Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Christmas Creches



Back in December 2007 I wrote an entry on this blog about a Christmas crèche in Austria. It seems that the idea has caught on and this year we have seen a similar project launched in Carmarthen, with one to follow at the weekend in Manchester

Comfortable settees, magazines, sport on large TV screens and electronic games, it sounds like boys’ heaven; a haven where men retreat to whilst their other halves get stuck into some serious Christmas shopping. 

To work like a crèche the men must presumably be deposited and collected by their wives or long term partners. In 2007 I pondered on the outcome if their spouse failed to collect them; in 2015 I wonder what will happen if the men quite simply don’t want to leave! 


Sunday, 6 December 2015

Family Law Reconnaissance Tour


I returned from India this week where, as well as seeing the sights, I felt it to be my duty to undertake a reconnaissance mission on behalf of former family law colleagues. In the event that any may be seeking a change of scene then I can reliably confirm with photographic evidence that:

Delhi has a designated family court albeit with a removeable sign;


Modern offices for firms of lawyers abound;


Barristers’ chambers occupy historic buildings with rickety stairs.


Home from home, I guess!




Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Larry's Party



It has taken me some time, eighteen years to be precise, but I have finally read "Larry's Party," by Carol Shields which was first published in 1997. It is the touching story of a male florist who develops a penchant for mazes and experiences two divorces along the path of a successful business career. There may be touches of humour but it is essentially an emotional experience in which the author seeks to share the thoughts and feelings of a very ordinary man's life. 

I suspect it's a book best avoided by family lawyers and their clients for it fails to dwell on processes and instead concentrates on feelings. However and whilst I'm a firm believer in fiction mirroring the reality we find too hard to describe, this is no self-help book but rather the life-journey of a contemporary man (albeit, and because of my dilatory reading speed, of the last century).

I do wonder, however, is there really anybody out there who has invited not one but two ex-wives to the same party?


Friday, 16 October 2015

The House of Social Media



Whilst travelling recently we undertook a guided tour of an 18th century Ottoman house. The guide showed us what he described as the gentlemen’s room and pointed to a small curtained gallery above. He explained that this was used by servants to check when the men required serving their next course and also by the ladies of the house, to spy on the men; maybe catching a glimpse of the face of their betrothed after an arranged marriage had been contracted or to stalk their husband, learning perhaps if he was planning a second or third marriage.


“We call it Facelook” the guide said, “The historical precursor to Facebook.”


Friday, 4 September 2015

Alternative Dispute Resolution



The Edinburgh Fringe Festival closed on Sunday after 25 days and more than 50,450 performances. It was gratifying to see, in the runners-up for Dave’s Funniest Joke of the Fringe 2015 Award, a reference to relationship breakdown and the impact on children.

You really can’t beat a good pun. Thanks therefore to Simon Munnery in joint 8th place for:
“Clowns divorce. Custardy battle.”


We are, after all, always looking for ways to resolve disputes without the need for a court case.


Friday, 21 August 2015

A Spark of Solace



Underneath the guise of an emotionally contained divorce lawyer there is invariably a soft personality who is easily moved to tears by beautiful music, films or novels. No wonder therefore that I jumped at the opportunity to listen to “Spark” which is the second album from jazz singer and song writer, Kat Reinhert. It was released independently today and is inspired by Kat’s own experiences including with the struggles and hardships that divorce can cause.

“We’ve said goodbye so I know that I’ve just got to walk into the rain,” she sings on the first track.

In the next she proffers advice for dealing with the emotional aftershock with lyrics like, “Sometimes we have to put it down because it’s heavy.”

At times her songs acknowledge the pain whilst other tracks motivate the listener to keep up the battle for recovery with, for instance, “You are not going down without a fight.”

Kat succeeds in being a harmonious mentor and says herself that she is “proud of this album. Not only because of the content and themes it explores but because of the music and arrangements that the musicians helped to create and shape.”

If you want to share the rawness of someone else’s pain and in so doing seek solace for your own then listening to Spark could hold the answer.




Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Remote Control



I took delivery of a new television set today. We now have his and her TVs, after I finally resolved that watching the screen when Outdoor Man controls the remote is just too tricky. Whenever I thought that we were settling down to watch something, lo the channel changed. What is it about men and their innate desire to surf TV channels? For a gender that is notorious for its inability to “juggle,” it certainly has to be congratulated on being able to follow a dozen programmes contemporaneously.

A family law colleague once remarked to me, after encountering similar issues in her own living room, that she found it curious that she had never been asked by a client to draft a divorce petition incorporating allegations of unreasonable behaviour based on a husband’s operation of the television remote controller. I never did either. I do recall proceedings, once upon a time, which referred to a wife’s concealment of the remote but generally speaking the fairer sex clearly learnt long ago that there are some battles that are not worth the fight.

Moreover, when house contents came to be divided, in my experience it was not unknown for a husband to magnanimously concede that his wife could have the majority of the furniture and white goods, so long only as he could retain their largest television set. Fortuitously she usually agreed to him having the remote controller too.


Friday, 31 July 2015

An Upgrade



Yesterday I upgraded the operating system on my computer to Windows 10. I think it was that word “upgrade,” because in doing so I was reminded of the client who once upon a time told me that he was looking to upgrade his wife.

Now let’s get this clear: we might upgrade computer systems, downsize houses and recycle aluminium cans. We may even divorce spouses, but what we never do is upgrade, downsize or recycle them.


Saturday, 18 July 2015

Special Places


There are always special places for specific purposes. I imagine that somewhere there must be Mediation Towers, Collaborative Avenue and Negotiators' Nook to go with County Court that most divorcees are, of course, already familiar with.

 I'm guessing, however, that before visiting any of those places, many couples begin in Arguments Yard, which I came across  on my wanders today.


Monday, 13 July 2015

Match Point



In the last two days we have seen examples of outcomes and contrasting ways to reach a result. Depending upon your standpoint, the word humiliation may even be applied.

The Eurozone countries reached agreement over the Greek debt crisis after 17 hours of negotiations, demonstrating just how difficult reaching a consensus can be. Save in such extreme circumstances, I doubt if anyone would normally recommend overnight discussions which smack of locking the door and refusing to let anyone out until a workable solution is reached. Hanging over the negotiations was the apparent threat to force Greece out of the Eurozone, although it too had recently implied that it could leave without a fair deal.

In family proceedings face to face talks within collaboration are probably preferable, especially as in the latter case the parties agree that they will look to find answers to the issues they confront without litigation and are supported in this aim by everyone working together rather than in opposing camps. Mediation too allows much freer discussions. Any form of negotiating is, however, always open to the prospect of one party rail-roading the whole procedure with the threat of court action. Nobody should ever sign up to an agreement simply because they feel overly pressurised, negotiation-weary or frightened, without first having time to reflect on and rationalise the outcome proposed.


Otherwise and in the absence of a solution, court proceedings are inevitable. One only has to look at the Wimbledon final on Sunday between Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, to understand how a court dispute resolves matters but not necessarily to both parties’ satisfaction. It is often said that in family proceedings there are no winners only losers, but the one thing that is certain is that there cannot, as that match on Centre Court surely demonstrated, be two winners.


Thursday, 9 July 2015

In the Clink



Whilst visiting Richmond (North Yorkshire) today, I came across the map above. In the bottom right hand corner it shows Clink Pond and a ducking stool. Apparently when the map was made in 1724 it was commonplace for wives who contradicted their husbands and who were therefore referred to as “scolds,” to be punished by being ducked under the water. 

The divorce process is surely preferable (although I do like the term “scolds”)!


Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Grexit


Every family lawyer across the land acts for at least one client who is arguing over money.

Once upon a time, one couple, whom I shall refer to simply as Angela and Alexis, were joined in union back in 1981, over thirty years ago. On reflection it was probably not a match made in heaven, she with her Germanic work ethic and values and he with a potentially more laid back air about him. However the relationship has persisted and to the point where, after twenty years, they even agreed to a joint bank account, although it could be argued that it was always Angela who has controlled the purse strings. 

In recent years, hit by the global economic crisis, Alexis has spent half his time without employment and although Angela has allowed him to draw from the account it has been on the basis that he drastically curtails his expenditure and repays the sums taken with interest. Sadly it has become harder for him to make the payments into the account which Angela has demanded and communication has become difficult as a result, each making impossible demands on the other so far as their monetary arrangements are concerned and blackmail has even been alleged. 

Neighbours have sought to assist in bartering an agreement, but when Alexis decided to consult and involve his relatives concerning the terms proposed by Angela, she has taken umbrage and declared that there can be no deal. Uncle Jean-Claude has today asked them to compromise but they seem to be becoming more entrenched.

Who knows how it will end? Will there be reconciliation or will Alexis be forced to open his own bank account and will he be able to borrow sufficient funds to meet his financial commitments in the meantime?

Regardless of how Angela and Alexis endeavour to resolve their issues, I would predict more tears and tension in the short term; the embroilment of others around them; finally a solution, the terms of which are probably unattractive to both at this juncture but better than the stalemate that they are now in; the innate gift of self-preservation to see them through the immediate aftermath; ultimately, in due course, time as the great healer.




Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Kids in the Middle



Once upon a time, many years ago a colleague handed me a new file and told me that he had asked the client whose name was on the front to contact me. I opened it and read my colleague’s initial and detailed attendance note.

“Attended Mrs X, in a small interview room, together with her 4 children, the family dog, a push chair and 4 balloons,” it began.

It finished with: “The appointment concluded by agreement when all the balloons burst, the dog wrapped its lead around the pushchair barking madly and one child started to wail. It was agreed that Mrs X would return next week but would see my colleague, Miss Middleton.”

Although and in anticipation I reserved a large interview room for my appointment with Mrs X, she came alone and I never did meet any of her children (with or without balloons and a dog) in what turned out to be a fairly straight forward divorce. In fairness and although the law makes it clear that the welfare and interests of a child are paramount in all family proceedings, in all my years of practice it was rare to actually meet the children involved.

However, even in amicable divorces, as my mediation and collaborative training emphasised, the children are still affected, carrying the scars of the family break up for far more years than was initially thought. The legal process has played lip-service only to the interests of the children being of concern within an undefended divorce when there is no other dispute, and the court has struggled to play any effective part in arrangements being made within the family.  During my career, Section 41 Appointments (as they were known), where parties had to attend before a Judge to discuss the arrangement for their children, were abolished and latterly, at the time I was retiring, the requirement that a separate Statement describing those arrangements be filed was withdrawn.

Whilst mediation and collaborative practice are both ideal environments for discussing the plan to separate and the steps to be taken to minimise its effect upon the children, even there the children themselves rarely have a voice. For that reason it was great to hear about the launch of the new Kids in the Middle website which is working in partnership with Only Mums and Only Dads and is supported by  a group of family lawyers and mediators. 

It has been set up in response to the recent Government commissioned report “Voice of the Child” which recognised that “whilst there has been considerable focus in recent years on the provision of better information and support services for separating parents there has been little parallel investment in information and support for children and young people."

The site currently provides support for 11-18 year olds and enables young people to hear the stories of their peers and provides links to discussion boards and on-line help.




Friday, 5 June 2015

Magna Carta



It is 800 years this month since the sealing of the Magna Carta. The charter was meant to bring peace between King John and the barons but has also been described as the closest thing our country has ever had to a Constitution as well as the forerunner to subsequent Declarations of Human Rights. I was in Lincoln a few weeks ago where one of only 4 remaining copies of the original Magna Carta is preserved.

Of course we all know that it sought to enshrine the right of free men to justice and to protect them from punishment outside of the law or without a trial by their equals. I was not however aware that it also contained clauses which would have been of relevance to family lawyers (had such beings existed in the days of the Crusades). Indeed there is specific reference to guardians who are entrusted under the Charter with management of a ward’s land, and are compelled to restore that land to their ward “stocked with plough teams and such implements of husbandry as the season demands” when the heir comes of age.

Obviously there is no reference to divorce, but marriage is referred to. It is specifically stipulated that heirs may be given in marriage “but not to someone of a lower social standing” and their next of kin must first be informed. Moreover widows were not to be compelled to remarry, provided that they wished “to remain without a husband.” I imagine that may have been the closest a disenchanted woman could come to living without a man.

However and whilst the Magna Carta provided for a widow to receive her inheritance “at once and without trouble” it allowed her to remain in her deceased husband’s home for only forty days. Imagine, therefore, the meagre level of provision that might have been made in those days had divorce been an option, or what King John might have thought of the Matrimonial Causes Act and the financial provision now awarded by the courts applying a “yardstick of equality.” 



Sunday, 10 May 2015

Statistics on Divorce Across the Years



In 1931 there were 3,764 divorces in England and Wales but by 1993 this had increased more than 43 fold to 165,018.

Although and since then the number of divorces a year has decreased (as has the number of marriages), there are still 13 divorces an hour on average in England and Wales! Unlucky for some you may say, but the information extracted from the Office for National Statistics even identifies who those some are likely to be.

It seems that the chances of divorce are greatest between the 4th and 8th wedding anniversaries and that 53% of those who marry in their twenties, divorce before 30 years of marriage. Moreover the average age at which people are likely to divorce is 45 for men and 42 for women.

These and more fascinating statistics can be found in an infographic on the website of Banner Jones, solicitors, and to whom I am grateful for the information quoted.



Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Power of an X



As Britain goes to the polls today, it is a reminder of the strength of democracy and the power of that X on the ballot paper to define the political direction of a country for the next five years. 

An X can also be used as your mark if you are unable to write; a mathematical symbol; a way of showing affection especially in cards or at the end of messages (I would have said letters but does anyone write those anymore?); an abbreviation; a point on a map, perhaps even for buried treasure.

Say X out loud though and it is somewhat different. Nobody should be defined by their Ex or allow them to hold any power (physical or emotional) over them; the relationship is over. Remember that an X, as opposed to a tick, also means that something was wrong.  


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

A Dream Job



Separating is a time of major upheaval and perhaps, some might say surprisingly, many take the view that if their life is changing then they may as well go the whole hog and find a new career too. The trouble is that so many end up following well-trodden paths (becoming a lawyer seemed to be a popular one amongst clients I acted for).

Imagine therefore my delight to come across an infographic on dream jobs setting out what the work entails and also what you can expect to earn.

Whilst I have no desire to dress up as Mickey or even  Minnie Mouse, I do confess the prospect of becoming an ice-cream taster (even though I am now happily retired) certainly carries more than a little attraction. Anyone suffering from the effects of a particularly bad divorce may prefer to train as a sommelier; whether they qualify or not,  just trying all that wine during years of training could destroy a few brain cells and help to forget the past (hic..).


Thursday, 30 April 2015

Not Guilty in Hong Kong



Perusing travel guides is something we retired people are apt to do from time to time. It is a long time since I last visited Hong Kong so I was intrigued to read more about it. In so doing I came across an interesting fact. Apparently it is not against the law there for a woman to kill her husband if he has committed adultery, so long as she does so with her bare hands!

Any readers of this blog thinking that they might take advantage of this obvious loophole in the crime of murder should bear in mind that the exception appears to apply to wives only. Further that this post carries the caveat that the writer does not vouch for the accuracy of the information given and anyone taking any steps as a result of it, does so at their own risk! 

However, cheating husbands may be well advised to avoid Hong Kong.


You have been warned!


Monday, 27 April 2015

Election Promises



Is it just me or is this election campaign, more than any other, characterised by grandiose pledges on the part of politicians? Everyone I speak to seems to be responding to what they are reading and hearing with growing cynicism, incredulity, disinterest or even contempt. “They are trying to bribe us, but I don’t believe anything any of them say.”

Even worse is the daily trading of insults and the level of demonisation that is taking place.

On my part I hope that those separating parents who frequently make outrageous promises or seek to vilify their former partner in an effort to persuade their children to shift loyalties, are taking note. Politicians may behave in that manner and are rightly castigated for doing so, parents should never seek to emulate them.

It may be right in a democracy for the electorate to decide. In a family, even a broken one, young children should not be expected to do so. It is for their parents to behave like adults and to make decisions for them, preferably by consensus or after mediation, negotiation or, and only as a last resort, court proceedings. 


Thursday, 12 March 2015

Media Melt-Down



There’s nothing better than a good divorce story (except perhaps a fracas over the lack of a hot dinner) to put the media into melt-down. Yesterday was one of those days when the Supreme Court confirmed that Kath Wyatt is properly entitled to pursue a claim for financial provision against her ex-husband, Dale Vince, notwithstanding the fact that they are reported to have separated and then divorced some 30 and 23 years ago respectively.

Despite speculation in the press, she is, of course, unlikely to receive a substantial share of the millions, all accumulated by Mr Vince since their separation and, therefore, falling outside of the definition of matrimonial assets.

The case, however, serves as a salutary reminder of the importance of dealing with financial issues at the time of a divorce. Even when matters are amicable and a couple agrees that there are to be no further claims by either of them against the other, a consent order dismissing those claims is needed. I have known clients who have baulked at the additional cost of obtaining such but, as I have inevitably explained, it is like paying for an insurance policy. In so many cases the risk can even lie in the potential cost and aggravation of a subsequent claim rather than the outcome; far better, therefore, to tie up all loose ends and close the door with a clean break order where possible.

Of course, and as a result of this case, there may be some who will now potentially hedge their bets and prefer to leave the door ajar, ready to be pushed open should their ex ever reap a fortune. Woe betides them, however, if lady luck turns and it is they rather than their former half who accumulates that pot of gold.


Sunday, 22 February 2015

Spread



This month we have learned of the sad demise of Michele Ferrero, the Italian inventor of Nutella, the tasty chocolate spread that both Apprentice Man and Little Girl would always try to add to my supermarket trolley when they were young enough to find grocery shopping an adventure.

It has also been reported that a French court has refused to allow parents to name their daughter Nutella. Some might regard that as a victory for common sense; others as unwarranted interference by the state.

I was surprised to learn that a country which I have long associated with liberty should have a law that essentially restricts free choice in the naming of one’s child. Here in the UK our laws relating to the registration of births are far more liberal and generally only names deemed offensive would be prohibited.

However, it seems that fortunately most parents are sensible and the selection of offbeat names is reserved for the offspring of certain celebrities. So last year Sophia, Emma and Olivia topped the list of most popular girls’ names and there was not a Nutella, Marmite or Plum Jam in sight.


Imagine however the ambiguity that would arise were it ever to become common to designate sandwich fillings as children’s names. “Don’t forget Peanut Butter,” could have all manner of hidden consequences and were the idea of using spreads as names to catch on, it presumably would not be long before we would find both Wide and Bed in the front row of the Reception Class too.


Sunday, 1 February 2015

The Pub Landlord's Family Friendly Policies



It looks like we are gearing up for one of the longest election campaigns ever . However, news that Al Murray’s The Pub landlord will be contesting the South Thanet seat, as too will Nigel Farage, has certainly added some joviality to the proceedings and will no doubt continue to do so.

Clearly The Pub landlord  has been formulating  his policies for some time and I was delighted to learn that he does have some pro-family views. Indeed it was reported in The Guardian that he thinks it would be good for the country if everyone was obliged to turn off their internet connection from Friday evening until Monday morning to avoid “drunk tweeting” and “vengeful e-mails to the ex.”


Obviously I know that I am probably even more naïve than The Pub Landlord when it comes to politics, nevertheless I can’t help thinking:  what a good idea!


Friday, 16 January 2015

Pigeonhole Books


I was recently interviewed by Pigeonhole Books. It creates children’s books for 21st families. The stereotypical nuclear family is no longer necessarily the norm and the aim of these books is to introduce the different kinds of families that are becoming more and more common-place with a view to informing and breaking down barriers.

It is also seeking to create a resource for readers in search of bloggers who write about modern-day parenting  and features blogs that hone in on parenting after divorce, step parenting, co-parenting, same-sex parenting, blended families and multicultural/interracial families.

Its website may only be new but already it is well worth a visit.


Tuesday, 13 January 2015

The Rat Pack



Last week contractors undertook work to the field drains next door to us. In so doing they presumably disturbed the rats which must nest there, as this week the greenhouse at the bottom of our garden has been visited.

This in turn has given rise to a challenge for Outdoor Man to rid our premises of the rodents.

It was in language reminiscent of a description of the perpetrator of domestic violence that he referred to the stinking rats and vermin as he sought my opinion.

I had to confess that I did not think that the expertise I had acquired in obtaining ouster orders during my practising years would assist to any extent. It seems, however, that he was not considering an injunction and really wanted my view on the different types of rat poison.

Why ever would he think that a retired divorce solicitor would be an expert on toxic substances?


Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Sugar Plantation



Once upon a time, I recall a client referring to her husband’s behaviour towards her with the immortal words, “It ain’t no sugar rush when he rings.”

She was describing how he constantly monitored her movements using smartphone technology and repeatedly ringing her to make it clear that he knew where she was and required an account of what she was doing.

On our recent journey through Cuba, we visited the buildings on an old sugar plantation. There was a luxurious hacienda down the lane from a large foreboding bell-tower. The tower had been used to better watch the slaves working in the fields and the huge bell which hung from the top was rung to control their day.

Whilst  slavery in the plantations has long since been abolished, many the marriage that breaks up because one spouse feels that the other controls their every move. The bell at the top of the tower may no longer be rung, but for some it has simply been replaced by the ringing of a mobile phone