Recent data published from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of opposite-sex marriages had fallen by 47% since 1972 whilst cohabiting couple families continue to be the fastest-growing family type.
It is notable that same-sex couples are in fact bucking this trend as the number of married same-sex couples has doubled since 2017.
Despite this surge in marriages amongst same-sex couples, the overall share of married couple families (for opposite-sex and same-sex couples) has declined over the past decade.
The ONS commented that the long-term decline in the rate of marriages was likely to be as a result of more men and women delaying marriage or couples choosing to cohabit instead.
With the number of couples opting to just live together increasing, it is important to raise awareness of the fact that unmarried couples do not have as much protection compared to married couples. This means many people, to their surprise, could be left financially vulnerable if their relationship ends.
However all is not lost! Whilst we wait patiently for the current law to be reformed, a cohabitation agreement, also known as living together agreement, can be a great option.
This type of relationship agreement can set out how couples wish to arrange their financial affairs and responsibilities during and after their relationship. It provides couples with certainty as to where they will stand financially in the unfortunate event of their relationship ending in the future.
If you would like to discuss putting a cohabitation agreement in place or if you have any other queries about the issues covered in this article please do not hesitate to contact the team – we would be happy to help.
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, Writer & Director at Kunderwoo.com
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.
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.
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.
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?
You’re in an unhappy place and you don’t know what to do. The relationship isn’t working. You’ve grown apart and you want different things. You’ve tried counselling. You’ve tried talking. You’ve argued a lot. You know you don’t feel the same way towards him/ her like you used to, yet you still don’t know if it’s the right thing to make the break. You’re at a cross roads, (in some cases a spaghetti junction). Your mind is a scramble and nothing seems right.
Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
It’s not unusual to find yourself facing obstacles to ‘moving on’. We, us humans, are complex creatures. Our psychological make up is defined by our experiences as children, which inform, influence, and shape and underpin our behaviours as adults. We live and learn (most of the time) from our observations, our experiences, and our mistakes. We manage constant decisions of an everyday nature and as we navigate through challenges in our work, family life, and our friendships. None of us are the same. We have unique DNA. Yet, it’s right to say that we all face similar emotions when faced with similar lifetime challenges and crises.
This article is about distilling the challenges to separation to help you understand where you are in your journey and help pave a clearer pathway for you.
Obstacle 1 ‘For the sake of the kids’
The kids are the most important thing to you. You don’t want to let them down. You think it might be better for them if you put your needs to one side, and wait until they are older before making the break.
Every family is different. Waiting might be the right thing to do. It’s also not unusual to find that many kids can welcome – indeed cope well with- a separation. Kids are like sponges, they watch adults’ behaviours and mimic them. They might feel sad at their parents separating but generally they find that they can be happy, in two homes filled with love than one home filled with tension. Children can take responsibility for their parents’ unhappiness, and might try to blame themselves. If the separation is handled mindfully and sensitively, your kids are likely to come out of it all a whole lot happier than if you stay together in a toxic and unhealthy dynamic. And, let’s not beat about the bush, kids might also welcome the benefits – another home, a double sets of presents, holidays, etc.
Obstacle 2 ‘Oh but the guilt’
You’re the one who had/ is having an affair. You know the marriage was broken before you met someone else, but he / she doesn’t see it like that. They thought everything was ‘fine’. But it wasn’t ‘fine’, how can they say it was ‘fine’? It was miserable, loveless, sexless, without affection and you know you couldn’t go on any more like that. Yet…. you still feel to blame. You feel bad for the hurt you caused. You want to make it better. You know you probably can’t plaster this over. The wound is deep. But you will try.
This obstacle can manifest in how you deal with the divorce. In some cases the ‘wrong doer’ is burdened with a sense of guilt and wants to ‘do right’. This might mean you want to be more generous in the financial settlement. It’s understandable. You are human, after all. However the divorce court does not penalise the ‘one who had the affair’. The court separates the finances from the reasons for the divorce. It is only in exceptionally rare cases that behaviour in a marriage will affect the financial outcome.
Obstacle 3 – The fear
Ugh, the fear of the unknown. Very few people relish uncertainty. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know where you will live, how often you will see the kids, whether you can afford ‘all this’. You might think that doing nothing and living with what you’ve got is better than taking the big step into the unknown. But you also know you can’t carry on as you are.
You’re afraid of letting people down. Your parents are in strong lifelong committed relationship and how can you possibly tell them you are separating from your partner. You’re probably terrified. You might feel ashamed.
You are not alone. These feelings are entirely normal. Uncertainty can be managed by getting legal advice to know what your rights are and to give you a better idea of what to expect. Moving on doesn’t mean you are letting people down or that you should feel ashamed. It means you are human and you care about these things. Don’t let the fear of the unknown stop you from moving on.
Obstacle 4 – Time
It has been said “time heals all wounds”. “Time is the longest distance between two places”. It is true! You’re hurting but you’re fed up of being told that time will heal your wounds. It’s a platitude that’s easy to dish out along with ‘let’s have a cup of tea’. Yet you don’t always want sympathy and this can grate. You know you need time for the wounds to heal and then you can move on, but you want it to happen NOW.
So, this is natural. Yes, pain is hard and you want the pain to go away. But the five stages of grief make up our learning to come to terms with what’s happened and the loss we feel. You need to let them take their course. You may have moved on from the denial stage, or the anger, the bargaining, and the depression. You might even be moving into the acceptance stage but boy is this taking a long time. One friend of mine took a year to hit the social scene after a painful break up, preferring to stay home alone in front of the TV and wood burner, than face the bright lights and loud music of the city’s singles and bar scene. The first time she went ‘out out’, she said felt like a rabbit in the headlights, and bolted back to the safety of her home to lick her wounds. You see, it WAS too soon for her. Yes! She needed TIME. Give yourself time. Don’t rush this. Go at your own pace.
Or perhaps you simply don’t have the time it dedicate to working out how and when to separate… You are ‘just too busy’….. The kids must come first. You’ve got the christening of the best man’s baby daughter as well as Aunt Joan’s second wedding coming up and you really should put on a united front for that.
The thing is – there is probably no good time to separate. Are you putting off the inevitable? Or will time give you the chance to work out what is the right thing to do. Only you know the answer to that but perhaps a good starting point is to get some discrete advice from someone who knows about these things and who can help.
Divorce lawyers – we have a bad press but a lot of us really do care about our clients. We don’t assume you’ve come to see us about a divorce. The first thing we ask is “how can I help” and the second is “do you want to save your marriage”.
Obstacle 5 – Money
Every family is different. Many families simply cannot afford to rent 2 homes or live in 2 homes. There might not be enough to go around. “We can’t afford a divorce”. Arguably it depends on what you consider to be ’cost’. The potential damage to your physical health, mental health, and your children by staying in an unhappy marriage has a cost. Is this is a cost you want to pay?
The thought of legal fees may also be scary. Many lawyers offer discounted rates for first meeting. There are pro bono centres offering legal advice such as CAB (www.citizensadvice.org.uk) and local Law Centres. In Cambridge there is the Anglia Law School Law Clinic (www.anglia.ac.uk) and in Norwich there is Norfolk Community Law Service (www.ncls.co.uk)
Legal aid is no longer available, other than in more exceptional cases and mediation.
How about DIY? Did you know that in 2018 the government introduced an online FREE divorce portal called ‘Get a Divorce’ and which can be found at www.gov.uk/apply-for-divorce? You’ll still need to pay the (rather hefty) court fee – currently £550 but low income earners can apply for a reduction on that fee.
Finances and children may also need to be sorted out. You will be well advised to get advice and representation for that. Yet, the more you and your spouse can agree between you, the less the costs will be. Many lawyers are happy to work on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis or what is known as ‘unbundled’ in the trade. Seeing a divorce lawyer is not a conveyor belt to a contested expensive divorce. Yes, in some cases the costs can be eye watering but there might be good reasons for that. Most cases can be settled out of court using lawyers, using mediation (www.familymedationcouncil.org.uk) and for those that need more formality there is also arbitration (www.ifla.org.uk).
Obstacle 6 – Letting go
It’s really hard to let go of something that was once so precious and special…. So familiar comfortable, natural. But it’s part of the rite of passage to the future and to help you move on. It’s hard to let go of the hopethat you had for your future. To realign your expectation that life is going to look very different to how you envisaged. You know, give yourself time, get good advice, and surround yourself with those who love you. The future could be a lot brighter than you think it might be.
If you think we can help you overcome the obstacles to moving on, get in touch.
FM Family Law
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