd," but of course he wasn't talking to J'Lo at the time.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011


I can get rather bored with news coverage when it deluges you with the same story day after day after day. The latest phone intercepting scandal involving the now defunct News of the World, however, reminded me of the client who, once upon a time, called to see me and triumphantly whipped from her handbag a polythene bag which she had carefully labelled “Exhibit A.”

“What’s this?” I asked as I peered closely at something which to this day I am still convinced was a press-stud.

“A bugging device,” she whispered. “I found it under my telephone!”

Now I am a solicitor, not an agent for Her Majesty’s Secret Service, so I have to confess that my knowledge of these things is severely limited. However, I can assure you that there was no resemblance at all to those small sinister objects you see James Bond remove from hotel rooms, on the big screen.

Who put it there?” I enquired with interest, for my client was newly separated.

“My husband, of course,” she replied. “He gave the game away when he was helping me move in and I heard his hacking cough!”

Friday, 15 July 2011


Of course I don’t believe in astrology but it never stops me glancing at my horoscope. Yesterday I was tickled by this offering on Yahoo: “Romance seems elusive. Don’t worry it will come back again….Writing, studying, and reading will bring you lots of pleasure. You might even want to try your hand at penning a love story.” Somehow I don’t think the astrologer realised that I am a divorce lawyer.

Thursday, 14 July 2011


This evening I attended a barbecue at Crathorne Hall, courtesy of Baines Jewitt. The beer, beef-burgers and conversation all flowed for what was an excellent event. However, barbecues aren’t always that way and do have a habit of featuring in clients’ divorce petitions. It seems that on warm summer evenings mixing barbecued food with alcohol, can be a lethal combination. The flames die back, the charcoal smoulders, sparks fly and pretty soon there’s only a pile of sorry looking ashes.

Friday, 8 July 2011


On Friday The Huffington Post reported the outcome of Cheap Chic Weddings’ annual toilet paper wedding dress competition. Yes ladies, you too could enter next year; just design, create and model your very own two-ply perforated bridal gown. Of course, you’ll have to ignore all the asides about marriage landing you in “the poo”, or how it’s as easy to flush away as it is to get a divorce. Oh, and to spare all embarrassment, you’d better pray you don’t get attacked by an Andrex puppy!


Once upon a time in the days before mobile phones and the internet, indeed in an era when nobody could ever have imagined legislation such as The Shared Parental Orders Bill, an old family lawyer told me: “Don’t be fooled. If God had wanted parents to share the care of their children after separation He’d have made the world in 7 days and with an 8th for rest, they could then have each had 4 days with their offspring.”

How times have changed, although we do still have a seven day week but, even where parents divide up time with their kids on 14 day cycles, some children never know where they are going to be next. Homework, gym kit and school shoes are regularly left in the wrong house and we end up with a doubling up of all kinds of paraphernalia including an assorted menagerie of pets, pens and petticoats. Arrangements that work in some families don’t work in others; for some the dates and times are regimented and work like clockwork for others there is a permanent state of confusion, blissful or worrying depending upon the individuals concerned.

We have reached a situation where a colleague who practises in a different part of the country confessed that shared residence orders are handed out like sweeties in her local court, contrasting sharply with some of the District Judges I have appeared before who have insisted that a child must know where its permanent home is.

Unable to split the week properly in half, dividing children equally begins to sound a little like the Wisdom of Solomon. Hats off therefore to Gingerbread and One Plus One who published a report today with the timely reminder, not least to those about to consider that Shared Parental Orders Bill, that what is of paramount importance is the welfare of children. Their interests are the number one priority and they cannot be determined by any legal presumption in favour of shared care, especially if enshrining such a presumption into legislation enhances it to the status of a parental right. Tough conclusions but where the happiness and well-being of children are concerned, the idea of parental rights has to take second place.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill had its first reading in Parliament last week and now it’s scheduled for a second reading tomorrow. Usually when a Government has tried to rush through legislation it’s been to deal with urgent issues like terrorism. On this occasion am I being unkind or does the Government’s untimely haste have an ulterior motive? Perhaps if the bill can be hurried through quickly enough it will make it onto the statute book before there’s time for the public to lobby their MP. After all it is this insultingly-named piece of drafting that seeks to withdraw legal aid for family cases. It is the punishment of those offenders daring to try to cream off state funds to rescue themselves from an unhappy marriage; sentencing many to a lifetime of penury because they can no longer afford a lawyer to argue their case for financial provision and all for the withdrawal of legal aid funding that for many was repayable in any event, once funds had been recovered from their spouse or the family home sold. Quickie legislation to oust funding for quickie divorces.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


Government plans to cut family legal aid represent an attack on childhood and the family, said family law association Resolution today as the Government published the response to its legal aid consultation.

Under the cuts, thousands of vulnerable parents going through the trauma of divorce and separation will be forced to struggle by without legal help – creating a serious risk that many children will lose contact with one of their parents or be subjected to unfair financial arrangements that harm their upbringing.

“Where there are serious problems between parents, stripping away affordable justice will force families into situations where children simply lose contact with one of their parents, which is wholly unacceptable in a civilized society,” said David Allison, Chair of Resolution.

“The cuts will also mean that, separated parents with primary responsibility for caring for the children may not be able to obtain a fair financial deal from the former partner.”

Under the planned cuts, large groups of vulnerable people will no longer be eligible for legal aid. The only option available to families who still qualify for legal aid will be mediation, which is a valuable non-court option but not suitable for all and requires both parties to voluntarily agree to take part.

“The Government seems determined to turn a deaf ear to the misery that these cuts could create for thousands of children and families. Not to mention the long term impact the cuts will have on wider society and the costs that will transfer to other state funded services as people develop other difficulties such as mental health issues, as they seek to work through these things on their own,” said David Allison.

“These cuts are clearly ill-considered and rushed. The consultation process has been the latest in a line of similar coalition government fiascos. It received an unprecedented 5,000 responses according to the Ministry of Justice’s own figures. It is inconceivable that these responses have been given full and proper consideration.”

The volume of responses to the consultation is not the only indicator that the proposals are deeply flawed. Both the Justice Select Committee and the Family Justice Review have expressed concerns about the Government’s plans.

The Justice Select Committee called on the Government to rethink its decision to use domestic abuse as the only means of accessing free legal advice and help, and the Government’s own Family Justice Review has warned of the potential impact on the courts of families forced to represent themselves.

“It will become virtually impossible for many struggling families to get legal aid when going through the pain of separation. For many, losing family legal aid will be a cruel and unaffordable blow,” said David Allison.

Resolution warns that the Government’s proposals could be the final nail in the coffin for many legal aid providers, leaving too few lawyers able to help the small numbers of vulnerable people who would still be protected by family legal aid.

The cuts are likely to create spiralling costs for taxpayers and chaos in the court system as increasing numbers of people, stripped of their right to legal aid and affordable justice, try to represent themselves.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011


The wedding album is probably one of the most sentimental souvenirs of any marriage. So much so that even during a divorce some couples will argue over who should get to keep it afterwards. However, who takes those photographs can be ever so important not only as to their quality but as one story in the local press yesterday suggested, even as to the newly married couple’s future happiness.

Sadly it seems that one North East couple may have made the wrong choice when they wed back in April 2008. Not only did they pick a photographer who made the news last year after leaving numerous couples distraught by the standard of the photographs at their weddings, but the same photographer subsequently ran off with the bride! Even worse he’s been in court this week for threatening behaviour towards the groom after trying to provoke a fight with him.

“Come on bop me on the nose, you know you want to; I deserve it,” is not however what it is alleged he said.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


Little Girl has been sitting exams for a variety of GCSE modules this month. I suspect the prospect of re-sits may be preying on her mind though, as tonight she advised me that there is a new group on Facebook called, “I Enjoy Exams SO Much I usually Take Them Twice.”

It set me thinking, is there perhaps also a group out there entitled “I Enjoy Weddings SO Much I’ve Been Divorced Six Times,” and if not, should there be?

Sunday, 12 June 2011


Last week two stories captured my attention:

The first was the saga of France banning the mention of Facebook and Twitter on television. There has, of course, been a growth in divorces involving the use of social media networks. Indeed I have known clients complain about the amount of time their spouse spends on such sites; I have also been involved in cases where through such sites one half of a married couple has re-kindled a relationship with someone from their past or where, in a blatant and yet cowardly announcement, one spouse has made clear in their status or tweet that they are not where or even with whom they told their spouse they would be! The French authorities, however, seemingly have little interest in the double lives of their citizens and are instead looking to ban covert advertising whereby presenters send viewers to a specific social media networking page. Nonetheless could such a step help to reverse increasing divorce statistics? I don’t think so. Unless they suffer from amnesia and need reminding about the existence of these sites by the large screen in the corner of their living room every so often, worried wives or suspicious husbands are clearly going to continue the task of internet stalking.

The second story concerned a British couple who are planning to take two years out of their ordinary lives to marry in thirty different countries around the world before returning to the UK to go through an official ceremony. Now it is often said that marriage is quick and easy in this country and divorce too long and difficult. I wonder what would happen if it became a uniform requirement that all couples take two years to marry and traipse around the globe whilst doing so? Certainly divorce would begin to look quick and easy in comparison!

Friday, 3 June 2011


Do you know someone who was divorced recently?
Or do you know someone who has separated from their spouse or partner?
Do you know anyone who was successful in obtaining Olympic tickets?
Could there perhaps be a national scandal here somewhere?

Thursday, 2 June 2011


Great news, we are getting another extra Bank Holiday next year too; this time it’s to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Queen's accession to the throne. I have to confess I could get really used to these 4 day working weeks. According to reports today there will be another display of pageantry as Her Majesty glides down the Thames on the Royal Barge. The rest of us, however, are being encouraged to participate in what has to be another Big Society idea; yes it is being proposed that we should eat lunch with our neighbours!

Now that’s all well and good if your neighbours are offering to cook and they are congenial company. What happens though if you don’t like the folks next door? After all it could even be your ex living there (these arrangements do happen, believe me)? You won’t have spoken for months and you know they can’t even cook toast without burning it. Oh well one of you has 12 months to find somewhere else to live.

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Take That fever has reputedly been gripping the North East after Gary, Robbie and the gang launched their new tour from the Stadium of Light in Sunderland.

You have no idea how much I enjoyed typing that. Usually when a divorce lawyer discusses Take That Fever it’s because they’ve been deluged with issues concerning the division of house contents or, even worse, had an incident of domestic violence to advise on.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011


Once upon a time a client contacted me. “I want an injunction,” he said.

Assuming that he had been at the humiliating end of an incident of domestic abuse, I warned him that even court orders that prohibit threats and molestation can have their shortfalls as I prepared to take notes and asked him to tell me what had happened.

“I’ve been having a relationship with another woman for a few years now,” he began, “It’s now finished and I’ve confessed everything to my wife.”

“And she’s got angry and frightened you?” I queried.

"No, it’s the ex girlfriend; she’s threatening to go to the newspapers.”

“Are they likely to publish?” I enquired.

“Look I’m not so bothered about that, I just want to be really famous,” he replied. “I work in a bank, play football at weekends and I’ve even been in the audience of a Top Gear show, so I thought I’d have all the credentials for a truly super injunction.”

“Will trying to stop publication grant you the fame and publicity you are clearly so readily seeking?” I asked.

“Yes, if the whole mad world starts tweeting about me instead!”

Wednesday, 11 May 2011


The “nanny state” has become a euphemism for the way our lives are controlled, reputedly in our best interests. Our current Government also claims to have placed the family high on its agenda.

An example of merging the two has just been reported from the Punjab. Its State Commission for Women has asked newly married wives to reduce the number of calls they are making on their telephones. Apparently statistics there suggest that 40% of women contemplating divorce do so because their husbands suspect them of having an affair because of all the telephone calls they are making.

Of course, there could be other reasons for those calls, not least the garrulous nature of the fairer sex and perhaps, as is traditional in India, the bride has moved to live with her husband’s family but still enjoys chatting with her own.

Still I suppose it’s an idea our current Government in its quest to preserve good old fashioned family values as well as marriages might want to explore. On second thoughts sandwiched between a Government body telling women not to use their phones and a husband accusing them of adultery, divorce might just seem an attractive alternative.

Friday, 6 May 2011


So the latest news in the world of celebrities is that Sir Paul McCartney is engaged again, this time to American business woman Nancy Shevell, whom he has been seeing for four years. According to the rumours they are likely to be married in the USA. I couldn’t find any confirmation as to whether or not they will also be signing a pre-nup. Hopefully after the expensive, long-running, very public and highly entertaining (for the rest of us) divorce from Heather Mills, Sir Paul will have the wherewithal to insist on this, especially now that pre-nuptial agreements have been adjudged capable of recognition in this country. They are not appropriate for everyone but, for those embarking on a second or even a third marriage in their twilight years, seeking legal advice on a pre-nup may not be romantic but it is prudent.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


Divorce lawyers are well used to change. Amendments to the law usually reflect changes in social attitudes and behaviour. Inundated with recent changes in practice and procedure, however, we are now waiting to see whether the country is ready for Alternative Voting. The referendum is tomorrow and the electorate is invited to indicate whether it wants to choose its MP by a process of elimination. Frequently described as a means of ensuring that nobody gets their first choice, can you imagine what will happen if it becomes a general social trend? Indeed what would happen if we begin to choose our soul mates for life using the system? With a choice of potential suitors, forget plucking the petals from a daisy as you chant, “He loves me, he loves me not.” Instead put it to the vote of family and friends; go the whole hog and use AV rather than the traditional first past the post system. As a result, according to the No Lobby, hardly anyone will end up with the one they really want. Little wonder divorce lawyers are awaiting the result of this referendum with eager anticipation.

Monday, 2 May 2011


I returned from holiday on Friday to find the country immersed in Royal Wedding mania and inundated by media coverage. Getting home too late in the day to watch the proceedings live, I had not envisaged that it would be quite so easy to catch up on the minute by minute details of the big day nor indeed so difficult to find anything else to watch on television. Every channel and every news bulletin appeared swamped by a plethora of pomp and procession. I quickly learnt from the various expert commentators that there would be a plague of copy cat weddings taking place not only in churches in this country but globally; ivory lace, trees in aisles, strawberry plants and Jerusalem will be the order of the day, together with chocolate biscuit wedding cakes.

I also learnt that only the groom knew the honeymoon destination although there was some comment that in these economically constrained times it would be appropriate for it to be a staycation here in the UK rather than a stay in an exotic, foreign location. It was probably sensible advice. The number of people marrying on tropical beaches has no doubt pushed up the cost of a wedding in recent years. Affordable if you have the savings to pay for it or a life time together to discharge the credit card interest. Divorce lawyers, however, see those cases where a marriage breaks down too quickly and the only financial legacy to show for it are the wedding photos and a large debt. Unsurprisingly neither party ever wants either of them.

Of greater surprise this weekend though was the announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (as I was told they now are) will not be taking an immediate honeymoon after all. Forget the staycation it’s a no vacation, allowing the groom to return to work as soon as possible, though I doubt if it’s through financial necessity.

Outdoor Man and I of course set the precedent for the no vacation honeymoon marrying the day before a Bank Holiday weekend and then, as I recall, spending the weekend anti-fouling his boat! Still we remain together 24 years later, so perhaps it’s a good omen and a trend that might now catch on.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


Lawyers are renowned for their straight-line thinking and pedantic natures. Sufficient for them to sometimes be dismissed socially as boring, whilst recognising that those same characteristics help them carry out their work. So, call it boring if you want or the lack of an imagination but Judith has decided to continue practising family law! “Quelle surprise,” you may even say if, by chance, you are practising your foreign language skills at the same time as reading this!

However, my professional life will now be as a consultant with Macks Solicitors, a firm founded by Nick Mack some 15 years ago which has recently expanded into both family law and Darlington. Like me, the other members of the team are collaborative law practitioners as well as members of Resolution. Although my intention is to continue to provide a personal service for clients, there will be wider support and cover from other solicitors meaning that I can hopefully now find time for some of my other interests and responsibilities.

Why Macks you might ask. Well it’s all in the name: “Matrimonial And Collaborative Know-how Simplified.”

Thursday, 21 April 2011


After 28 years and 4 months, it’s time to call it a day and I’m retiring as a partner in Latimer Hinks. I’ve always been sceptical about those who withdraw from public life on the basis they want to spend more time with their families. Now I’m of that age where I suddenly understand what they mean.

A business partnership is often described as a marriage in which you are tied together in a common purpose, through good and bad times. If that description is accurate then it must mean that I have been going through some kind of divorce, albeit amicably. In my case, however, I have 7 spouses. Imagine that, especially in a country that frowns on polygamy!

My thanks to all my colleagues at Latimer Hinks who have been working hard to make the last few weeks as easy as they could and also for their best wishes and support over the years.

So am I really going to spend all my leisure time with my family? After all Outdoor Man has recently qualified for his free bus pass, so just think of all the exciting jaunts we could go on together. Check back here in early May to see what Judith does next.

Monday, 18 April 2011


The Northern Echo featured a breaking story today about a local employer which has decided to relocate part of its business from Darlington and in so doing purportedly offered alternative roles in other locations to the staff who would be affected. One of those other locations, however, was reported to be in the Philippines where the new package on offer reputedly includes a rice allowance. Needless to say the workforce is objecting robustly at the concept of moving 7,000 miles to keep their jobs. There are a few though who are reserving their position. They are the ones who have presumably been in touch today to find out if: Manila is far enough away that the ex won’t try to visit; that the CSA can’t touch them there; whether taking all their pay in rice will prevent a maintenance claim; in due course if they remarry will they be able to bring their bride back to the UK.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011


Now I appreciate that it may be unlikely but if you are in the middle of a divorce, or even thinking about one, whilst travelling to Nepal with your soon-to-be ex, read on. News has broken that Nepal’s highest court has just ruled that where spouses are both imprisoned, they should be jailed together to preserve their conjugal rights. Apparently the right for citizens to reproduce is enshrined in the country’s interim constitution. Oh dear, could that be a headache the “not tonight dear” half of the duo is developing?

Tuesday, 12 April 2011


“Started Early, Took My Dog,” is the name of a book by Kate Atkinson. Little Girl gave me a copy for my birthday. It’s currently in the bestsellers’ list but I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Innumerable times during my practising life, I have been told that “the lesser half took the dog out for a morning walk and did not return.” I have known clients report the dog missing but rarely their absent spouse. The alleged dog thief usually resurfaces quickly anyway claiming ownership of the animal, if on no other basis than “possession is nine tenths of the law.”

They are never easy cases to resolve. Both parties declare affection for the pet that is way above anything they claim to have felt for the other. The courts don’t want to know and neither wishes to mediate, let alone consider buying a puppy substitute. Sadly such disputes can go unresolved and rarely to the satisfaction of both of the dog-lovers. Unfortunately, and many canine aficionados find it hard to comprehend, but our laws on contact, residence and parental responsibility do relate solely to children.

As for the book itself, it’s actually a well-written detective story set in modern day Leeds with flashbacks to the 1970’s (ah yes an era I recall well). It had little to do with divorce, of course, except for the title!

Sunday, 10 April 2011


“Ne’er cast a clout till May be out,” the saying goes. Nonetheless, with temperatures hitting 21 degrees Celsius in my garden this weekend, I could not be persuaded to continue on in my woollen vest and mittens. Neither, however, have I been tempted to put my winter clothes away.

We are, of course, all very good at ignoring the advice of older relatives despite the fact that they only ever have our best interests at heart. It’s probably a trick we learned in out teens, when our parents seemed adept at attempting to manipulate our lives. There are times though when it is worth listening to Old Wives and their tales. Their expertise is based on years of experience and early April with a fickle wind blowing is only one of those times.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


There have been issues of a domestic kind taking place in the field at the back of my house recently. Fed up to the buck teeth at being chased around by her male counterpart, a female hare has been indulging in her own bit of domestic violence. Yes, hares really do go in for boxing; we’ve been witnessing it with our own eyes. Trouble is the fellow doesn’t seem to have taken the hint; he’s besotted and obviously doesn’t understand that no means no, because he continues to harass her. I guess one of them will have to tire eventually, there’s clearly no scope for the non-molestation order and power of arrest that harassed humans can rely on.

Sunday, 3 April 2011


Mother’s Day here in the UK today and another date on the calendar for arguing about who should have the children. Mum of course needs to see them because it’s important to her on this the most special of days and, no matter that the children may have been under her feet all week, it’s time for Sunday lunch together which, of course, she will have to cook. Dad of course claims it’s his day for contact and anyway the children have always seen his own Mum, their grandmother, on this red letter day and it’s important now they’re separated to keep some normality going for the sake of the kids.

Envy instead the family where, despite everything, Dad insists they spend time with Mum. She agreed he should see them yesterday whatever and he made a detour to a garden centre with the children to pick up flowers for them to give her. She may be his ex-wife but the children still love her and he’s determined that they show her respect. Maybe she’ll reciprocate when Father’s Day comes round in June. If not, hey ho, he’s at least kept his dignity, as well as the moral high ground.

Friday, 1 April 2011


With all the changes taking place in our procedures and forms at the moment, it would have been very easy to fall for the April Fool across at Jordans Family Law today when they announced that the latest Practice Direction requires child friendly clothing in the family courts. Perhaps it’s just me, but actually the idea of Judges in polka dot robes designed by Cath Kidson has a certain appeal.