Company Day at FM Family Law:  Balance, resilience and professional experience

Company Day at FM Family Law: Balance, resilience and professional experience

FM Family Law invited me to meet the team on their Bi-annual Company Day, to see what really makes them tick. What I found was a highly energized group of women, dedicated to supporting their clients and their families, but moreover, 6 women with a wealth of life experience and a diverse set of skills, far more deeply reaching their professional accomplishments.

All of the lawyers told me it was the personal aspect of Family Law that really drew them to the profession. ‘It doesn’t pay as well as other areas of law typically yet it is the most challenging. You deal with people in crisis. Not contracts or buildings.’

It’s this challenging yet ultimately rewarding aspect which captured the imaginations of FM Family’s lawyers – from Karen, practicing for 34 years since answering an advert for a trainee legal executive aged just 18 – to Sue, who began to advocate for the needs of students during her law degree as Vice President of Education and Representation at the Student Union. There’s an emotional connection to cases, Karen explains, and all the associated quirks of dealing with real people. Sue nods in agreement. Early experiences using her problem solving skills and her nurturing side stood her in good stead for a future in Family Law.

Nevertheless, ‘you have to be resilient’ says Fiona. Dealing with real people, the most challenging thing can be to balance so many competing aspects of various aspects of the law (not just family law) with the complexities of human behaviors. You also have to be ‘pretty tough and robust as well as kind, patient, available and responsive’

Fiona stepped away from her role as head of the Family Law team at  a large Cambridge law firm to set up her own firm in 2011. Christina was on the opposing side in court in those days, but the connection when they worked against each other led to Christina being the first to join Fiona at FM Family Law in 2014. I get a sense that this partnership is built upon an understanding of balance: professionally accomplished women with families, who were uniquely able to empathise with the needs of their clients, whilst creating their own family-focused working environment.

Certainly their own families influenced their career progressions. Christina, determined to build a career to support her young family, enrolled at ARU and has been Cambridge based from the start. Starting her own firm certainly gave Fiona the flexibility she needed to work around family commitments, too – an ethos shared by FM Family Law’s employees. ‘It’s different from anywhere I’ve worked before’ says Kate, Cambridge Office Manager, ‘Fiona recognizes that juggling family life can be hard’. Their kids went to the same village school, which is how they met. Again, a personal connection that led to Fiona asking Kate to join the firm when Kate’s 25 year tenure at a national bank ended. Whilst keeping the office impeccably organised, Kate still manages to make it home to spend time with her children – who are now well into their teens.

In her time away from the office, Kate and her husband go for Sunday morning runs along the Cambridge riverside stopping at some favorite local cafes to re-fuel: No. 30, Stir or Fitzbillies for coffee and a sticky Chelsea bun.

Jenny is a runner too – with a fiercely competitive streak and a history of some rather stellar half marathon finishing times. Having studied Interior Design, Jenny started her own business ‘Little Bird Interiors’ which she now enjoys as a past time only for very special gifting occasions. Karen takes walking trips in the Highlands with her Collie dog, her Sprocker, and partner of 19 years.

In their desire to help people in the hugely emotive field of Family Law, taking a step back is of the utmost importance. As Karen explains, a successful family lawyer must remain calm. They must listen carefully, and ultimately recognize that they themselves are not at the centre of the apex – it’s the client who is the priority. Meeting FM Family Law I’ve come to understand the challenge of being a good family lawyer, a balancing act of competing interests and measured judgments, grounded upon many years of experience. They work daily with families in crisis:

‘a wife heartbroken after 27 years of marriage, a husband desperate to reconcile, a spouse desperate to retain their lifetime built-up pension, as well as the interests of  the immediate family supporting those clients.’

Whilst on the subject of the balancing act, Fiona tells me her early career as a waitress stood her in good stead.  Embarking on her gap year during the 1980s’ recession before law school, Fiona easily embraced the hospitality industry – as well as the tips! – that came with high-end service. Working at Pizza Hut and then Adlards Restaurant in Norfolk (now Roger Hickman’s), Fiona’s love of food and restaurants was established and it certainly continues to this day. As a career, hospitality is all about people, and how to make them happy. What the restaurant industry also taught Fiona was how to support real people and their competing demands, whilst remaining commercial and cost effective.  There’s a parallel between helping people in a busy restaurant, constantly prioritizing customers with different wishes and demands at different times, with helping divorcing clients.

‘You have to have ten pairs of eyes, be available, constantly reprioritizing and never drop the ball’

The FM Family law team were heading out that very evening to celebrate the team’s achievements: cocktails followed by dinner in Cambridge at Parker’s Tavern and Varsity Restaurant. Before they rounded-up proceedings, they told me about the importance of stepping away from work to focus on life. It can be an intense and all-encompassing career, but as Sue tells me, ‘my experiences before entering law truly enriched me as a person’ and, she adds, that her year out made her a better lawyer. After another year of advising supporting, mediating and resolving, the FM Family Law team head off to dinner together. Before Law School it was the acclaimed US TV show Ally McBeal that first inspired Sue: the vision of a successful day’s work rewarded in a smart Manhattan bar. It shaped up to be a far different – and more rewarding – career than she had first envisaged in the early days of Law School. But tonight at Parker’s Tavern, cocktail in hand, each of the FM Family Law team can reflect on their own achievements, safe in the knowledge that they have struck an excellent balance. But there is always more work to do. And on Monday they will be back at their desks in Cambridge & Norwich, relishing the challenges of their caseloads once again.

Author: Katie Underwood

Make it your priority to be prepared

Make it your priority to be prepared

If you think a separation is on the cards, considering your finances should be one of the top priorities. The timing of your separation really does matter where money is concerned.

‘Many of my clients take advice well before any separation. Usually their spouse does not know, and no decisions had been made’ says Fiona McLeman. ‘They want to know what to expect and the practical steps they can take to best protect themselves. They may well not have considered tax issues. It’s then quite usual to see those clients again 6-12 months later. That’s when, not only are they emotionally ready for divorce, but also better prepared in practical and financial terms’

Here are some important factors to consider well before you walk away.

Tax tax tax

When you are married you can make tax free transfers between each other without attracting Capital Gains Tax. Once you separated, you have until the end of that tax year to make tax free transfers. This is particularly important where assets such as property are concerned. “Even if you continue to live under the same roof, you may be ‘on the clock’ if you have taken formal legal steps towards a separation. I always advise my clients to exercise caution and consider delaying a separation until after 4 April if that is feasible” says Karen Fox.

Need space?

If you’ve got a buy to let, don’t assume you can move into it on separation. Check the mortgage terms. Many mortgage companies won’t agree to this. ‘Many clients make the mistake of thinking that they own the property and can just move in, but it may be a serious breach of the mortgage terms that usually prohibit landlords from occupying their own property’ says Christina Hale of FM Family Law.

Maintain spending patterns

You will need to produce a budget as part of the disclosure process and it’s important to show your usual spending, especially if maintenance is under consideration. Although it may feel counterintuitive to maintain your outgoings when finances are most likely to be under pressure, it’s necessary to help assess the correct level of spousal maintenance. Don’t significantly decrease your spending or your quality of life to save money in the short term.

Get financial advice

You’re going to be making some important decisions about your money. We recommend advice from experts in their field such as Fiona Sharp and Stephanie Clark at www.vervefinancialplanning.co.uk “if you need help with your post separation budgeting or clear direction through a pensions maze then I can guide you” says Fiona Sharp.

You’ve got joint banking?

The Money Advice Service suggests that if you have joint accounts or loans with your ex-partner, you should contact your bank or loan provider to explain what has happened.  This is especially important if your break-up isn’t amicable. However, warns Sue Bailey, ‘be wary that banks can freeze joint bank accounts if they consider there is a dispute between you and your spouse. This can be hard to undo, as well as potentially costly in the legal costs of unravelling a frozen bank account and reorganizing finances’

Watch out for the credit cards / overdraft

You are each jointly and severally liable for any joint debt. If your partner plunders the joint account and it goes overdrawn, you will be liable for it all. 

Prepared to be full and frank?

As part of your divorce process, you will both be expected to give full and frank disclosure about your finances. You should not be able to keep assets, investments or funds hidden. Typically the financial disclosure process looks back only over the last 12 months when your bank statements for that period will be disclosed. Is there anything there you might not want disclosed? Watch out though as in some cases, a longer period of financial disclosure may be ordered by the court.

No Snooping

Don’t assume that you can go on a forensic fishing exercise. There are strict rules about how to deal with financial papers you’ve got hold of that don’t belong to you. Take advice and deal with the disclosure process properly.

FM Family Law are experts in giving pragmatic and sensible legal advice about the law, but also how best to prepare for separation: legal and financial.

Women in Business

Women in Business

Fiona McLeman founded FM Family Law in 2011 (then known as Fiona McLeman Family Law). The name change came about in 2014/5 when the size of firm grew beyond expectation. On opening a second office in Norwich, Fiona and the team felt that it was no longer appropriate to define the firm so markedly with Fiona’s full name. Fiona’s vision in 2011 was towards long-term employee retention, allowing (what is currently) an all-female team to work flexibly, whilst fully engaging in both business and family responsibilities. It’s a balance Fiona wasn’t able to achieve as well in her previous firms, and indeed, business ownership can give women the autonomy they need to manage multiple responsibilities simultaneously

“My vision of owning my own law firm came to me in the wee hours while tending to my then 6mth old. What’s made it the success story it is,  was to have modest expectations and to grow exponentially and organically. This allowed me to be a hands on mother, and be at the school gate which is important to me, as much as to be a great lawyer and business owner. With the right support in place I think you can be both.”

Here are some other local success stories.

Jan Godfrey MBE and Susan Hollingsworth founded Wayland Women in Business in 2006. They were struck by the number of women who were finding it difficult to compete in the world of work.

‘Some worked in a male dominated field and could not get their voice heard; some were juggling home and family with work and missed out on opportunities for networking and learning; some were bumping their heads on glass ceilings, finding that however good they were at their job, they could not get promotion beyond a certain level; some simply recognised that they lacked the confidence to step onto the next rung.’

13 years on they have created a network of women who share ideas and good practice, develop client contacts and learn new skills. Meeting bi-monthly at Broom Hall Country Hotel in Norfolk, their numbers are steadily increasing – spurred on by a packed out seasonal events, like the Christmas lunch attended by Karen of FM Family Law this year.

Building networks of inspirational businesswomen is key to boosting the numbers of future female business leaders. Kelly Molson, founded digital agency Rubber Cheese in 2003.  In 2017 followed Mob Happy, an organization to support female agency owners and to help them inspire up-and-coming leaders. They invest in enterprise days and confidence building workshops in primary schools – aimed at ultimately increasing the percentage of female business owners. Kelly was shortlisted for the DevelopHER Awards for her commitment to raise the profile of women in technology, and, she says, ‘competition can be celebrated’.

‘I’m a huge supporter of other independent agencies, in fact anyone who’s got the balls to set up on their own. I can learn from them as much as they can learn from me’

Kelly is dedicated to helping women in their professional development, but she also shares her personal story to support people struggling with fertility issues. Celebrating 15 years as an agency, Rubber Cheese has channeled its energies into raising £15k for the Tamba, Twins and multiple Births association‘ because they helped Kelly get through 2017’. That year, after a difficult IVF journey, Kelly and her partner Lee lost their twin girls, Lily May and Ava Allison. Through fundraising and her determination to speak publicly about their profound grief, Kelly shows us that the personal and the private ‘are all part of us whether we like it or not, and the things we’ve been affected by will shape the course of our lives forever.’

Recognising the often unspoken difficulties that people face in their personal lives through her very public profile, Kelly hoped to relieve some of the isolation faced by women in similar circumstances. Kelly is constantly reaching out to build links, in recognition that support is a vital part of our personal – as well as professional – journeys.

Indeed, writes Jo Kruczynska, building a strong team to support you as a business-owner is key.

‘I would recommend getting a team structure in place to ensure that you are able to step away from the business when you need to … Being able to step back and see the bigger picture is so important, and not something you can do when you’re getting up at dawn and working 70 + hours a week.’

Jo organised sell-out supper clubs and baked Cambridge’s most sought-after cakes, before founding Afternoon Tease Cafe. The popularity of the café was unrivalled, with food made completely from scratch and queues out of the door on weekends. Jo devoted the 4 years of Afternoon Tease solely to her business, and put holidays, time-off and socialising on hold. ‘This was ok for a while’ she says, ‘but was not sustainable for me personally’. To city-wide dismay, Afternoon Tease closed its doors in 2017, but Jo has found a better way of structuring her business

‘I now have my life back and am enjoying a flexible way of working…I’m not afraid of working hard but being able to take a break every now and again is great!’

Jo now takes cake orders @AfternoonTease and supplies some of the cities most popular venues.

Running a business is characterized by this tension between flexibility and pressure. Particularly in hospitality, where recruitment is a challenge, the freedom of self-employment is often over-ridden by the all-consuming nature of day-to-day operations.

‘I find time management can be a challenge’ writes Faye Morray-Jones Knight of Novi ‘especially when I go in the building and notice lots of things that need doing, so tend to get caught up, rather than doing my own work.’

Faye and husband Matt have worked hard since the business rebranded in 2014, developing the Novi brand into a ‘unique inspirational venue with two identities’: daytime café and kitchen, and nighttime cocktail bar – open from 9am to 3am.

The creative opportunities afforded by such a versatile venue are enormous, and today as the Bookings and Events Manager, Faye’s job varies from wedding parties to corporate bookings. For 14 years, her husband Matt ran the venue:

‘It was particularly difficult when the children were younger and Matt was often working long, unsociable hours.  At the time I worked elsewhere, so we would often work opposite shifts in order to share childcare but the business gave us the flexibility to do this. ‘

Just like the multiple identities of Novi, women in business have several selves to juggle. It’s important to recognise that we are many things, and that our experience goes far beyond the day job. These women show that the limitations sometimes placed on us by inflexible roles can be overcome by finding our niche. That means not being afraid to step away when things aren’t right, to etch out a new role based on our strengths, and to form strong partnerships with those around us for support.

Self Care – The Oxygen Mask Approach

Self Care – The Oxygen Mask Approach

‘Put on your own mask first, BEFORE you help others’

Facing your first Christmas and New Year after separation can be a challenging time. In December we shared information about some local outdoor spaces – places to take long, reflective, healing walks with family and friends over the holiday period. But now that the holidays are at an end, it’s a difficult time with many of us re-entering the workplace and adjusting to the start of the kids’ school term.

Many of us have news we aren’t quite ready to share, or feelings that we that we want to keep hidden. Time for you is key and at this busy time, at the start of a new year, we want to remind you to make time for you. Scheduling time to look after yourself, to pursue your own interests and to care for your own health is not selfish. Those who depend on you will experience the benefits too. So with that in mind, here are some Self Care recommendations.

 

Retreat

Imagine a ‘breathing / bathing space’ with wooden hot tubs, a hilltop sauna and a terrace café close to the city yet out in the countryside. It’s a dream right? Wrong. PAUS Cambridge is our new ‘go to’ retreat. It’s open on weekends throughout the year.

It might be a bleak midwinter but Czech owner Alexandra recommends the winter months as the best time to maximize the restorative effects of the 40degree water. Book in with a group of friends for an afternoon, or take a look at their workshops and retreats. From ‘Coffee and Canvas’ painting classes to Santosha Yoga, the events are great opportunities to socialise and to try something different.

 

Yoga

Satyam Yoga offer beginner and restorative yoga classes, as well as ‘women’s circles’ – a group experience with the opportunity to ’step out of your busy life for an evening of gentle reconnection’. Their website even explains,

‘Don’t feel you have to bring your best self or stay away because you are not feeling great. You are most welcome to bring your authentic self, just as you are right now in your own particular cycle of ups and downs’

 

Exercise

Hitting the gym is a New Year’s cliché, but we all know that breaking a sweat is a fantastic way to offload negative feelings, and feel better about yourself. Try losing yourself for a moment in an intensive activity, like Puregym’s ‘Sweat 30’ or ‘Burn It’ classes. Their new Grafton Centre branch has opened a stone’s throw from FM Family Law’s offices and we recommend their affordable no-obligation monthly memberships (£12.99), multitude of classes and spacious layout. If you have a hectic lifestyle and find it hard to schedule gym trips into your commuting or childcare schedule, the Leisure Park PureGym is open 24 hours. It has a handy app to check out busy times and quiet times and to keep tab on your attendance. The app allows you to prebook into classes to incentivize you to go. Just ask Fiona!

David Lloyd Gym is another excellent choice, especially if you have children. It has a  crèche available for children from 3 months old, kids play area and an afternoon kids club. These options give single or working parents the flexibility to visit the gym, to have a swim and sauna, or just a quiet coffee break. Their new Blaze classes create the ultimate immersive environment in a specially built studio. It is suitable for fitness beginners and the people (instructors and participants) are particularly friendly and encouraging.

 

Family Walks

Taking walks with family and friends can be a great healer. In the winter months, when we wake before sunrise and don’t feel the sun on our skin, our mood can become suppressed and the emotional toll of relationship breakdown can be confounded. We recommend the National Trust properties surrounding Cambridge – suitable for young and old – such as Anglesey Abbey. If the kids are distracted and happy, we all feel calmer: They have children’s maps with wildlife searching tasks, binoculars & magnifying glasses, an adventure playground and a cozy café.

Also try Ickworth House and Hotel, equi-distant between our Cambridge and Norwich offices. The grounds and gardens are wonderful for a visit, but if you’re in need of some R&R, the hotel has a spa, pool and kids facilities: a fully staffed crèche, kids high tea and baby monitors so you can eat dinner after bedtime.

Beauty & Alternative Therapies

We’re not talking about a ‘new you.’ But beauty treatments can give you the self-esteem boost you might need in challenging times, as well as the chance to really ‘do nothing’ for a change. For hair we like Bamboo on Mill Road, and Ella Cain’s-Sola at Maluku hairdressing – both with great conversation and excellent coffee, too. Lucy, originally from Glassworks, does Christina’s beauty treatments at her home salon, called Lucy’s Beauty. 

For massages and facials we recommend Jennie Hart Aromatherapy for her holistic approach to wellbeing. ‘Imagine that your only job for an hour is to listen to your heart (rather than your busy mind)’ she writes, ‘chances are that feeling more connected to your body, feeling cared for, and taking even an hour to yourself would do you the world of good.’ We hear you, Jenny.

Rosalind Bubb is an EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapist) and TAT (Tapas Acupressure Technique) practitioner. Personally recommended by Christina, she uses energy meridian therapies, as well as acupressure and modern psychology to help people feel happy, calm and well. Rosalind is a skilful and caring therapist, who will quickly put you at your ease. She is easy to talk to and has a light touch. There is often some laughter when you work with her – even when the topic is serious.

Seek Professional Help

Finally, it’s important to emphasise that self-care can take many forms. If you’re feeling low, isolated, or very stressed, seek help from a qualified counsellor or health professional.  Fiona is a trustee of Relate Cambridge, an organization with over 30 counsellors who have experience with individuals, couples, young people and families.

We also recommend Jane McCann of McCann Consultancy. She’s a counsellor and mediator on Burleigh St near our offices, and extremely well regarded in our community. What’s more, she’s a lovely lady and a good sport, too. Marie Edgar offers counselling and psychotherapy, with experience in addiction therapy. Her calm Scottish tones are very reassuring! Meeting good, kind people on this journey – sharing your story with them and asking for their support – is the type of self-care that will get you through the darker days.

Finally, if you need assistance in legal advice or mediation, FM Family Law can help. Getting information about your rights is empowering and liberating. We are experts with decades of experience in family law and we can help you help yourself. Our mediation process enables you to discuss all issues arising from your separation, but away from court and lawyers www.fmfamilylaw.co.uk/what-we-do/mediation/

Brexit (breaking up) is hard to do – Parallels with Divorce – Part 1

Brexit (breaking up) is hard to do – Parallels with Divorce – Part 1

24thJune 2016 – The day I learned a separation was inevitable.

I knew, when I woke up that day that things had changed forever.  Sure, we hadn’t separated legally or financially at that time but I knew our relationship was over. I had no choice than to leave you. It was over.

I also knew there was so much to sort out. What was that feeling?  Bewilderment? Fear? Regret? Excitement? A new future…almost in reach?  Confusion? Sadness? All of it…

Sure, our relationship was far from harmonious – some people didn’t even know we were on the rocks. When the end did finally come, we were as shocked as everyone else. [Guardian, UK votes to leave after dramatic night divides nation]

Initially perhaps I was still in denial. Couldn’t we still make it work? What about all the good times – all the things that we have in common. Our fisheries! Our agricultural policy! Maybe it was just a phase.  Maybe we could still change our minds [BBC News, Brexit Ruling: UK can cancel decision, EU court says].

Maybe with third party help, we could get through. We did try to renegotiate our terms, to fix what was broken. But you just couldn’t change. [The Independent, What Cameron wanted – and what he really got]

It’s tough that only one of us made the call to break up, and it’s fair to say that this has made reaching a divorce agreement a slow and painful process.  Our lives have been intertwined for so long that it’s hard to picture going it alone. I’m scared. I don’t have a choice now as I’ve made the decision. I can’t turn back.  I’m nervous yet I’m making myself feel better with thoughts of a clean break, new opportunities, and a fresh start. No more shared responsibilities… the freedom to make new relationships – it’s all in sight! Or is it?

We are still so entangled. We live and work so close to each other that we’ll still have to be neighbours, and cross each other’s paths a lot. Sure, we’ll put the kids first and share custody. Our financial responsibilities to each other still have to be fulfilled [Financial Times, Brexit Divorce Deal]. We’ve made contributions to each other in different ways over the years. It doesn’t end just because I have stopped loving you

But maybe it’s better this way. Staying at arms’ reach. Over time, perhaps our relationship will flourish with a new mutual respect for each other. We’ll have space. We can spend time with other people. After all, I’ve always considered myself a ‘free trade agreement’ kind of a guy [David Davis in Conservative Home].

Yet I worry that this isn’t going to be the clean break I thought I wanted. We like the same things. I stopped loving you but we like doing a lot of the same stuff. What if we still want to go to the same places on holiday?  Can I still use your parents’ house in St Tropez? Can we make these things work even if we are not together? [Independent, Brexit Travel Advice]

Perhaps we should let the lawyers sort it out. I feel safer letting them take control, but it is expensive and I am worried I won’t be fully in control of the decision making process. I’ve heard such good things about dispute resolution options. It doesn’t have to be hostile. We can learn a thing or two about @ResFamilyLaw (www.resolution.org.uk) approach to conflict resolution. Should we mediate (www.familymediationcouncil.org.uk)?

Okay. So now we’re talking. We are looking at options and we are striking a deal. The negotiations have been long and hard. I feel worn out. I started out so tough yet now… everything you’re asking for… maybe you should just have it. Okay, I’ll admit it. I do feel a sense of culpability, leaving you like this. When we initially sat down and wrote a budget together, I was part of the household [Financial Times, Brexit Divorce Deal].  I know my responsibilities and I am prepared to deliver. For the next few years I’ll still have to contribute my share as if I had never left. And I’ll give a lump sum too, just for good measure. I have to make amends. I feel it’s all my fault.

But now there’s a backlash. My family aren’t happy. They say I’ve given too much away! Everyone is rejecting our deal. My Irish family are threatening to walk out, [The Guardian, DUP Threaten Sabotage] even though I’ve paid their bills for the next 5 years. But the house will fall down without their support… I need them to keep up the numbers, or it’s just me and the kids [BBC, Hung Parliament].

My financial planner says I’ll be poorer without you, and there’s much uncertainty ahead [Evening Standard,Britain will be poorer].  But there’s no turning back: I’ve made up my mind.

Time has passed. It is taking too long, we couldn’t come to an agreement and asked the court to decide. It’s cost me so much so far and I know there is more to come but we just don’t seem to be able to come to an agreement.  I’m told this is the ‘only’ way if we can’t agree and yet I am still so scared. I feel helpless and at sea. I’ve taken a path and I have to follow it.

The day of final judgment looms.  If we don’t reach an agreement by 21stJanuary [Financial Times, Brexit Timeline] the court will decide. I’m told that neither of us are bound to be happy if we have to get someone else to decide for us.  No one said this was going to be easy [BBC News, EU Trade deal ‘easiest in human history’ says Fox].

I feel we have to get back to the negotiating able. Is it too late? Could we try another face-to-face meeting to try and salvage something? [CNN, EU tells May the deal is not up for renegotiation] That’s got to be a lot better than someone making a final decision for us.

Is it too late to try another process like arbitration www.ifla.org.uk? My advisors tell me it’s the future of conflict resolution when all else has failed. So much more efficient than court, all the technical skills, nowhere near the cost and a speedy decision that we both have to abide by. Why didn’t we try that sooner to save all this pain and cost?

I’m a mess. I’m broke. It’s cost me so much. I felt in charge and now I don’t know which way to turn.

Why won’t you answer my calls?