Monday, 22 December 2014

Christmas Contests

It's that wonderful, sparkling time of the year when all are filled with peace and goodwill. Or are they?

I met one of my former colleagues for lunch at the end of last week. With only a few more court sittings before Christmas she was counting the number of cases that she still has to present and all of which, inevitably, related to contact over the holiday period.

What is it about Christmas that can turn separated parents into sparring warriors each competing to outdo the other? Sometimes such contests can be limited to the biggest present, the most chocolate, the tastiest dinner, the most exciting treat. Other times they spill over into contact wars where one parent tries to deny the children the right to see the other at this special time of the year.

Once upon a time I recall becoming embroiled in a battle over a trans-Atlantic holiday, or two to be precise. Each parent wanted to take their three small children to meet Mickey Mouse in the Californian sunshine during their Christmas holidays; the arrangements would have involved the children making the journey twice in two weeks, once with each parent. Unfortunately there was an overlap with the dates and a Judge put a stop to the whole charade of trying to keep up with the other if you can't outdo them.

The lengths that some parents go to try to establish the size of the other parent's tree, the presents they are giving and the timing of the Christmas meal would on occasions put the tactics of MI6 to shame. Careful subterfuge and spy-work, using the children as go-betweens and scanning social media websites for photographs or hints are just part of the arsenal of resources used to try to win this unnecessary war.

Intelligence Services may have blossomed with purpose during the Cold War but the communication that has followed since the fall of the Iron Curtain has been more productive. A polite telephone call instead of a drunken text, can reap far greater rewards in the parenting stakes; it's called communication and it's what children deserve to stop their Christmas and that of their parents being spoiled by petty rivalries.

Christmas is, after all, a time for peace and goodwill to all men, including the ex.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

The Monster-in-Law

I have just returned from Cuba. Our guide could hardly have been more knowledgeable and was generally able to answer all our questions. He explained that not only do Cubans invariably work in the place where they are brought up but they also continue to live with their parents even after marriage. Tradition dictates that daughters and their husbands live with her parents rather than his.

I enquired about divorce and was informed that, “It happens and there is lots of it, it’s the mother-in-law you see.”

In case I hadn’t understood the extent of the problem he then added, “In Cuba we call her the monster-in-law!”

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The Standardisation of English

I have been reading about life in Medieval England lately. In the course of so doing I understand much better the part the development of the printing press played in standardising the English language. How, for instance, “ye” became the the spelling for “the” and how the use of an abbreviation like “&” for “et” in the middle of a word was dropped.

Of course I went to school when rules on the use of the English language were tediously drummed into you and there was no scope for deviation. Any errors resulted in red lines in exercise books and the need to write out corrections ten times.

Recent generations of school pupils have been spared the pedantic insistence on subservience to the rules of spelling and grammar. However, in family proceedings the drafting of court documents, solicitors’ letters, laws and regulations all require the precise application of those rules. Occasionally, there can be a mismatch between what a lawyer thinks he has dictated and what he receives to check and sign.

In recent years, therefore, I have been treated to such gems as:
Baristas going into court (presumably to make coffee for the Judge);
Ships birthing (maybe that’s how baby boats are delivered);
Illicit information (when eliciting information was required);
Pecking knees (referring to a dog that sounded like a chicken with bandy legs perhaps).

My personal favourite of all time, however, was:
Higher perches (to finance the car not to provide a seat with a view for the budgerigar).

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Gone Girl

Both Little Girl and Apprentice Man have recommended that I read "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn. I confess that I have chickened out and have been to see the film, starring Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, instead.

Of course the title "Gone Girl" could allude to any separated wife but in this case the plot is more sinister. I shall not divulge it here so as to spoil it for anyone who has yet to read the book or see the film. 

Suffice to say that my sympathies instinctively rested with the lawyer who goes under the wonderful name of Tanner Bolt. He also had one of the best lines in the script when he comments: "You two are the most f****d-up people I've ever met, and I deal with f****d-up people for a living"

Thankfully I never came out with that one during my years in practice.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Heard it on the Radio

One of the best things about retirement is that I get to listen to the radio at times when previously I would have been at my office desk.

I am always amazed at the information you can pick up about divorce.

Indeed in recent weeks I have learnt that censuses in the USA show divorce as most common amongst those following arty type occupations such as dancers, actors, poets and artists.  At the other end of the spectrum those least likely to divorce are engineers and scientists. I could speculate on the reason for this but, as Outdoor Man is an engineer, think I’ll play safe and stay silent!

I also heard repeated that old chestnut that the average person has a longer relationship with their bank manager than their partner. In this day and age, I do find that a strange one; who actually meets their bank manager in person these days? Or perhaps that’s the secret to a successful relationship: keep it on-line.

Finally I was told that the average divorce costs £44,000. That’s not the lawyers’ fees by the way; they are factored in at just less than £1300 each. Instead the sum represents the amount spent by both spouses in setting up their separate lives and which, as well as the legal fees, includes the expenses for setting up a new home, purchasing clothes and jewellery, taking up new hobbies, joining a gym, acquiring dating club membership, cosmetic surgery and life coaching or therapy. Far be it for me to point out where savings could be made, but I am sure strong views will be expressed by the ex about any nose job.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Calones, as I recently learnt from an article about life on the frontier at Hadrian’s Wall, were the slaves of soldiers, one of the lowest forms of life in the Roman Empire.

Horace was a Roman poet responsible for many satirical poems in which he criticised and poked fun at Roman society, trying to persuade his audience to moderate their desires in order to live a happier life. He appears to have had little sympathy with those seeking sexual adventures especially of the extra-marital variety. Indeed he warned adulterers that they would not simply be condemned to eternal damnation but, in the course of their unending after-life, be forever urinated upon by calones.


Thursday, 23 October 2014

De Feet

Shoes – objects of adoration and much satisfaction for so many women, with colours and styles for all occasions. Regardless of the bunions, posture problems and general aches and pains, the higher the heel the better.

Sometimes the collection grows so much that storage can become an issue. As a result there has been a boom in recent times of shoe racks and storage systems.

Does your husband know how many pairs you actually own or is it a retail therapy secret?

Would you consider putting distance between you and your collection by storing them in a house in a foreign country where you neither lived nor had any intention to reside permanently?

I ask only because last week newspapers carried reports of a court case in which the chairman of Laura Ashley tried to prevent his wife succeeding with her assertion that her divorce case should be heard in England. He argued that she does not intend to dwell here. His wife, however, was able to adduce evidence, including of a thousand pairs of shoes (admittedly the Judge thought she was exaggerating), as a demonstration of her intention to remain in this country.

Although the husband clearly believed the wife’s argument was cobblers, the Court found in her favour. 

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Worry Beads

Outdoor Man and I have recently returned from a trip to Greece during which we travelled back from the island of Paxos by speedboat.

The skipper and his only crew member talked animatedly the whole of the journey, repeatedly jabbing their fingers in the direction of the coastline and it would appear (although I don’t speak Greek) discussing the best route to follow.

None of this would of course have held much interest for me except that bouncing across the waves, I could not help but notice that they anxiously clicked worry beads through their fingers.

In circumstances where these beads are intended to guard against bad luck it would be tempting to think that it was a result of the amber pieces being hit against each other than we navigated safely back to shore. I was even told that in Greece there is a worry bead ritual for bridegrooms to follow on the night before their wedding.

Perhaps there are times when we should all have a set to help find our way through troubled waters.

Thursday, 16 October 2014


I am sure that I have referred before in this blog to divorce leaving one party (usually the husband) feeling that he has had to pay too much to the other party (usually the wife) and who in turn feels that she has received too little.

English divorce law is based on a concept of fairness and although this is measured against a yardstick of equality it does not automatically mean that assets are divided equally. In other words an unequal division can and invariably will be a fair outcome for the divorcing couple.

How so?

In many relationships the household may have depended on one partner (frequently but not always the husband) to work long hours to earn the money that has provided the home and other essentials for the family. The other partner (often the wife) may have given up a career, reduced her hours or prospects of advancement in order to care for children and the home, as well perhaps as moving from place to place in order to accompany the husband as he moves up the corporate ladder.
Post-divorce, rarely therefore will the dependent spouse have the earning capacity of the primary breadwinner. Unless assets are redistributed in unequal shares there may be unfairness.

The bread maker’s earnings provide a mortgage capacity beyond that of his spouse and whilst maintenance may help to bridge the gap, an unequal division of the financial pot is invariably required as well or instead. The main earner will potentially have accrued a pension, denied to his spouse, and there may need to be a redistribution of this, or a cash payment in lieu, in order to achieve a fair outcome. If however the couple are in a position where the primary earner has a final salary pension and the spouse has access only to an open-market money purchase scheme, to achieve equality of pension benefits again an unequal division or a payment representing more than half of the cash equivalent value of the scheme could be required.

Depending from which perspective one is examining the proposed terms of settlement is it any wonder that both can feel aggrieved?

Many the men who believe that they are being denied a fair return on the effort they have put in and many too the women who believe that they are being inadequately compensated for all that they have given up.

Regardless however of the extent to which the law seeks to redress the inequality that exists, only one thing is certain: as time moves on and circumstances intervene, the means of the former husband and wife are unlikely ever to be equal.

#inequality #BAD2014

Friday, 3 October 2014

Warning Notice

Whilst out and about yesterday, I spotted interesting advice on a plaque:

“Don’t marry for money,” it read, “It costs less to borrow it!”

Maybe there's a new opportunity here for Wonga.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Filling the Frame

So the good old tax disc has been abolished. That circular paper certificate that always came with perforations on a square sheet of paper, leaving you in a high state of anxiety every year as you fretted over whether or not you would be able to detach it without tearing right across it.

I wonder what, in this digital age, will go next? Could it be that strangely sized piece of green paper, known as a marriage certificate?

I can think of any number of people who might object to that. Even amongst divorcees they can be viewed as sentimental objects.

Over the years many the numbers of clients who have protested in horror when I have explained of the need to lodge the certificate at court with their divorce documents on a non-returnable basis. Strange as it may seem, you do have to prove you are married in order to divorce!

Fortunately, albeit for a small fee, a further official copy can be obtained and filed in court instead.

Once upon a time a client told me that she deserved to be able to retain the official certificate she was handed on the day she married, as proof of her willingness before witnesses to commit. I think she was serious when she said it was her wish to hang it and her final divorce decree in matching heart-shaped frames (which she'd never known what to do with) alongside each other on her hall wall.

Is there anyone intending to frame and hang their last tax disc? It could solve the problem of what to put in that attractive circular photo frame I've had in a cupboard for years.

Monday, 15 September 2014

A Painful Divorce

David Cameron described the potential outcome of a Yes vote in the Scottish referendum as a painful divorce rather than a trial separation today.

We have just returned from another sailing trip in Scotland and at the moment she is definitely going through a dilemma. Whilst there are some South of the border who think they should have a say too, the golden rule of every union (as any divorce lawyer can substantiate) is, of course, that it takes two to make it and one to break it. The decision is accordingly Scotland's alone.

If the Prime Minister must use separation and divorce as a metaphor, perhaps he ought to have been even more explicit: "Scotland, if you do decide to leave then don't think that, after a night consuming several drams of whisky, you can send a text message signed off with love and kisses saying you've made a mistake and want to come home."

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Six Inches Makes All the Difference

Research published by sociologists at New York University recently suggests that short men remain  married longer than their taller counterparts. Why on earth should that be? Surely there aren’t really thousands of women out there, patting their little husbands on the head whilst declaring undying and eternal love (well until the divorce that is, as the research finds the marriages last longer, not necessarily indefinitely).

Nope, the logical and rational explanation according to the researchers is that being short is seen to be less attractive, therefore short men marry later and presumably don’t make the same mistakes as those younger but taller than them! Wonderful, so now small men get picked up by desperate spinsters, ready to take and hang on to any man who’ll have them, even if it does mean ditching the stilettoes and wearing flat shoes for the rest of their married lives.

Just how ridiculous is this? There must be hundreds of thousands of both short and tall men out there that could debunk these findings. 

Saturday, 30 August 2014

A Lesson from Kerala

A few years ago we travelled as a family to Kerala, the spice garden of India, in the south of the country. It was a fascinating experience and although so many of our holidays include sunset dinners with a bottle of wine in the shadow of an ancient monument (no, I honestly mean the stone and mortar variety, not Outdoor Man), India was very different. We rode elephants, stayed on houseboats, were wary of monkeys in the trees above us and generally feasted out on a culture with sights, smells and customs very different to our own.

We were conscious that alcohol was available if you wanted it, but apart from an occasional bottle of beer, none of our party imbibed except, that is, for the guide who, even on our first night, returned to our dinner table smelling of spirits and somewhat more agitated and vocal than when he had left us.

That memory came back to me today when I read that Kerala attributes 69% of its crimes and 80% of its cases of divorce and domestic violence to alcohol. As a result it is looking to reduce alcohol consumption across the state by revoking licences for the sale of liquor and its aim is to be totally dry within a few years.

Alcohol is a contributory factor to many a divorce and violent episode here in the UK too. Surely there cannot be a divorce lawyer in the country who has not drafted a petition for divorce with those notorious words: “The Respondent drank to excess…”

There is a school of thought that suggests that alcohol exacerbates one’s natural temperament, emphasising the aggression in some and the soft and entertaining nature of others. So there are some who sing and dance on the table before falling asleep underneath it, and others who maliciously throw the table and chairs whilst trying to impose their will on those who are weaker than themselves. The person who is sweet and innocent when sober, can turn into a demon possessed when “under the influence”.

Before the UK would consider banning the sale of “booze”, however, it would inevitably consider other options. Indeed a minimum price tag seems to be the current political favourite. Might I, however, suggest an alternative, namely: the introduction of elephants in the streets and monkeys in the trees? Although it hasn’t worked in Kerala, were British drinkers to come face to face with an ape or woolly mammoth whilst binge drinking in the local town centre, they would surely think they had overindulged and it was time to make a quiet retreat to bed.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

A Fictional Account

As news of Robin Williams’ sad demise broke today, I remembered first watching him in “Mork and Mindy”, that hilarious television sitcom from the late seventies/early eighties in which he played an alien who had come to Earth.

Subsequently, of course, it was his role in “Mrs Doubtfire” which most captured my imagination. Denied proper contact with his children, Daniel Hillard, Robin Williams’ character in that film, dressed as an elderly female and applied for and secured the position of nanny to his own children. In the world of comic fiction, anything can happen.

There are of course real-life cases where unacceptable behaviour by an absent parent causes a Judge to feel it necessary to refuse or restrict contact with children. In some instances limitations can result in contact between parent and child being curtailed to letters and cards, in others to supervised visits perhaps at an access centre or public place. Restrictions are never imposed without first working on the assumption that contact is in the best interests of the child and then balancing that against a need to protect.

A real life Daniel Hillard who has already had contact curtailed because of concerns about his ability to care for his children, is unlikely to cross dress, adopt a Scottish accent and new persona not to mention flaunt a previous court order and deceive his estranged wife into employing him as a nanny. No, instead he will be advised to work with the system to prove his ability and the merit of contact for the benefit of the children. There are flaws in the system, of course, and, like Daniel Hillard, there are some parents who are left feeling that injustice has been done. That however is the stuff of documentaries not comedy films.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Marriages Made in Heaven

News at the weekend included reference to the celebrations taking place to acknowledge that the twinning of Dull in Scotland with Boring in Oregon, USA has endured for a full year. The initial union and its continuation would suggest that where there are shared values and similarities, a meaningful relationship can grow. A marriage made in Heaven, we might say.

I do wonder, therefore, if instead the association had been between Dull and Carefree in Arizona or alternatively Happy Adventure in Newfoundland and Labrador in Canada whether it would have lasted. Whilst it is said that opposites attract, when they do, as most divorcees and their lawyers can vouch, they are also the relationships that can result in the bond from Hell. For instance would Carefree and Happy Adventure have really been as keen as Boring to indulge in 5 hours of folk singing and bagpipes to mark a first wedding anniversary? 

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Heat Wave

I have been fortunate in being able to spend last week's soaring temperatures fanned by sea breezes amongst Scotland's sea lochs. Anchoring close to shore, all was quiet and peaceful; even the most noisy of tourist had been overwhelmed into a languid torpor by the heat.

Whilst we might feel lethargic in an extreme heatwave the metaphors associated with domestic violence would suggest otherwise.

The perpetrator is inevitably a firebrand with a hot temper whose inflammatory abuse and boiling rage result in a steaming cauldron of burning anger and aggression. 

When the heat rises it isn't limited to air temperature.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Bite

There have been a number of times this summer when, for obvious reasons (ie biting flies) I have been reminded of the quote of Anita Roddick: “If you think you’re too small to have an impact; try going to bed with a mosquito.”

Divorce however is not like the minor irritation of a mosquito bite (malaria carrying insects excepted).

The biggest thing I have ever been bitten by was a pony. Divorce is not like a pony bite either.

No, divorce is where you are bitten by really big teeth (a crocodile, a lion or a shark – take your pick) and then spat out in pieces that fortunately can be sewn up and healed, although there will be scars that can remain forever.

Friday, 18 July 2014

In the News

Notwithstanding retirement, I do of course continue to take an interest in legal developments and cases especially those relating to divorce. In particular my attention was drawn last week to the newspaper reports on the hearing involving Mr and Mrs Hohn in what is being described as the UK’s wealthiest divorce case.

In the interests of transparency family cases have been opened up to enable attendance by accredited members of the Press. Their powers to report on the specific details of a case have, however, been very limited. When issuing a court application for a client I have, therefore, advised that, although proceedings are in private, the Press could be present but, reassuringly, that this is unlikely.

Save for those divorcees looking for a celebrity moment, many must have been extremely shocked by the High Court’s decision which has permitted everything to be reported except detailed financial information.  That said, one can probably assume that the Press will not, as a result, suddenly decide to attend every case where a financial order is sought; Mr and Mrs Hohn’s circumstances and wealth are somewhat exceptional.

For those who are genuinely concerned that their intimate details may be emblazoned across the Media are there any other options? Negotiation, arbitration, mediation and collaboration all spring to mind; differing levels of wealth or trust between parties making one process potentially more suitable than another. All, however, offer confidentiality, free from Press intrusion.

Perhaps a case like the Hohns’ is what has been required to encourage would-be litigants to examine all options with their solicitors, rather than embark on litigation other than as a last resort.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Le Grand Depart (Yorkshire)

It is an established and by no means unsurprising phenomenon that alcohol and celebrations can be an explosive cocktail, sufficient to sever a marriage that is already floundering. It seems however that if you add sport into the mix, the situation can become lethal. Indeed according to this article in Canada’s National Post, the divorce rate spikes after the annual Calgary Stampede in July with its party atmosphere conducive to both the beginning and ending of marriages.

Last weekend I was at one of the biggest parties linked to sport that Yorkshire has ever seen when it hosted the start of Le Tour de France.  On Buttertubs Pass and back in Hawes, both before and after the race passed through, there was certainly a festive spirit.

After reading about the effect of the Stampede I do wonder whether there are any likely repercussions on domestic bliss in the Dales from the world’s biggest cycle race. After all sitting astride a bucking bronco can’t feel that different to being glued to a bicycle saddle for 5 hours, can it? 

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


One of the good things about not going to work is being able to start the piles of unread books that seem to have entered my home over the last decade or more.

Literature, however, can be brutal. Take this poem by Rose Tremain in her short novel, “Letter to Sister Benedicta” :-

She’s gone to Milan
with her smart young man
leaving her furs
and all that was hers
including the very
pale man she called Gerry.

Sunday, 29 June 2014


Officially I retire tomorrow on 30th June but with accrued holiday my last day in the office was actually on the 18th. I am now weaning myself off the routine and anxieties of working life.

However, blogging will continue. Whilst it may have served as a form of alternative therapy for the busy divorce lawyer, I think it may now be viewed as an opportunity for creative writing. Oh, okay, maybe the truth is that after a lifetime of divorce I just can’t really let go!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

A Wedding

I attended the wedding of an extended family member today.

It was what commentators describe as a thoroughly classical wedding with the traditional bridal gown, the church, the rings, the tiered cake, the breakfast, the speeches and of course, one now assumes, a pre-nup!

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Kefalonian Idyll

Last week I travelled to Kefalonia on holiday. It is a beautiful destination; very peaceful and quiet.

It's been at least 10 years since I visited Greece and I was pleased to see little had changed. Indeed, although we stayed in a modern villa, it still connected by tiny drainage pipes to the cesspit.

With so many things causing strife between couples I do wonder if this could be another. Certainly it wasn't to Outdoor Man's liking.

Now in all my years of practice I have never had anyone claim as grounds for divorce the size of their drainage pipes. Are things different in Greece?

Do arguments rage over blockages and who gets the drainage rods out next? Is there a shortage of plumbers when you really need one? Alternatively is it a case of shut up and put up? Or is there perhaps a collaborative solution where lateral thinking gets everyone petitioning for a change in pipe sizes rather than for divorce?

Monday, 12 May 2014

On Display

The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb will be exhibiting at London’s Southbank Centre this summer. A couple of years ago Apprentice Man (who really deserves a change of name now that he is grown up) inspired by what I can only assume was a morbid curiosity for my work, visited that museum whilst travelling around Croatia.

He showed me the photographs afterwards. I recall that there was the axe which had belonged to  the jilted guy who chopped his ex’s furniture into little pieces when she took off on  holiday with her lesbian lover. There was also the wing mirror of the car smashed by a woman who had found it parked outside an unknown address by her two-timing husband.

Now you can have the opportunity not only to marvel over such artefacts but also to donate them. The Southbank Centre is inviting gifts of items from past relationships to coincide with its Festival of Love and the exhibition by the Croatian museum.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Let It Go

Whilst married people can be healthier and happier than their single counterparts the results of a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison has shown that this is not always the case. Sadly it seems that marital stress can make the sufferer more prone to depression.

Constantly put down or let down by your spouse can lower your resilience to a point where the high points of life no longer provide pleasure.

None of this is of course any surprise to family lawyers who frequently take instructions from people who have hit rock-bottom before finally seeking to remove themselves from a debilitating and repressive marriage.

Further research is now needed as to how to enable people to become resilient to the triggers which invoke stress (meditation is suggested). In the meantime perhaps I shall consider retraining as a Yoga Guru.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Saints and Sinners

The Pope declared two of his predecessors to be saints today in a ceremony attended by thousands.

Although undoubtedly not truly worthy of canonisation, it is surprisingly not uncommon in solicitors’ offices  across the land for one divorcing spouse to refer to the other as a saint for putting up with them for so long. Alternatively I have acted for people who have told me that they consider themselves to be saints for accepting the behaviour of their other half, sometimes for decades.

In the context of a marriage break up, I don’t know how often the concept of sainthood is actually discussed directly. Certainly I cannot recall receiving a letter suggesting: “Our client believes your client to be a saint for enduring him/her and his/her behaviour.”

Collaborative law is different. Sometimes it provides just that opportunity for one or both to endeavour to acknowledge their shortcomings and the hurt caused. Whilst hearing that may not result in forgiveness, it can nevertheless enable a couple to work together towards resolving their settlement terms.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014


Phew, a day of changes in family law or at the least of labels used.

Inflammatory words like residence and contact have been banned and lawyers are now talking about child arrangements. To help resolve disputes concerning these are Signposting Services whilst a Gatekeeping Team is going to determine the correct allocation of court applications after checking to ensure that sparring couples have been referred to a mediation service for a MIAM.

New and convoluted abbreviations are now in common parlance; the FACDIBB rules for instance.

Forms have changed or been abolished altogether.

Strict timescales have been introduced for the resolution of child care cases.

However, if all that wasn’t enough, the crowning glory of the reforms has to be a new court. Except it isn’t; locally the court buildings are still in the same place. Administrative functions of some staff have altered, as has the address to which some paperwork must be delivered but yes there has been a name change. All cases are now to be directed to the aptly named Single Family Court.

“Can I still start proceedings if we haven’t actually become single families yet?” asked one client today after hearing about the changes in a news bulletin.

“Only if you use the correct terminology, explore mediation, find the correct form and then potentially attend at a court office 20 miles away to issue the application,” could have been the confused response.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Small Print

Agreements reached in family proceedings can be set aside if they arise from a misrepresentation, duress or in some instances even a mistake as to what it is that is being signed. However, as one wealthy foreign gentleman has found, English law does not extend to accepting that leaving your reading glasses behind results in an inability to read or understand the finer details of the small print, not even when that small print commits you to paying £60,000 maintenance per calendar month! 

Fortunately for the hapless signatory, the court was not entirely convinced that maintenance at that level was necessary or fair and it seems that he must only pay approximately £33,000 per month instead! 

Monday, 14 April 2014

A Tax on Sales at Separation

Property has always been seen as a basis for taxation and although an Englishman’s home may be his castle it can also be very expensive to retain subject as it is to council tax, inheritance tax and, as now seems increasingly likely in the case of divorce or separation, capital gains tax.

Generally speaking a property used as your main home is exempt from capital gains tax. However, if you separate, then, by definition, it is no longer the home of the person who vacates. Needless to say many people choose to sort out the practicalities of leaving first, only to take legal advice months and sometimes years later when they feel ready to face the prospect of divorce.

Whilst most law firms fall shy of giving actual tax advice, family lawyers have nonetheless operated and advised clients with regard to the negotiation of settlements on the basis that  even where their client vacated the home, no charge to capital gains tax will arise if it is sold within 3 years of separation. Since the beginning of the new tax year on 6th April, however, there has been no such solace. The period of 3 years has been slashed to 18 months or approximately the length of time it might take to bring a case from beginning to end through court to force a sale of the marital home.

Add to the length of time it could take to obtain a court order, the actual period required to market and then sell a property, especially in my local area where the housing market remains slow, and you will quickly envisage the scale of the problem. Yes, some people who bought in the last 7 to 8 years may actually lose money on a sale or make a notional profit that will be below the threshold for tax, but for others who may have owned for many years the story can be different.

Moreover and whilst the potential liability will fall only on the person who has been out of occupation and of course only apply to their one half of the gain calculated pro rata for the period they have been out of occupation (less 18 months), it will nevertheless affect the overall outcome if the payment of tax due must be provided for from the proceeds of sale before they are divided between a couple. These new arrangements may only have been with us for just over a week but already I am beginning to see cases where there will inevitably be adverse consequences.

Whilst nobody ever wants to encourage anyone to take professional advice arising from their separation before they are ready to do so, when it comes to their home they must seek advice as soon as possible. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Description of a Divorce Lawyer

I recall someone giving me a very helpful hint to the effect that when shaking hands and networking you should repeat your name and describe what you do, not your occupation. So I became “Judith, Judith who helps people at a time of relationship breakdown,” rather than “Judith, a divorce lawyer.” The description has served me well but I glean that it is about to be supplanted.

With the announcement on her blog of her separation from her husband Chris Martin, Gwyneth Paltrow has introduced unsuspecting divorce lawyers to a new phrase: “conscious uncoupling,” which inevitably makes me and others like me Conscious Uncouplers.

I can’t wait for a networking event to try that one out!