Could switch therapy save your marriage?

You may have heard of ‘switch therapy’ from the popular Channel 4 programmes Seven Year Switch USA and Australia where four couples are assisted by two relationship experts, Dr Dan Shapiro and Dr Jessica Griffin who specialise in relational trauma, high conflict and divorce in an attempt to save their marriages.

Why use switch therapy?

The doctors report that the seven year itch is where the shine has fallen off the marriage. Statistically at seven years is where you have more complaints about your partner and marriage than you have good things to say about it. It is a time in which many couples stray or separate. Although Dr Griffin has said couples do not need to be together for seven years to experience the ‘seven year itch’ and many couples struggle from the get go. The doctors report that unfortunately for a lot of couples no matter how hard they try over 50% of couples will end in divorce so they believe it’s time for a different approach.

The experiment

For two weeks four couples leave their lives behind to live with a complete stranger as their experimental spouse who has been chosen to fulfil aspects or personality traits which they think they are missing in their real marriage. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to get paired with someone who could offer them the life they may have wondered about.

We’ve all heard the quotes “absence makes the heart grow fonder” and on the flip side “out of sight out of mind” but the doctors are quite clear that the experiment is not about matching people so that they fall in love with their new partner, it’s about helping them to figure out how to make changes in their real marriage so that they can make decisions about their real lives.

Some people might argue that the grass is not greener on the other side and that you cannot possibly work on your marriage if your spouse isn’t there with you. However the experts Dr Shapiro and Dr Griffin provide the couples with exercises and tasks to complete during the two weeks, which really make them evaluate themselves and their behaviour within their relationship and that of their partners to give them a new perspective on their marriage.

The decision

After two weeks the couples have to decide whether they want to stay with their real spouse or go their separate ways and divorce. One of the couples is reported to have said there is a method to the madness and when you go to extreme measures you get extreme results.

It remains to be seen whether something so radical will be trialled in the UK, but it just might be a new approach to saving marriages which we hadn’t considered previously.

Could switch therapy work in the UK?

I cannot see why not. Couples could attend counselling for years and never get the type of insight into their relationships that switch therapy offers. The therapy has had great results in the US and Australia but it won’t be for everyone, it’s extreme and intrusive. It’s aimed at couples who have tried everything else to save their marriage – for them this really is the last straw. I suspect that were it offered in the UK the cost would be a deciding factor, unless Channel 4 decide to film ‘Seven Year Switch’ in the UK. But what’s the alternative if you’ve exhausted all other options? Harmful behaviours in a marriage ultimately destroy it, so for many the unconventional process of switch therapy could be the rare opportunity to save their marriage.

If you are thinking about divorce, or any family law matter, give our specialist family and matrimonial team a call on 0343 507 5151 or fill in our online contact form and we will call you back when it is convenient.

Court of Appeal refuse couple’s civil partnership challenge

Cohabitees Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan have been unsuccessful in their legal challenge at the Court of Appeal. The decision the Court had to make was whether to extend the law to allow opposite-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships.

Presently the law in the UK doesn’t allow opposite-sex couples to enter into civil partnerships in the same way same-sex couples can, which has resulted in many couples travelling to the Isle of Man, which legalised opposite-sex civil partnerships last summer. Steinfeld and Keidan who initially started their legal battle 3 years’ ago feel marriage is a “patriarchal institution” which has a “sexist history” and feel that a civil partnership is much more suited to their relationship.  Keidan has said that regardless of the outcome he will be looking to the government to open civil partnerships to all couples at the earliest opportunity.

In November 2016 when challenging the High Court decision of Mrs Justice Andrews’ Karon Monaghan QC told the Court of Appeal that the issue to be determined was whether the bar on opposite sex couples entering into civil partnerships was contrary to Articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights – which refer to respect for a private and family life and discrimination.

Extending civil partnerships to mixed-sex couples would have given people a choice and much needed legal protection to cohabitees. Statistics from July 2016 show that cohabiting couples make up nearly 10% of the UK’s population. What remains clear is that the law for unmarried couples needs reforming to catch up with modern British society. Unlike with divorce or civil partnership dissolution there are no set of rules which apply when you split up with someone you have been cohabiting with so there is very little legal protection available, often resorting to complex trust and property law or applications under the Children Act 1989. As a family lawyer I regularly see the fall out when cohabitees separate and I believe urgent legislation is needed to provide legal protection for these couples to ensure fair outcomes on separation.

If you need advice on civil partnerships, cohabitation agreements, or your relationship has recently come to an end and want to know your rights give our specialist family and matrimonial team a call on 0343 507 5151 or fill in our online contact form and we will call you back when it is convenient.

Divorce Petition fee hike

The Ministry of Justice reported late last week that there would be a 34% increase in divorce fees as of Monday 21 March 2016. This is despite strong opposition from many family lawyers who opposed the hike when the Ministry of Justice consulted on the issue last year.

You might be wondering, if you are about to commence divorce proceedings, why your Solicitor had not made you aware of the increase in the Court fee, which will now cost petitioners £550 as opposed to £410. This is because no formal announcement has been made by the government despite both houses of parliament having approved it. The information has come out of the various divorce units across the country who only found out late last week, a few days before the fee hike was due to be implemented.

It is disappointing that the Government decided not to wait for the Justice Select Committee’s findings from their inquiry in relation to court fees, but instead decided to hike the fee without making any announcement and without any formal consultation process. It has been reported that the actual administrative cost to the Ministry of Justice to issue divorce proceedings is around £270, meaning a profit based on the new hike of £280! Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution has pointed out that this amounts to a ‘tax on divorce’ only two years after an increase. Ms Edwards shared this view with MPs at a House of Commons Justice Committee Hearing in December last year.

The £140 increase in the Court fee is unfortunately going to mean that many people will not be able to afford to divorce, which in turn will leave financial matters unresolved and keep couples financially tied to one another several months or years after separating. As Ms Edwards so eloquently put it “divorce is not a choice to litigate – it’s a necessary part of the legal process to bring a relationship to an end”. The fee hike shows no consideration for the pain and financial hardship suffered by many couples deciding to divorce.

If you are separating or considering getting a divorce it is important that you also deal with arrangements relating to any children and the financial aspects arising on divorce. At Gorvins we offer a personal, practical and collaborative service which assists when dealing with cases of a sensitive nature. If you need advice please contact me on 0343 507 5151 or email enquiries@gorvins.com and I would be more than happy to help you.

CAFCASS Case Increase – Cause for Concern?

As first published here; republished with permission.

February 2016 was a busy month for CAFCASS who have experienced a 10% compared to last year in new private law cases from 2,932 to 3,237 referrals. This is in stark contrast to the decline seen in 2014/15 when applications dropped by 27% on the previous year, with May 2014 being the lowest number of new cases received on record.

Who are they?

CAFCASS is short for ‘The Children and Family Court Advisory Service’.  They are an independent organisation which represents children in family court cases and ensures that the children’s voice is heard and decisions are taken in their best interests.

What are ‘private law’ cases?

This is a term used to refer to applications made following separation or divorce about the arrangements for children, such as where they will live and who they will spend time with.

What does the increase mean?

An increase in referrals means that more parents than ever are resorting to sorting out child arrangements through the Courts, rather than between themselves, via mediation or through solicitor correspondence. As a family lawyer this is concerning as it makes me wonder whether client’s are being given the right advice or whether their expectations are being managed appropriately. That being said, there are situations when an application to Court is entirely justified, for instance where contact is being denied and communication has broken down between parents.

Does CAFCASS always get involved?

CAFCASS will only become involved in a case at the request of the Court and after informing the parents/guardians. After this CAFCASS will carry out safeguarding checks with the Police and Local Authority and then conduct a telephone interview with both parties to see whether either has any concerns about the safety and welfare of the child(ren).

The CAFCASS officer will attend the first Court hearing to try and ascertain whether there are any areas of concern and to narrow the issues in dispute between the parties. After the hearing, the Court may direct CAFCASS to prepare a report regarding the child’s welfare, known as a ‘Section 7 report’. However it is the Court that makes the final decision after considering the evidence in the case, the CAFCASS report and the welfare checklist referred to in my previous blog ‘Madonna’s Mother’s Day Melancholy’.

What can you do if the current child arrangements are not working?

Family circumstances inevitably vary over time and the arrangements put in place five years ago may need to be reviewed and varied accordingly as your children increase in age. Unfortunately it is not possible for Courts to plan for every conceivable eventuality when making an Order. If your current child arrangements are not working then it is possible to vary these by consent, with the agreement of both parties or via Court proceedings.

At Gorvins we are committed to helping parents try to resolve their difficulties amicably without the requirement of Court proceedings where possible, but if this becomes necessary then we will strive to achieve the best outcome for a Client, always taking into account the child’s best interests. To discuss sorting out child arrangements with a member of our expert team, call us on 0343 507 5151 or email enquiries@gorvins.com.

No such thing as a “quickie” divorce

Last week it was widely reported in the media that the Blackadder star, Rowan Atkinson, worth an estimated £70 million, was granted a “quickie” divorce in 65 seconds from wife Sunetra after 24 years of marriage at London’s Central Family Court on grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.

There have been a string of quickie celebrity divorces reported in recent years, Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Beatles star Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills and X-Factor judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and England defender Ashley Cole.

So what is a quickie divorce and is it reserved for the rich and famous?

Unfortunately the media are perpetuating a family law myth; there is no such thing as a quickie divorce. Whilst no two divorces are identical and some are quicker than others, broadly speaking the process is the same and there are no celebrity shortcuts!

Divorce Procedure in England & Wales

There is only one ground for divorce and it’s not unreasonable behaviour as reported above, it is the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”, which is demonstrated by one of 5 facts:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Two years’ separation with consent
  • Five years’ separation without consent
  • Desertion

One party known as the ‘Petitioner’ issues a Divorce Petition with the Court. The Court will then send a copy of the petition to the other party, known as the ‘Respondent’, accompanied by an Acknowledgement of Service form which they are required to complete and return to the Court.

Once received, the Court will send a copy of the Respondent’s acknowledgement to the Petitioner, who is then able to file an application for Decree Nisi with the Court. If the Court is satisfied that the Petitioner has sufficiently proven the contents of their petition and the Respondent does not wish to defend the proceedings, they will certify the Petitioner’s entitlement to a divorce and the matter will be listed for a Decree Nisi pronouncement hearing. If one party doesn’t agree to the divorce, you can still apply for a Decree Nisi but the Court will list the matter for a hearing where a Judge will decide whether to grant you a Decree Nisi.

This is not the final decree and the marriage is not dissolved until the Decree Absolute is granted. The Petitioner can apply for the Decree Absolute six weeks and one day from the date of Decree Nisi, but it is common to delay making the application until a financial settlement has been reached. There is no way of circumventing this process whether you’re Cheryl Fernandez Versini or Joe Bloggs!

So why are the media talking about a ‘quickie divorce’?

The suggestion that the Atkinson’s were divorced in 65 seconds is incorrect – what the media are actually referring to is the length of time it takes a Judge to pronounce the Decree Nisi. When the Court lists the matter for a Decree Nisi pronouncement hearing as referred to above, it will also list around 20-30 cases at the same time. A Judge such as District Judge Alderson in the Atkinson’s case, will pronounce the Decree Nisi’s in open Court – which is where the media lay in waiting for a juicy celebrity story.

Neither party is required to attend Court on this date as it is standard practice that the Decree Nisi is pronounced in the absence of the parties, which is why Mr and Mrs Atkinson were not in attendance. The only reason you would want to attend this hearing would be to make representations about costs if they were not agreed.

So how long does divorce actually take?

If everything proceeds smoothly divorce could take as little as 4-6 months, but in most cases it can take 6-12 months for the parties to reach a financial settlement. Delays are often seen in exchanging disclosure, protracted negotiations or due to one party issuing Court proceedings.

What can I do to speed things up?

Whilst you cannot circumvent the divorce process you can avoid the type of delays mentioned above by following these 3 steps:

  1. Obtain legal advice early on – if you’re thinking about divorcing it can be a daunting experience accompanied by anxiety about what the future holds. A good divorce lawyer can advise you as to the settlement options open to you in your case and which is likely to have the best result for you.
  1. Talk to your spouse – if you can agree at the outset who will be the Petitioner and Respondent and the content of the petition, including the fact to be relied upon and who will pay the divorce costs, proceedings will be issued more quickly. Similarly, if you are able to agree financial matters between you it will save time and money, but this should not be at any cost – which is why I suggest obtaining legal advice first. Even if you do reach agreement, it is important that you instruct a solicitor to embody your agreement into a Consent Order within divorce proceedings to be submitted to the Court for approval.
  1. Get your house in order – the Petitioner will need to provide their original marriage certificate to the Court, if you can’t find it apply for a certified copy from the Registry. To achieve resolution of financial matters, your Solicitor will need to identify the matrimonial assets available for division before advising as to how they should be divided. You can assist by collating information about your respective financial positions for e.g. 12 months’ bank statements, mortgage redemption statements, property valuations, cash equivalent transfer values for pensions etc.

If you are thinking about divorce or any family law matter please do not hesitate to contact me on 0343 507 5151. The Family and Matrimonial team at Gorvins can advise you as to the likely length of proceedings and the best way to protect your interests on divorce. If you prefer, you can send an email addressed to me at enquiries@gorvins.com.