The “Do’s and Don’t’s” of the Initial Family Law Consultation

Deciding to pick up the phone and make that dreaded first call when you feel the time is right to contact an attorney is a petrifying moment.  It’s one of those times in your life where you just have to take the plunge, dial the phone and make the call.

Once you’ve decided on the attorney you want to meet with, a sense of relief may come over you… until the day of the appointment. Panic, fear, confusion, hurt and uncertainty are all natural expectations that an experienced attorney will recognize and deal with when you arrive.  But don’t let your apprehension overcome you. You made the call. You scheduled the appointment.  It’s time. You know meeting with the attorney is the right thing to do.

More often than not, the attorney is going to meet you when you are at your worst, especially in a new divorce consultation. That’s expected.  You wouldn’t be at the law office if things were rosy and life was grand.  An experienced family law attorney knows that you are vulnerable, emotionally drained, and sadly, sometimes physically abused.  The attorney will help guide you through the initial process, help you cope with your emotional well being, and offer suggestions to help you make yourself “a better you” as the process proceeds, and most important, be the partner your attorney will need to effectively advocate for you throughout the divorce or post-decree proceedings.

In order to make the most out of the initial meeting with your attorney, there are a few simple rules that will help you, the client, and your attorney make the most out of the initial consultation.  Remember, just as you are interviewing the attorney, the attorney is interviewing you as well.  You are both evaluating each other to determine if the two of you are a “proper fit” for each other.  Just as you are gauging the attorney’s knowledge, demeanor, compassion and strategy, the attorney is also evaluating you to determine what type of witness you may be, your candor and truthfulness, and your ability to be an effective partner throughout the proceedings.  If you’re not comfortable with what you’re seeing or hearing, don’t hire this attorney. But by the same token, if the attorney is not comfortable with you, the attorney is under no obligation to accept your case or you as a client.  It’s the proverbial “two way street;” you both have to want to work together, feel comfortable with each other and be on the same page in order to be successful in your case and to have a successful attorney/client relationship.

When preparing for the initial consultation, there are a few “Do’s and Don’t’s” that will make the initial consultation less stressful for you, and more beneficial to both you and the attorney. Of course, some law offices may have different procedures and practices, so it’s a good idea to ask when you make the initial appointment to see if there are any procedures you should know before you have your first meeting, especially if there will be a charge for the initial consultation. Some of the suggested “Do’s and Don’t’s” that our law office adheres to are:

For the Initial Consultation, DON’T:

 Don’t be offended if there is a charge for the initial consultation.  The lawyer’s time is how he or she makes their living and you are receiving a professional service. The time the lawyer spends with you could have been spent on another case for which he or she could be getting paid, so it is not out of the ordinary to expect to pay for the initial consultation.  Our firm, like many others, has a discounted rate for the first hour consultation. The information you receive will be well worth the fee, not to mention that it may be a significant stress reliever as you move forward. Don’t forget:  “You get what you pay for…”

• Don’t bring a friend or family member with you for moral support.  That person cannot participate in the initial conference due to confidentiality requirements and ethical concerns of the attorney.  A friend or family member has nothing to contribute to the initial conference.  If they have something relevant to provide to your case, the attorney will, undoubtedly, interview them later to make that determination.  The attorney wants to talk to you, only, at the initial consultation because you have the pertinent information, not your friend or family member.

• Perhaps even more important than not bringing friends or family members with you to the initial appointment is don’t bring children with you.  Because of the sensitive discussions that may occur during your initial consultation, children should not be present.  Also, there is no place for children to stay while you are meeting with the attorney other than the waiting room/reception area.  Law office staff have jobs to do and providing child care for you is not in their job description, nor should it be their responsibility to entertain your child/children during this very important meeting.  This meeting is a job interview, for both you and the attorney.  Would you take your children to a job interview?  You shouldn’t bring your children to the initial consultation either.

• Don’t be late, or just not show up.  Just as you will expect to receive courtesy from the attorney and the law office staff, the same courtesy should be extended to them from you.  If you see that you are going to be late, call the law office and let them know.  If you need to cancel the appointment for whatever reason, have the courtesy to call the office and cancel.  Perhaps someone else can use that appointment time if you can’t make it, or just aren’t ready to take that step.

• Don’t withhold any information or facts, even if it may be embarrassing.  An experienced attorney will be able to advise you as to what is relevant or not, and leaving out even the simplest fact or occurrence may have a devastating impact on your case.

• Conversely, don’t embellish or exaggerate facts or occurrences to help bolster your case.  By not being completely honest with your attorney, it may affect how you are represented, the strategies taken, or even worse, bring your credibility into question. Truthfulness is always the most important aspect of your case, even if it hurts.

• Although everyone wants to make a good first impression, there is no need to “dress up” for the initial consultation. Wear what you feel comfortable in because you may be having an uncomfortable, emotional and stressful discussion for the next one to two hours. Also, don’t over indulge in fragrances; perfumes or colognes.  Many people have allergies to certain fragrances, and although you may like to smell good, overpowering perfumes and colognes can distract from a meaningful and productive initial conference.  Don’t forget that you will be meeting in a closed room; either the attorney’s office or a conference room that can quickly become overwhelmed with an overpowering fragrance.

• Last, but certainly not least, don’t rely on what you read on the internet or what your friends tell you. The internet can be a very valuable tool, but can also be full of misinformation and vague, often confusing, interpretations of the law. Just as you wouldn’t rely on a medical website to diagnose a serious medical problem, don’t rely on the internet to tell you what the law is, or how it would be applied in your particular case.  Additionally, friends can be well meaning, however, their case is not yours.  Remember that just as every individual is different, every case is different.  Your particular circumstances, your spouse, and even the personality of opposing counsel will sometimes dictate how your case should be handled strategically.  Do not be overly concerned about what “my friend so and so got” or “my friend said.” Your friend, and the internet, cannot take the place of the attorney you are about to meet with, as the attorney will tailor the advice you receive based on your individual facts and circumstances.

Now that you know what not to do before the initial consultation occurs and after it begins, here are a few helpful items to assist you in being a well prepared client as the initial consultation approaches:

For the Initial Consultation, DO:

• Do come prepared with specific detailed information.  Social security numbers, birth dates, date of marriage, health insurance costs for both you (individually) and your children, child care costs, expenses for special medical needs for either you and/or your children, college costs for either you and/or your children, two years of tax returns, four pay stubs showing year to date earnings, a list of personal property owned by you and your spouse (or with someone else, if applicable), a complete copy of your pre-nuptial agreement (if applicable), appraisals for real estate or personal property, police reports and/or protective orders (if applicable), vehicle information, and, most important, any court pleadings or prior court orders that may have been entered in your case.

• Do tell the attorney if you are active with text messaging and/or on social media.  There is a good chance that the attorney will advise you to seriously curtail your activity with text messaging and on social media, if not cease it completely.  If there is anything that you have texted or posted about your spouse, friends, relatives, in-laws, etc., it may be wise to print your texts and posts and provide a copy to the attorney and refrain from texting and posting anything else until your case is concluded.  Social media posts, and especially text messages, are now considered admissible evidence in some courts, so let your attorney know, up front, if there are texts and/or posts that may be detrimental to your case.

• If you are comfortable with the attorney, and the attorney accepts your case, and you as a client, do read the Employment Agreement carefully and in its entirety. What is the retainer? What are the court costs? What is the hourly rate? What happens when my retainer is depleted? Will my spouse be responsible to reimburse me for my fees?  How much is charged for a phone call? How much is charged for a letter or email? Is there a different hourly rate for appearing in court opposed to office work? Am I charged for photocopies? Am I charged for postage? Is there a different hourly rate for the attorney, paralegal, or other staff members?  When am I billed? When is my bill due?  These are all legitimate questions that should be answered at the inception of the attorney/client relationship. Knowing the answers to these questions will help avoid an uncomfortable situation for both you and your attorney as your case and relationship progresses.

• The most important thing you can do in preparation for the initial consultation is bring a list of questions.  We’ve all heard the old adage “there’s no such thing as a stupid question.”  This is definitely true at the initial consultation.  Your attorney knows that you’re not an attorney with his or her legal knowledge and experience and that your head is probably spinning with nervousness, worry and concern; both legal and personal.  Ask the question… you deserve an answer, you need the answer. Being able to communicate well with your attorney always begins at the initial consultation.  Attorneys appreciate clients would want to be well informed.  Be that client!

Making the call to schedule your initial consultation is never an easy task.  You may have thought about doing it for a long time, or, unfortunately, a sudden need to hire counsel has arisen.  Regardless of how long it took you to make the call, you’ve made it, the appointment is scheduled and the hard first step is over.  To make the next step less stressful, and more meaningful and productive when you meet with the attorney, follow these simple guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to a successful initial consultation and an even more successful attorney/client relationship.

Good luck!

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.

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.

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.

Ashley Madison Account Hacked? Well, Your Divorce Can Still Be Private

As the Tampa Bay Times reported a few months ago, a website hack has meant that thousands of spouses have been caught red-handed while trying to cheat. AshleyMadison.com, a website that bills itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating,” was targeted by a “hacktivist” group who made public the website’s clientele list and their personal information.

This hack has left many marriages on the rocks. No matter how you look at it, divorce is difficult, and so hopefully most of the marriages can be saved with the help of trusted clergy or a marriage and family therapist. But the train may have already left the station for many of the marriages.

Though the hack may have made Ashley Madison’s clientele list public, separating spouses can still maintain a modicum of dignity and keep the details of their divorce private. The collaborative divorce process gives spouses the opportunity to spare their children, family, friends, and others from learning the specifics of why they are separating by resolving their divorce issues in private conference rooms rather than in a public courthouse. In collaborative divorce there are no court reporters, no transcripts, and no judging by a public official.

The collaborative process is a voluntary process, and so each spouse must agree to it. They each retain attorneys who pledge to focus solely on helping the spouses reach a full out-of-court settlement; the attorneys are contractually-barred from engaging in costly and destructive contested proceedings (they cannot file contested pleadings or motions, and they cannot appear at trials or other hearings where the parties are not in agreement).

This means that, unlike the traditional divorce process, spouses in the collaborative process are not seen as “opposing parties” but as teammates. Attorneys do not use their legal skills to engage in opposition research, but to help the clients reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.

As a spouse may have been caught cheating, there is likely to be a lot of anger and mistrust. The collaborative model recognizes that divorce is not just a legal process, but also an emotional process. This is why a neutral facilitator, who generally has mental health training, is usually engaged to help spouses cut through the emotional clutter that might otherwise block an agreement and help them focus on the future and what is most important to them (i.e., the children).

In any divorce, Florida law requires there to be certain financial disclosure. In the traditional divorce, financial documents and information are made part of the court record. In a collaborative divorce, a neutral financial professional is oftentimes engaged to serve as a repository of the spouses’ financial information and ensure that they can verify the other spouse’s information. The financial professional can also help develop support and asset distribution options that are specifically tailored to the particular family and ensure that both parties have a financial plan to help them transition from married to single life.

Though your Ashley Madison account may have been made public, the details of your divorce can still remain private via the collaborative process.

If you have questions about divorce, schedule a consultation with Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover is managing attorney at Family Diplomacy and now practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution. He is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest collaborative practice group. He is also on the Executive Board of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida and on the Research Committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

Tampa Divorce Lawyer Rejects Court System

The court system publicly pits husband versus wife, mother versus father, according to collaborative lawyer Adam B. Cordover. On the heels of the fifth anniversary of his law firm, he declares that he will no longer take part and announces his firm’s new focus and name as Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm.

TAMPA, FLORIDA (PRWEB) AUGUST 07, 2015

“When a person steps into a courthouse to file for divorce, he or she is entering an adversarial system pitting spouse versus spouse,” says Tampa attorney Adam B. Cordover. He has seen families publicly tear themselves apart in the court system, and he has decided to do something about it. Cordover will now practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services.

And on July 31, 2015, the fifth anniversary of the establishment of The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., Cordover has changed his firm’s name to reflect this new focus. His firm is now “Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm.”

“We have wonderful and caring judges, but they are limited in a system that turns parents into ‘opposing parties’ and attorneys into opposition research experts,” says Cordover, who will no longer appear in contested court hearings. “There are better, private methods, such as collaborative divorce, to help families resolve their differences and still maintain a relationship and their dignity once the divorce is finalized.”

Collaborative divorce, sometimes called collaborative law or collaborative practice, starts with a pledge by both spouses and their attorneys: Everyone will focus solely on reaching an agreement outside of court. In the unlikely event that the parties cannot reach an agreement, the collaborative attorneys withdraw and the parties may retain trial counsel (nationally, the collaborative success rate is around 90%, similar to the settlement rate of all divorces).

Each spouse in a collaborative divorce is represented by his/her own attorney, who will not waste any time, money, or energy on costly discovery tactics, motion practice, or trial preparation. Confidential discussions are had in private conference rooms rather than hearings in public courtrooms. The spouses agree to be open, honest, and transparent, and to focus on the future rather than the arguments of the past. The spouses and their attorneys work as a team to address all issues rather than as adversaries to attack each other. Experts are jointly retained to help tailor parenting plans specific to their children’s needs and financial solutions to help each spouse hit the ground running in their newly single lives.

All types of couples have decided that collaborative practice is right for them: business owners who want to minimize public exposure of their finances or trade secrets; professionals and high-profile individuals who want to keep embarrassing private personal details out of the limelight; gay and lesbian partners who never were officially married but want to work out the dissolution of their relationship; and parents who recognize that, though their marriage may be ending, a relationship of some sort will need to continue with the other parent for many years to come.

“My goal is to help families resolve their divorce issues as peacefully as possible,” says Cordover. “I have witnessed ‘War of the Roses’ and ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ divorces, and I no longer wish to be a part of them.”

Learn more at www.FamilyDiplomacy.com or 813.443.0615.

Grandparents: the silent sufferers when their children get divorced

When parents get divorced, they are encouraged to sort out arrangements for any children between themselves, so that things can remain as amicable as possible. The best interests of the children should be the focal consideration and both parents should continue to have a strong involvement in their lives, so long as there are no welfare issues to consider.

The concept of ‘custody’ was traditionally used to define who children of divorce would predominantly live with; however, this has been abolished and, instead, parents will make ‘child arrangements.’ The change in terminology was an attempt to remove the concept of one parent being the ‘winner’ and one the ‘loser’, and to keep parties focused on making decisions based on what is best for the children.

In the event parents cannot agree on arrangements in relation to their children, they can apply to court for a child arrangement order to be made. Their right to apply is an automatic one, which means that although a parent may worry about the outcome of the application, they can relax somewhat in the knowledge that the court will make the best decision for the children.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for grandparents in such circumstances. When their children decide to divorce, this can mean an uncertain future in relation to contact with their grandchildren. This is due to the fact that if one of the children’s parents decides they do not want the grandparents to maintain contact with the children, the grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply to court for a child arrangement order to be made. Instead, they must apply to the court for permission to make an application for such an order.

It goes without saying that grandparents in the above position should always attempt to negotiate with whichever parent is making contact difficult for them. However, when such negotiations aren’t successful, many people argue that grandparents should have an automatic right to apply to the court for a child arrangement order.

The above argument is based on the fact that many grandparents have extremely close relationships with their grandchildren, and it can be traumatic for both the children and the grandparents when such relationships come to a very sudden halt upon divorce. Many people also find it unfair that relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren should stop because of ill-feelings between the parents. Neither the grandparents nor the children should be punished because of any animosity between parents.

Whilst there have been parliamentary debates about the difficulties grandparents face in maintaining contact with their grandchildren after divorce, no action has been taken yet. In the 2008 report, ‘Beyond the nuclear: Including the wider family’[1], it is pointed out that the government argues that if grandparents had an automatic right to apply for contact, this could impact a child’s rights being paramount. The government claims that it would be hard for a child’s welfare to be considered, or for their rights to be protected, if grandparents were not required to request permission to apply to court.

The main problem with the government’s argument is that it is not consistent. Any potential welfare issues that could emerge from providing grandparents with an automatic right to apply for contact surely already attach to the existing automatic right that allows parents, or those with parental responsibility, to apply for contact.

It is important to note that no one is campaigning for grandparents to have an automatic right to contact, as this could indeed be detrimental. Instead, they should simply be granted an automatic right to be acknowledged and considered in child arrangements.

Providing grandparents with an automatic right to apply for a child arrangement order, would signify the important role they play in many families. Eliminating the need to request permission to make an application to court would remove one huge hurdle that grandparents currently often need to go through during an already emotionally draining and troubling time. This would make the process easier and, hopefully, in cases where it is appropriate, allow contact to resume as soon as possible.

[1] http://www.fnf.org.uk/phocadownload/research-and-publications/research/Including_the_Wider_Family.pdf

 

One rule for him and another for her as Oklahoma Supreme Court dismisses Sue Ann Arnall’s appeal

In November 2014, Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources, was ordered to pay his ex-wife Sue Ann $995.5 million in what was described as one of the biggest divorce settlements in history. With the award representing only a fraction of Mr Hamm’s estimated $18 billion empire, Sue Ann appealed, claiming that she should be entitled to a much heftier settlement due to her significant contributions during their 26-year marriage. Conversely, Harold made his own appeal, arguing that the almost $1 billion figure was excessive.

On 28/04/15, the Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed Sue Ann’s appeal in a 7-2 decision, stating that she had forfeited her right to appeal in January, when she took possession of the marital property that had been awarded to her and cashed a cheque for $975 million. The Supreme Court did not dismiss Harold’s appeal.

The two dissenting judges branded the above decision ‘old fashioned’ and ‘draconian’. They suggested that if the only way to maintain the right to appeal was to reject the tendered cheque, this would allow the husband absolute and unfettered control over the marital property during the pendency of what could be a lengthy appeal. Not only would this provide Harold with the opportunity to deplete the marital property (admittedly a rather onerous task considering the extent of his wealth), but it would also leave Sue Ann, and other women in such a position, potentially unable to afford the cost of living in the interim period between the court ruling and the appeal. Surely it is inequitable for those who are unhappy with a court decision to have to choose between affording to live and appealing a ruling?

Not only does the Supreme Court’s ruling seem outdated, but more importantly it appears to be bias towards Harold. For if the court thinks that accepting the tendered cheque removes the right to appeal for the wife, then surely, using the same logic, writing the cheque should also remove the right for the husband. Using the basic concept of offer and acceptance, it could be argued that if there is a ‘no returns’ policy for Sue Ann, then there equally shouldn’t be room for Harold to recall the cheque that he presented to his ex-wife. It is potentially inequitable and inconsistent of the court to draw a distinction between the party’s actions.

Ironically, Oklahoma is an equitable distribution state, which means that divorce settlements must be just and reasonable. One of the big considerations for judges dealing with such disputes is what each spouse needs in order to move forward following their separation. Understandably, the judges who reviewed Sue Ann’s appeal would have found it very difficult to sympathise with an argument, claiming a life with only $1 billion is not worth living; however, they should have also considered factors such as her contributions during the marriage, as well as providing a more impressive basis for dismissing her appeal.

Craig Box, one of Mr Hamm’s attorneys, has said that it is too early to comment on whether or not Harold will appeal. However, the likelihood is that he will not and that, instead, he will be delighted with the dismissal of his ex-wife’s appeal. There is even room to suggest that Harold was content with the initial ruling in November, and appealed against it himself simply to highlight his disdain for Sue Ann’s appeal. After all, although $995.5 million is more money than most people could ever dream of earning, it is only a minute fraction of his overall wealth and therefore he could well have been relieved with the county court’s decision.

One thing that has been made very clear by the Supreme Court’s ruling is that the Oklahoma state does not believe equity necessarily requires equality. Whereas the UK has gained a reputation for being the ‘divorce capital of the world’ due to its generous divorce settlements that often entail a 50/50 split of assets, the Oklahoma courts clearly do not mirror this approach.

Major causes of divorce in the UK

divorce-causes-ukIt is well known that couples spend a significant amount of time looking ahead to one day in their life – their wedding day. But, they then fail to discuss and plan their future together such as their career ambitions, lifestyle choices and parenting styles.

Incompatibility is one of the major causes of divorce in the UK, resulting in couples falling out of love and drifting apart. By the time many people choose to separate, they will invariably say that they had no idea why they married in the first place as they knew only too well what their spouse was like, but somehow thought marriage would change or improve things.

Other causes of divorce include infidelity, abuse, boredom, lack of commitment, children, expectations, health, money and addiction.

Reasons to end a marriage

Whatever the cause for the breakdown of a marriage, there is only one ground for divorce in the UK, which is that the marriage has irretrievably broken down.

There must be a good reason for ending the marriage, which is required to be established on the basis of one of following five facts:

  • Adultery

Your husband or wife had sex with someone else of the opposite sex, and you can no longer bear to live with them.

You can’t give adultery as a reason if you lived with your husband or wife for 6 months after you found out about it.

  • Unreasonable behaviour

Your husband or wife behaved so badly that you can no longer bear to live with them.

This could include:

  • Physical violence
  • Verbal abuse e.g. insults or threats
  • Drunkenness or drug-taking
  • Refusing to pay for housekeeping

The UK courts are now accepting mild behaviour such as arguing over trivial matters and refusing to communicate effectively, if they have a negative impact on the other spouse.

  • Two years separation with consent

You can get a divorce if you’ve lived apart for more than 2 years and both agree to the divorce.

Your husband or wife must agree in writing.

  • Five years separation

Living apart for more than 5 years is usually enough to get a divorce, even if your husband or wife disagrees with the divorce.

  • Desertion

Your husband or wife has left you:

  • Without your agreement
  • Without a good reason to end your relationship
  • For more than 2 years in the past 2.5 years. You can still claim desertion if you have lived together for up to a total of 6 months in this period.

Unreasonable behaviour is one of the most common grounds relied on to achieve a divorce, as it is a subjective test and personal to the spouse alleging the behaviour.

If two people have simply drifted apart and hold no animosity towards one another, they may find that they have to divorce on unreasonable behaviour in order to fit in with the current framework and avoid the two year separation period. In these circumstances, couples can base the behaviour on mild actions and agree the wording in advance of starting the divorce process to avoid antagonising or upsetting one another.

The grounds for divorce usually do not have any bearing on the matrimonial finances or childcare arrangements. Therefore, there should not be any pitfalls for opting to divorce due to unreasonable behaviour.

When concluding a divorce, many legal professionals will work to determine whether couples require relationship counselling or guidance for embarking on future relationships or dealing with life as a single person. By providing support and referrals when required, this can help to prevent people from making similar mistakes again.

Anita Shepherd is Head of Family Law at Davis Blank Furniss. The department contains many highly skilled and experienced specialists who can offer expert legal support and guidance to those in need.

Don’t look back in anger? Try telling that to Dale Vince

During the couple’s relationship, the pair lived a nomadic lifestyle, surviving on very little money. Following their separation, life continued in a similar manner for Ms Wyatt, who today lives in an ex-council house in Wales with her children. However, things changed dramatically for Mr Vince when he founded Ecotricity in 1995, which is now one of the UK’s biggest green energy companies.Mr Vince’s new lifestyle mirrors his business success and he currently lives in a £3 million 18th-century castle with his new wife and their son.

At first glance, it seems obvious that any maintenance claim brought by Ms Wyatt so long after their divorce should fall flat. After all, the maths is plain and simple: Mr Vince’s success came three years after the couple divorced and therefore this surely means that Ms Wyatt’s ship has sailed and she has no right to any of her ex-husband’s earnings? This logic was certainly used by Lord Justice Thorpe in the Court of Appeal, who stated that Mr Vince was not to be Ms Wyatt’s ‘insurer against life’s eventualities’. However, shockingly, when the matter reached the Supreme Court, Lord Wilson ruled that Ms Wyatt should be entitled to bring a claim against her ex-husband and stated that the matter should be heard by a judge in the Family Division of the High Court.

When the case does come before the High Court, Ms Wyatt will likely base her claim on her significant childcare contributions over the years. Mr Vince will rely on the ridiculously long delay in the claim being brought, as well as the fact that although the couple were officially married for 11 years, they actually only enjoyed marital cohabitation for two years.

Although Ms Wyatt’s claim may not be successful, the fact that she has received permission to bring it before a Judge is still extremely unsettling for divorcees, who should not have to live in fear that their divorces, which they presumed to be ‘done and dusted’, may rear their ugly heads in the form of a claim in the future.

If nothing more, the Supreme Court’s ruling comes as a huge warning to anyone whose marriage ends in divorce, and that warning is quite straightforward: it is imperative to get a final order so that all monetary claims are dealt with together with the divorce. It is certainly understandable why many fall into the trap of thinking that a clean break is unnecessary; after all, when a couple have lived on an extremely low budget throughout their marriage, the cost of a court order is likely be viewed as an unnecessary expense. However, it is vital for couples to realise that things can and do change – one party may win the lottery, a loved one may leave a large and unexpected inheritance, or one party may start a business that reaches a level of success they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.

Today, separating spouses are privy to the ‘online quickie divorce’, a service that allows parties to get divorced for a fixed fee of as little as £100 plus VAT. Whilst such services may appear appealing and are often very useful for those looking to keep their divorce costs to a minimum, it is imperative for couples to understand that such a service often does not deal with matrimonial finances and instead only take the couple to the decree absolute stage of their divorce.

In order for both spouses to move on with their independent lives after divorce, it is crucial that they draft, approve and sign a final financial order before submitting it to court for approval. Whilst the cost of a lawyer drafting such an agreement may be a slight inconvenience, it will be miniscule compared to a claim that could be brought years later by an ex-spouse with a hefty sense of entitlement. Nobody wants to be looking over their shoulder after divorce and the best insurance against having to do this is to tie things up at the point of divorce instead of leaving loose ends