A Good Marriage

A Good Marriage

It’s ‘Good Divorce Week’ 26 -30 November 2018. What does this mean? Well, this week the professional family law community of Resolution  – some 6500 members strong-  are reaffirming their beliefs in a constructive and non-confrontational approach to supporting couples in marriage breakdown.

FM Family Law would like to think that we approach every week as a good divorce week, but how great is it that the professional community are spreading the good work of Resolution family lawyers with these initiatives.

A Good Divorce…..?

Well, we will write about that another time. But it’s made us think about what actually makes a ‘good’ marriage?

Our combined years as family lawyers have taught us many relationship lessons. Not just in terms of break ups: some of the most fulfilling cases we’ve worked on are those where couples have worked hard to address their differences and have come out of the other side, together, a bit bruised, but stronger.

Michelle Obama’s Memoir ‘Becoming’ was released last week. Through the perspective of a high profile, enduring marriage, we thought we would take a look at some relationship lessons.

Lesson 1 – Dont be afraid to get counselling

Michelle Obama recently revealed that her and Barack have undergone counseling to address issues in their marriage.  Just like the rest of us, one of the most high profile and successful marriages on the planet needs work, too:

“I want [young people] to know that Michelle and Barack Obama — who have a phenomenal marriage and who love each other — we work on our marriage and we get help with our marriage when we need it.”

[Time November 9, 2018 time.com/5450376/michelle-obama-marriage-counseling]

When we approach counselling we tend to feel that we are most certainly right, and that the process will leave us vindicated. But the therapist is not going to take sides. Instead, talking to a trained third party during marriage difficulties can “unlock the rigid and inflexible mind-set that each partner may have about the other, or the relationship. It facilitates a discussion that can remind partners of the positive reasons they first came together.”

[couples counsellor David James Lees in www.telegraph.co.uk/family/relationships/really-happens-divorce-counselling-does-really-work

Lesson 2 – Self-fulfillment

Many of us enter into a marriage with romantic preconceptions. ‘He/She will complete me’ and ‘We will share everything’. But in reality, nothing is shared down the middle; professional, family and romantic life is a balancing act, and we often neglect our own needs. Depending on your spouse for fulfillment is not sustainable: we need to instead look to them for support.

Through couples counseling, Michelle Obama writes,

“What I learned about myself was that my happiness was up to me and I started working out more, I started asking for help, not just from him but from other people,” Obama said. “I stopped feeling guilty.”

[Bustle.com  November 13, 2018 www.bustle.com/p/michelle-obama-opened-up-about-going-to-marriage-counseling-heres-why-thats-so-important-13126845]

Lesson 3 – Maintain strong relationships with family and friends

Indeed, marriage should be your primary relationship, but not your only one. [Dr Coontz in ‘For Better: How the Surprising Science of Happy Couples Can Help Your Marriage www.foryourmarriage.org/blogs/for-better-how-the-surprising-science-of-happy-couples-can-help-your-marriage-succeed

Scientific studies have proven that having strong relationships outside the marriage increases the chances that the marriage will last. Simply put, making fewer emotional demands of a spouse strengthen a marriage. The happiest couples have interests and support ‘beyond the twosome’.

Having an extended circle of help in family life is invaluable when it comes to bringing up kids. Michelle Obama speaks of her realisation that she was not going to have a conventional marriage, and that her husband would be away much of the time. Combining forces with her mother for school pickups, and creating close ties to community and workplace parents they  ‘banded into a kind of intergenerational urban kibbutz, a collective that shared meals and carpools and weekend activities.’  [‘The Obamas’ Marriage by Jodi Kantor in The New York Times, October 16 2009 https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/magazine/01Obama-t.html]

‘I needed the support’ she writes, but it didn’t necessarily need to be from her husband.  In negotiating the spaces of personal ambition and family life, relationships outside of the marriage are a structural force helping to hold the central partnership together.

Lesson 4 – Have fun together

It’s easy to take each other for granted once the honeymoon stage is over. But a relationship built upon the foundations of a good friendship can withstand the test of time,

‘In our house we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and laughter is the best form of unity, I think, in a marriage’  [Time, January 19 2017, http://time.com/4639410/michelle-obama-best-quotes/]

In essence then the Obamas try not to ‘sweat the small stuff’ – giving each other a ‘hall pass’ for small indiscretions such as leaving laundry on the floor or occasionally being late for dinner. Instead they schedule time as a couple to have a good laugh. Despite scheduling challenges they took up a new hobby whilst at the White House – playing tennis together – and often joked at their mutual lack of skill. These kinds of activities can be an effective outlet for couples: you’re on opposing sides, but ultimately you have the same aim. Just like any other friendship, obstacles will beset a marriage, and finding the right outlet can give you a both a fresh perspective.

Lesson 5 – Take the long lens view

At different stages of a marriage we are faced with hard decisions in prioritising whose needs come first. This is often the case when one of the party to the marriages faces a cross roads, such as taking a career break, or pressing pause on career progression, eg to bring up small children.

When relationships fall apart we have often come to a sense that we have embarked on separate journeys, where our personal needs and goals are no longer linked to the goals that we once shared. Although the balance often shifts, Michelle Obama reminds us that

‘The equality of any partnership “is measured over the scope of the marriage. It’s not just four years or eight years or two,” the first lady said. “We’re going to be married for a very long time.” [‘The Obamas’ Marriage by Jodi Kantor in The New York Times, October 16 2009 https://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/01/magazine/01Obama-t.html]

There are currently an estimated 3 million people in the UK whose marriages are struggling. What lessons resonate with you if you’re facing a crisis in your marriage?



FM Family Law (with thanks to Michelle Obama for her inspirational  and aspirational approach to marriage)

27 November 2018


Separated and a parent? What you need to know before taking matters into your own hands.

Separated and a parent? What you need to know before taking matters into your own hands.

Everything parents do regarding their children is intended to be in their child’s bests interests. It’s almost impossible, thankfully, to find a parent who will say that what the child needs is less important than what the parent wants. Every decision parents take is based on common sense, an understanding of their children and what they need. Parents don’t hit children because they know to teach them that violence is an unacceptable method of showing anger; parents don’t lock children away because they teach them that this is cruelty and emotional deprivation; parents feed and nurture children to help them grow strong and live well; parents educate children because they know that through education their horizons during childhood and through to adult life will broaden. Parents steer children into and out of social groups which they think are good or not so good for children.

Both parents know that having Parental Responsibility (P.R) makes them equal in the eyes of the law regarding their children. They share exactly the same rights, the same duties and the same obligations in respect of their children as anyone else with P.R. This begs the question that it must be right that they can do pretty much anything they like regarding their children? The simple answer is, NO, they cannot. It is all about agreement and working together with the other parent. On separation or divorce just as during a relationship, parents fashion a style of life co-parenting children, albeit separated. They determine how the children will be cared for, who will assume what responsibility and how information will be shared between them. They may communicate weekly, monthly, daily even and in that way stay abreast of any developments or changes when their children are with their other parent.

But what happens when a parent has concerns about what is happening in the other parent’s home. What should they do? What if the other parent just isn’t being reasonable, isn’t listening and will not do what is best for the child nor will make any attempt to meet half-way? Do they take matters into their own hands as they know best after all? Not if they want to stay on the right side of the law, no.

The courts have said for a very long time that a child’s routine is important, that the routine of life is inextricably linked to the child’s emotional welfare, to his or her future emotional stability, to attachments and coping strategies. It is for this reason that the court will only permit an abrupt and unilaterally imposed change of living arrangements in “exceptional circumstances” and in which “events happening…suggest that the children would be at risk of significant harm if returned to the resident parent “. If a parent believes their child’s safety can only be protected by removing the child from the routine the child knows, they should not take matters into their own hands. Instead, they must do things by the book and they must do 3 things:

  1.  Issue a court application immediately – not the next day or next week but the same day, if possible- the court is open 365 days a year for all emergencies.
  2. Make plain to the court in both the application and the covering letter or email what the risk of harm is and why an urgent hearing is needed and
  3. Insist (where ever one can), that a judge hears the application within hours – not days and certainly not weeks and without informing the other parent.

Anything less will not do.

If there is a real risk to the child the parent must push the court to hear the matter urgently. If they do nothing or if they take matters in to their own hands and cannot meet the test of a significant risk of immediate harm, their own actions will be criticised and the court will restore the previous care arrangements pending a full investigation and a further hearing.

Advice from an experienced Family Lawyer is always the best option. You can be advised as to whether the concerns you have are such that your application will be most likely to succeed or if not, what other orders the court could make to at least hold the position and put in safety measures until the full hearing. The full hearing could be several months away so it is important to get it right, first time.

Blog by Karen Fox

Will you marry me?

Will you marry me?

It’s the season of romance! Valentines Day is THE day to propose! A time to become engaged or betrothed. The term fiancé or fiancée is usually applied to the intended bride and groom. The term derives from the French word for ‘betrothed’.

An engagement is a promise to marry. As a commitment to that promise, many couples mark their engagement with the gifting of an engagement ring. Traditionally, the ring is gifted from the groom to be from the bride to be. However, it’s now fashionable for male fiancés to also wear an engagement ring in recognition of their forthcoming nuptials, and their commitment to their future spouse.

The ring is traditionally worn on the ring finger of the left hand. This developed from the Roman “annulus pronubis” when the man gave a ring to the woman at the betrothal ceremony. Tradition in some countries suggests that the wedding ring is worn on the ring finger of the left hand because the vein on that finger is thought to connect directly to the heart, a symbol of love.

If the engagement is broken, what happens to the ring? The gift of the ring is deemed in law to be an absolute gift from one party to the other. If the engagement ends, the recipient is entitled to keep the ring, as it belongs to them. However, if it can be established that the gifting of the ring was conditional on the marriage taking place, then the ring must be returned.  Ultimately, it will be a question of whether the fiancé wishes to return the ring, and whether the donor wishes it to be returned. On either scenario, sadly the ring will no longer represent the betrothal of love that it was intended for. A second home might be found through sites such as preloved and neverlikeditanyway.com.

The notion that the man should spend a fraction of his annual income on purchasing the engagement ring came from a well-known jeweller’s marketing concept which aimed to increase the sale of diamonds. The suggestion now seems to be that a man should spend at least one month’s salary on the ring. Net of tax, the man might hope!

Prenuptial agreements are also now considered more common place as part of considerations following engagements as there are legal moves afoot to have them legalised in this country. Presently they are not but in many circumstances and provided certain recommended conditions are met, the couple will be bound by the terms of the prenup.

If you are looking for legal advice on separation, our family lawyers in Cambridge or Norwich will be happy to help.

Happy Valentines Day from FM Family Law.

Decisions Decisions

Decisions Decisions

Divorce solicitors tend to report an increase in new enquiries in the New Year.

You may be considering the end of your marriage but don’t know where to turn for good legal advice. How do you decide which lawyer to represent you if you end up on the path to relationship breakdown? The best place to start is to ask those you trust. Friends and family may have used a solicitor

The best place to start is to ask those you trust. Friends and family may have used a solicitor before or may have friends and family who can give their personal seal of approval.

The national family lawyers’ organisation is an excellent website where you will find lots of helpful information about family law and family lawyers. Central to Resolution’s philosophy is to help clients in relationship breakdown in an amicable and constructive way. This is how any good family work will do their job. The website contains a ‘find a lawyer’ resource, as well as details of those lawyers who are accredited as specialists in certain specialist fields.

Have a look at the firm’s website. Does it give you the right feel? Does it look as if you will feel comfortable with the lawyer and how they say they work?

Call the lawyer for an initial chat. A good lawyer will be prepared to have an initial chat with you at no cost. Meet a couple of lawyers before making a decision. Most lawyers offer a free initial meeting or a fixed cost for the first meeting. This is an excellent opportunity to get some practical and sensible advice, as well as meet the lawyer for the first time without the anxiety of being presented with a big bill before you have made a decision about your future and any work has got under way. The lawyer should also be able to give you a good idea at that stage about the work involved and the costs and help you weigh up your options. Prepare for that first meeting by drawing up a list of questions, and perhaps email details of your situation to the lawyer ahead of time. This will also save valuable time and allow you to use the meeting to focus on the main issues, rather than treating it as a fact finding session. www.legal500.com and www.chambersandpartners.co.uk are also widely used directories that survey lawyers nationwide and rate the lawyer in geographical and

Prepare for that first meeting by drawing up a list of questions, and perhaps email details of your situation to the lawyer ahead of time. This will also save valuable time and allow you to use the meeting to focus on the main issues, rather than treating it as a fact finding session.

www.legal500.com and www.chambersandpartners.co.uk are also widely used directories that survey lawyers nationwide and rate the lawyer in geographical and specialist sectors. Using these directories is a good opportunity to back up what you have seen and heard before making your final decision as to who to instruct.

Your lawyer is going to support you as you move forward with your life. As with making any choice about important things in life, it’s just as critical to do the research before making the right choice that will affect you and your family.

How To Choose A Divorce Solicitor

How To Choose A Divorce Solicitor

Aside from the emotional dynamic when a relationship ends, a client has to find someone who they can entrust to support them on the journey to the next stage in their life. In many cases, it is one that can have life changing consequences.

An online search can reveal a long list of names of law firms. Look for a solicitor that specialises in divorce and family law, have a look at their website and find out if they are a member of Resolution. Ask friends and family members if they have a recommendation.

Making the first contact

Making the first contact with a solicitor can be a difficult step.  There may be anxiety about the other spouse knowing especially if you have not reached the conclusion that your marriage has ended.  It can be daunting thinking about sharing personal information with a stranger. Don’t feel afraid to ask questions – find out the solicitors availability, capacity to take on new work, how they work, what’s involved, what they charge and how they offer first meetings. Some lawyers charge from the outset. Others may offer an initial short meeting at a fixed cost or at no cost. Don’t be afraid to ‘shop around’ to find a solicitor who is the best match for you.

What to look for in my solicitor?

Don’t be tempted to instruct the solicitor who has given you the advice you like. It’s often the advice you don’t want to hear that can be the most important to you. Any good solicitor will be prepared to advise you in detail on all matters, even saying things that may not sit well with your hopes and expectations.

Out of court resolution

Find a solicitor who is well versed in the different types of out of court dispute resolution. This may help you resolve matters without going to Court, saving considerable cost, both of which should be your objective.  A good solicitor will be able to explain all the different options open to you and how they would be able to support you through each option.  They should suggest which avenue might be most appropriate for you, taking into account of your personal circumstances and priorities.

How much?

Your solicitor is obliged to give you the best estimate of the costs involved and their hourly rates. Find out whether the solicitor offers fixed fee charges for any aspects of their work, ‘pay as you go’ services, sets caps on fees, or staging their representation to suit your pocket.

For more information about choosing the right solicitor for you contact Resolution www.resolution.org.uk

If you would like to legal guidance on divorce or mediation, our divorce solicitors in Norwich and Cambridge will be happy to help.