Tuesday, 23 April 2013

SAINT GEORGE FOR MERRY ENGLAND

"My husband’s name is George,” sighed my client. “He had a mother with a sense of humour.”
 
“Pardon?” I asked.
 
“George: after the patron saint of Merry England (whose day it is today),” she replied, pausing mid- sentence.
 
I awaited her explanation with curiosity. Was she going to tell me that he slays dragons?
“The patron saint of England,” she repeated “And also of Portugal, Malta, Germany and Lithuania, not to mention of syphilis, and for which I want to petition him for divorce!”
 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

THE IRON LADY

 
As a 10 day period of apparent national mourning comes to a close, I thought now would be a prudent moment to ponder as to any influence Lady Thatcher may have had on my own work as a divorce lawyer. Whilst her own late husband was a divorcee, I honestly have no idea as to her views on the issue. Perhaps therefore it would be better to consider the matter from the perspective of divorcees and what they may have learned from the former Prime Minister’s legacy and her reputation as the Iron Lady. Indeed how did she come to be known as such?
It is fair to say that unlike many of the ordinary people that I divorce, I find it impossible to recall Mrs Thatcher posing with an iron or even to imagine her going about mundane household chores whilst holding high office.
Further and whilst accredited with providing the impetus for the tearing down of the Iron Curtain, I doubt if that’s what earned her the title. Although many a divorcee has stripped bare their marital home whilst their spouse has been out, the ferrying away of light fittings and curtains is hardly akin to the liberation of Eastern Europe.
On my own part, I had the privilege to grow up in Consett, an iron and steel town in the North West of County Durham. Or rather it was an iron and steel town until the policies pursued by Mrs Thatcher’s government closed the steel works and left a community of 36,000 people without any obvious form of employment. Our school motto (in Latin, of course) translated as “from out of iron comes forth steel.” I hesitate to think that the Iron Lady earned her name on the back of closing Consett’s steel works; irony at its worst, if it was.
No it came clearly from her single minded and robust determination to pursue her policies through to the end. “The Lady’s not for turning,” she famously said.
Perhaps that’s where there is a connection with some estranged spouses; those who embark on what can be an embittered and highly divisive strategy for resolving financial and property issues, as well as the future well-being of their children.
However, in my experience, by far the majority seek to divorce with dignity. Tactics that may be vote-winners in politics have no place in the resolution of family issues. Collaboration and the ability to see issues from both sides, not intransigence, is always the key.

Monday, 1 April 2013

MARITAL PURGATORY


 
 

 
 
Ahead of the legal aid cuts due to take effect today, family law practitioners have reiterated concerns that vulnerable people will be left without proper legal advice and support during divorce.
Resolution, the country’s largest association of family law practitioners, has repeatedly warned of the devastating effects of the legal aid cuts, which will result in 200,000 people a year being denied access to justice. Legal aid will remain available to support many victims of domestic violence and a further limited number of people for mediation, which Resolution supports as a non-court based approach to resolving family disputes.
However, mediation is not a one-size-fits-all solution: for it to be successful, both parties need to agree to engage. Where one party is not willing, there is no support available. As a result, many people will be forced to represent themselves, sometimes in court (known as ‘litigants in person’), acting without legal advice.
Speaking on the day that changes to the legal aid regime come into force, Resolution’s Chair, Liz Edwards, said:
“Our members know from experience that most clients do not know what kind of financial settlement they are entitled to or have to provide.
This is essentially a false economy, as the weaker partner is left with an inadequate settlement and is pushed into reliance on benefits, shifting the costs to other areas of public spending. This will ultimately place a greater burden on the public purse.
These cuts fail families and run counter to the government’s stated aim of putting children and families at the heart of policy. The effects will be particularly damaging for the children in divorce cases, particularly those from poor backgrounds."
Divorce and separation is always a difficult time but it need not be long, drawn out and excessively expensive. There are constructive and affordable ways to reach agreement and Resolution members can help separating families focus on the needs of the children and keep disputes out of the courtroom.
The Legal Services Commission (which is being abolished and replaced with the Legal Aid Agency as of today) has indicated that there will be strict limits on a legal aid firm’s ability to take on work beyond that initially allocated. People who remain eligible for legal aid may therefore experience difficulty locating a legal aid lawyer to represent them as fewer practitioners are able to provide legal aid. Access to justice risks becoming a postcode lottery.
While Resolution and other leading organisations successfully convinced the government to ensure that victims of domestic violence will still be able to access proper legal advice, victims still face many hurdles. They will be expected to present evidence in support of their claim but for many this may not be practically possible. Fees may also be charged to provide some types of evidence, for example a GP’s report, placing additional financial pressures on domestic abuse sufferers.