News & views

What the papers say

Adultery, mistreatment or inability to consummate marriage were some of the reasons given for almost 70,000 divorces listed by family history website

Are you curious about reasons given then? Read full article

The Sun quoted gaga as saying,
"Divorce is not an option. I'm going to get married and that's it, he's stuck with me. I want to find a man that feels the same."

The singer would like to make any marriage of her own work, especially after seeing her parents struggled in theire but managed to stay together.

"My grandmother was married to my grandfather for 60 years. My parents have been married for over 30."

Scottish divorces
Accrding to, 9 March 2012, the proportion of children born outside marriage is at an all-time high, but divorces have hit a 30-year low, according to new figures from the Registrar General for Scotlan. Read the full Scotland divorce article
See more about Scotland divorce law

Celebrate 101st International Women's Day
The best and worst places in the world to be a woman
By Sarah Morrison
Wednesday Mar 7 2012

This article includes the best 20 places to be a woman starting with

1. Best place to be a woman: Iceland

Iceland has the greatest equality between men and women, taking into account politics, education, employment and health indicators. The UK comes in at 16th place, down one since 2010. The worst is Yemen, and the most dangerous is Afghanistan.

Click on the link to read the full article: Belfast Telegraph


Ministry of Justice

Major overhaul to reform family justice system
06 February 2012

Children and Families in England and Wales will benefit from major reforms to the family justice system which will tackle delays, streamline processes and rebuild trust.

In the government’s response to the recommendations made by the independent family justice review panel, ministers have outlined their plans to reform the system to help strengthen parenting, reduce the time it takes cases to progress through the courts, and simplify the family justice system.

Shared parenting for the best interests of the child:

  • The changes in education and the introduction of parenting agreements which the review recommended will help ensure better recognition of the joint role of parents within wider society.
  • We also accept the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts recognise the joint nature of parenting. We will therefore make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child's best interests. The government is mindful of the lessons which must be learnt from the Australian experience of legislating in this area, which were highlighted by the Review and led them to urge caution. We will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.

Speeding up care and adoption cases by reforming the public law system and increasing transparency. We have already begun to publish data on the timeliness of court cases so we can see where delays are occurring. We will introduce legislation at the earliest opportunity to enable a six month time limit to be set and wherever possible we expect cases to be completed more quickly, while retaining the flexibility to extend complex cases where this is genuinely in the children’s interest.

Simplifying the family justice system to help separating couples reach lasting agreement speedily, if possible without going to court. We will make it mandatory for separating parents who propose court action to resolve a dispute about their child to have an initial assessment to see if mediation is something which would be suitable instead, to help them agree on the arrangements for their child. We estimate that we will spend an extra £10m a year on legal aid for family mediation taking the total to £25m per year (although we have placed no upper limit on this figure). We will also examine how to give the courts more robust enforcement tools to combat failure to comply with judgments.

Driving culture change and better cross-system working through the establishment of a new family justice board, accountable to ministers, made up of senior figures representing the key organisations who play a role within the system and who will have a clear remit to improve performance.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

'The reform of family justice and child protection is a critical priority for Government. Our reforms are ambitious and system-wide and particularly tackle the crucial problem of delay.

'More use of mediation, more effective court processes and more efficient provision of advice will help to create a family justice system which can better resolve these difficult emotional problems in the best interests of children and families.'

Children’s Minister Tim Loughton said:

'It is unacceptable for vulnerable children, who come into the court system through no fault of their own, to be waiting an average of 55 weeks for a decision about their future.

'The introduction of a new six month time limit on care cases sends a clear signal to everyone involved in the process that we want to see radical improvement. Speeding up the court system, and getting earlier decisions about a child’s future, will help ensure that more children are found loving homes more quickly.'

'On the issue of shared parenting, we accept the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts properly recognise the joint nature of parenting. We will be legislating to emphasise the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after separation, where that is safe and in the child's best interests.'

Family justice review Chair, David Norgrove said:

'I welcome the government response to the family justice review. The review presented the government with a bold and challenging agenda for change. I am pleased the government have accepted the overwhelming majority of our recommendations. The result should be to reduce the long delays that are so damaging to children and families and to help separating couples sort out their issues for themselves to the benefit of their children.'

Other key commitments in the government’s response are:

  • to consider how parenting agreements could be used to emphasise the need for parents to consider how the child can maintain a relationship with other close family members, such as grandparents
  • to reduce expense and delay caused by the excessive use of expert reports, strengthening their quality and ensuring only essential reports are commissioned
  • to reduce the amount of time spent by judges and courts scrutinising care plans, focusing instead on the core or essential components when making care orders
  • to bring court social work closer to other court services by transferring Cafcass sponsorship to the Ministry of Justice;
  • to create a single family court across England and Wales, with a single point of entry, to simplify the system and make it more accessible for families using the system.

    Government response to Family Justice Review


You may have heard about pre-nups but today a post-nup is in the news:
Russian oligarch's ex-wife wins £12.5m after 'unfair' post-nup
Donna Bowater 19 January 2012 The Telegraph
The former wife of a Russian oligarch has won a divorce payout of £12.5 million after a judge ruled the postnuptial agreement she signed was ‘grossly unfair’. Read Telegraph article.

Legal-aid cuts of £350m will bring chaos to courts, judges fear
Litigants, some with mental health problems, will be forced to represent themselves in emotional divorce and childcare cases

The number of people who represent themselves in the civil courts – because they cannot afford a lawyer and fall outside the limits that are set for legal-aid funding – is about to rise because of government funding cuts, leaving courts braced for a growing number of vulnerable people fighting their own, often chaotic, cases.

Litigants-in-person, as they are known, see Legal aid divorce chaos

Couples will be forced to consider mediation
By Wesley Johnson, PA
Reprinted with permission of The Independent

Wednesday, 23 February 2011
Couples will be forced to consider mediation to resolve any disputes before resorting to the courts under a shake-up of the divorce system.

Justice minister Jonathan Djanogly, who has said people are often too willing to hand over their personal problems for the state to solve, said mediation was "a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative".

The move follows a recommendation from the Family Justice Review report that was intended to cut the strain on the system as an increasing number of parents become involved in legal wrangles over children and money.

All separating couples will have to consider mediation first before turning to the courts to settle disputes from April 6 under a new agreement between judges and the Ministry of Justice.

The proposals represent an extension of the system already in place for couples granted legal aid.

Mr Djanogly said: "Mediation is a quicker, cheaper and more amicable alternative, particularly where children are concerned.

"Nearly every time I ask someone if their stressful divorce battle through the courts was worth it, their answer is no.

"Mediation already helps thousands of legally-aided people across England and Wales every year, but I am concerned those funding their own court actions are missing out on the benefits it can bring.

"Now everyone will have the opportunity to see if it could be a better solution than going straight to court."

A spokesman for the ministry said many people repeatedly go to court to argue over matters they are better-placed to sort out themselves, such as securing 30 minutes extra contact time with children or varying their allocated contact days.

About 137,000 such cases were dealt with in 2009, a rise of 16%, figures showed.

In cases where either party or the mediator feel that mediation will not be suitable, the cases will continue towards the court system.

Cases involving domestic violence or child protection issues will still bypass mediation and go straight to court.

Mediation was also cheaper than going to court, the ministry said, with data from legal aid cases showing the average cost per client of mediation as £535, compared with £2,823 for cases going to court.

The average time for a case using legally-aided mediation is 110 days, compared with 435 days for court cases on similar issues, National Audit Office figures showed.

In October, David Norgrove, chairman of the Whitehall review, said there was currently a "tremendous strain" on the system which was "really intolerable" for children and their parents.

The move comes after Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke's plans to scrap civil legal aid for a range of cases, including disputes over relationship break-ups, were condemned as "crude and brutal" by legal experts, with actress Joanna Lumley backing a campaign to urge Mr Clarke to think again.

But Mr Djanogly has insisted that, at more than £2 billion a year, the legal aid bill in England and Wales is far more per head than most other countries.

"Our proposals aim to radically reform the system and encourage people to take advantage of the most appropriate sources of help, advice or routes to resolution - which will not always involve the expense of lawyers or courts," he said.

Divorce numbers fall to lowest since 1974
By Paula Fentiman, PA

Thursday, 17 February 2011
Reprinted with permission of The Independent

The number of couples getting divorced is going down, according to the latest official figures.

Data published by the Office for National Statistics showed the number of divorces in England and Wales in 2009 was 113,949, a 6.4% decrease since 2008 when there were 121,708, and the lowest since 1974.

It is the sixth consecutive year that the number of divorces has fallen, from a peak of 153,065 in 2003.

The figures equate to a rate of 10.5 people divorcing per 1,000 married population in 2009, down from a rate of 11.2 in 2008, the ONS said.

This is the lowest rate since 1977, when there were 10.3 divorcing people per 1,000 married people.

Compared with 2008, divorce rates fell across all age groups for both men and women, while for the fifth year running those in their late 20s had the highest divorce rates.

In that age group, there were 21.7 men and 25.1 women divorcing per 1,000 married males and females.

Meanwhile, the ONS figures revealed the average age at divorce increased slightly for men and women in 2009 - 44 for men in 2009 compared with 43.9 in 2008, and 41.5 for women compared with 41.4 in 2008.

Across the UK, the number of divorces fell by 7% to 126,496 in 2009, down from 135,994 in 2008.

Tycoon Scot Young and his estranged wife return to the High Court today over matters said to relate to the £27,500 a month maintenance he was ordered to pay. Michelle Young is claiming she has not received any money from the man she says is worth £400 million. Mr Young claims he is massively in debt.

Mrs Justice Black, who made the order last December, will hear today's action in London. She ordered Mr Young to make the maintenance payments for his wife's living and legal expenses until his financial affairs become "clearer" at a full hearing in May to divide the assets of their marriage.

In a statement, Mrs Young said for three years her husband had refused to give full and frank disclosure of his assets.

"While 'the fixer' to Russian oligarchs and British billionaires claims to be 'penniless' he still has the means to retain some of Britain's finest legal representation."

She added: "I'm doing this to make sure that my daughters and I won't have to worry for the future and at the same time this is a process to make history for an important case like this to receive public funding.

"This is 20 years of my life, this has had such a huge effect on me and my daughters. Like so many women, so many families in this situation, I want to stand up and make this change for justice."

The judge was told at the December hearing that 47-year-old Mr Young was given £1.2 million over three years by friends to pay for his and his estranged wife's living expenses because he is broke.

The couple were married in 1995 and separated in 2006 when Mrs Young returned to the UK and petitioned for divorce a year later. Mr Young is claiming, said the judge, that he has no capital to pay his wife's maintenance and had £28.5 million in debts.

He said money had been provided through the generosity of friends but they may no longer be prepared to do so after their names appeared in newspapers on the "instigation" of the wife. The judge said "matters went off track" in the court proceedings almost immediately when Mr Young provided details of his assets which were "virtually useless".

"The parties have historically lived a luxurious lifestyle on money made by the husband in the course of his activities as an entrepreneur and property dealer." She said he claimed he now had nothing but debts but was trying to get back into business and hoped to start generating income again.

In the meantime he was continuing to borrow money from friends to maintain his wife and children until he is able to earn again. Mrs Justice Black said Mrs Young had questioned the "change of fortune" and whether it was real.

At a hearing earlier last year, another High Court judge found Mr Young in contempt for failing to provide more information about his assets and sentenced him to six months in jail, suspended, to give him a chance to provide full details.

The decision over whether to impose the sentence was postponed again when Mr Young provided large amounts of material, said Mrs Justice Black. The judge said his true worth will not be known until an examination of the material.

She said Mr Young did not have a bank account and said he was living on £150 a week provided by a friend.
The judge said Mrs Young had been living on her capital since the funding stopped last year and now had just £30,000 left and owed £180,000 to divorce solicitors.

By Stephen Howard, Press Association

Thursday, 22 April 201. Reprinted with permission of The Independent

We mustn’t divorce ourselves from marriage. Scared politicians shy away from promoting it, but this special institution endures

Yesterday, Baroness Deech, the Chairman of the Bar Standards Board, announced that English law no longer has a clear concept of marriage. Quoting the legal definition of it as the “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others”, she said: “Such is the transformation of family law and family life that not one word of this remains true.” In other words we are now all too promiscuous, selfish, flighty, fussy or needy to remain in wedded bliss.
Read the full Times Online article by Alice Thomson

Family conflict significantly harms children’s happiness, says groundbreaking study (27 January 2010)

Children’s well-being is far more strongly influenced by levels of family conflict than by family structure, according to new research by The Children’s Society into what makes young people happy.

Young people who felt that their family got along well together had much higher average levels of well-being than those who did not, irrespective of the family structure they lived in.

In the first comprehensive investigation of childhood well-being – or happiness - from a young person’s point of view thousands of pupils* were asked to respond to statements such as ‘My family gets along well together' and 'Members of my family talk nicely to one another' scoring themselves on a scale ranging from 'strongly disagree' to 'strongly agree.' They were also asked questions exploring the impact on well-being of family structure, such as living in a lone or step parent family.

The difference between a young person's family getting along - and not - explained 20% of the variation in overall happiness with life, whereas differences in family structure only explained 2%.

The power of family conflict to undermine children’s lives is just one of many findings in the groundbreaking new study, Understanding Children’s Well-being: A National Survey of Young People’s Well-Being, conducted by The Children’s Society in collaboration with the University of York and research organisation Ipsos MORI.

In the two-year study, a team of researchers put around 100 questions to just under 7,000 children aged 10 to 15, including just over 4,700 from secondary schools. They were asked to rate how happy they were on a scale from 0 to 10 with many aspects of their lives. This is a pioneering approach because previous surveys have tended to focus on problems seen by adults as measures of well-being, rather than the views of young people, as in this survey.

The aim of the research was to develop a more precise understanding of the factors that make young people happy and to create a benchmark “well-being index.” The Children’s Society plans to use the index to measure how the well-being of UK children changes at two-year intervals. Today’s launch reveals the main findings on overall wellbeing and we plan to publish more results from the rest of the very detailed survey in a series of forthcoming reports.

Other key findings include:
· An average of two children in every class surveyed were unhappy: The researchers interviewed 6,744 young people in years 6, 8 and 10. A large majority placed themselves above the mid-point on the happiness measure. But 7% were significantly unhappy, which equates to 140,000 of the 1.8 million children in these 3 year groups.

· Children are least happy with their appearance and confidence: 17.5% said that they were unhappy with their appearance, and 16% were unhappy with their confidence. Almost twice as many girls (21%) were unhappy with their appearance as boys (12%). Young Black African / Caribbean and Pakistani / Bangladeshi children were significantly happier with their appearance than white children.

· After appearance and confidence the aspects that children were least happy with were their local area (14%) and school work (12%).

· Other areas where more than 10% of children were unhappy were the amount of freedom and choice they had in life and expectations about the future. The study highlights the importance of a sense of autonomy as a fundamental ingredient of a good childhood.

· Recent changes in family structure had a small but significant association with lower well-being among secondary school pupils. The average well-being of young people who had experienced a change in the adults they lived with over the last year was 6.8 out of 10, compared to the average of 7.5 for this age group.

· As young people get older, they tend to become less happy with their lives. Average well-being fell from around 8.0 out of 10 in the last year of primary school to around 7.4 for young people aged 14 to 15. Between these age groups, happiness with many aspects of life such as family relationships and school also fell, but happiness with friendships remained stable.

· Boys tended to be happier than girls, although the differences were not that large. However the gap in well-being increased with age. Amongst the 14 to 15 age group, girls’ average well-being was 7.2 out of 10, compared to 7.6 for boys.

The survey’s co-author, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the University
of York, said: “This survey makes a major contribution to our understanding of children's subjective well-being in England and the factors that contribute to it. It also establishes a valuable benchmark that we can use to track changes in well-being over time.’’

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: ‘’This groundbreaking study is a major step forward in our efforts to understand and enhance the well-being of young people.  It shows the vast majority of our children are happy, but it is a major concern that two children in every classroom are unhappy, and that so many are insecure about their appearance and confidence.

'Family conflict emerges in this study as a major cause of childhood unhappiness, and so it is vital that families can get the sort of family mediation and counselling. The Children’s Society offers to help them resolve and avoid conflicts.  This report is a stark reminder that our actions as adults can have a profound impact on our children's well-being – and the importance of listening to what children are telling us."
The Children’s Society is a leading children’s charity committed to making childhood better for all children in the UK;

The British Family
1. Marriage

This is a very thought-provoking opening programme in this new series. Kirsty Young begins a history of how British families have changed since the Second World War by looking at marriage.

Using vibrant archive footage and bittersweet interviews, she examines how, from the 1940s to the late 1960s, marriage was transformed from a sometimes stifling institution into a more equal relationship. She discovers that although many marriages are now happier, the growing tide of divorce continues unstemmed.

Broadcast on:
BBC Two, 9:00pm Monday 11th January 2010
59 minutes
Available until:
9:59pm Monday 8th February 2010
See Divorce Aid recommended programme/BBC2

Women are almost invariably worse
off than men as the result of a marriage breakdown – in
particular in relation to long term savings and pensions, reports Lisa Buckingham, Editor, Financial Mail on Sunday
in her foreward to the new Women and Pensions Report.
It has been another year of unremittingly gloomy
financial and economic headlines, though women
have been holding onto their jobs rather better
than expected.
However, this year’s Women and Pensions report reveals
that this is pretty much isolated good news with many of
the major indicators pointing to a worsening outlook for
retirement saving.
Men and women are, it is true, saving more for ‘life after
work’ but the report shows that the savings gap between
the sexes is actually widening.
This is particularly true for older women, for many of
whom increased longevity simply means living longer
in comparative or actual poverty.
Read the full women and pensions report

New survey on chances of a happy marriage
The secret to a happy marriage for men is choosing a wife who is smarter and at least five years younger than you, say UK experts.
Read the full article.
BBC/Divorce and Marriage

Men are seven times more likely than women to leave a seriously ill partner, a study has found. So why are males less able to cope?
This is a thought-provoking article and may hit a nerve with some peoople.

Looking at the comments to date, it seems that this survey has explained quite a lot to women who have been abandoned during serious illness.

'Cancer was, says Lesley Forrester, far easier to deal with than her husband’s reaction to her diagnosis. “We had been together for ten years and I thought he was quite sensitive and caring, but he stunned me by becoming totally repelled by my body once I told him,” says the 41-year-old from Bedfordshire.'
Read the full article in The Times Online at Divorce and Illhealth

13 July 2009
'Every Family Matters' - Radical reform of family law proposed including a 3 month cooling-off period
The authors of this report are a high-powered team of lawyers led by Divorce Aid's senior consultant David Hodson of London-based The International Family Law Group

A compulsory three-month “cooling off” period in which estranged couples must find out about the implications of a divorce is recommended in a major new report on family law reform to be published tomorrow (Monday).

The compulsory delay before divorce proceedings could begin would be used to encourage both parties to reflect on their marriage and to gather information about the scope for reconciliation and key issues such as the financial impact of a split.

Read full report Every family matters

May 2009 The Guardian Life & Style
10 things you must tell your teenage girl

The teenage years can be a constant battle. Author Kaz Cooke reveals the essential information you should give your daughter to help you both survive and Divorce Aid is featured as No 4:

4. Talk openly about family problems
If you're in a family that is separating, it can be a turbulent time in which a teenager's questions and feelings are accidentally overlooked. I consulted a few experts about the ways families can keep up communication, and there are also some useful websites. Teens can try sites such as (click on teens) and Parents can get help from (the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service).
See full article at Guardian/Divorce Aid

Family courts open up to the media
Scroll down for report on first day 27 April 2009
Family courts across England and Wales are opening up to the media, but many of their cases will remain unreportable.

Although rules have been changed to allow reporters to attend many more family court hearings, reporting restrictions mean that in many cases journalists who do attend will not be able to write about what they see and hear...Copyright © 2009 The Press Association
Read full article

You can come into court - but you cannot report anything without the judge's say-so
That was the general message sent out to journalists at the High Court in London today - the first day that media representatives were allowed to attend Family Division hearings.
Read the full article by PA Mediapoint

Selfish adults 'threat to children'
By Stephen Howard, Press Association. Thursday, 22 April 201
An aggressive pursuit of personal success by adults is now the "greatest threat" to the wellbeing and happiness of children, according to a landmark inquiry.
Copyright © 2009 The Press Association
Read full article

Madonna and Ritchie 'set to divorce'
Staff and agencies
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
The Indpendent

Rumours are resurfacing that pop star Madonna and her husband, the film director Guy Ritchie, are to divorce very soon.

Reports in The Sun newspaper this morning say that the couple, who have been married for almost eight years, are to announce their split "imminently".

Speculation has mounted over recent months that the couple's relationship was in trouble, but in July Madonna's publicist denied the pair were planning to divorce, saying their marriage did not "need saving" and the pair appeared together at the premier of Mr Ritchie's latest film RocknRolla where the pair walked posed together for photographs in London's Leicester Square.

Mr Ritchie, 40, also rebutted suggestions his marriage was over with a public show of support at Madonna's 50th birthday party in August and gave a US magazine interview in July saying: "My marriage is fine, as far as I'm aware of."

Madonna is currently in New York in the middle of her Sticky and Sweet tour.

The pair married in December 2000 at Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands.

They have two sons together, seven-year-old Rocco and David Banda, who was adopted from Malawi amidst much controversy last year.

The singer also has an 11-year-old daughter, Lourdes, from an earlier relationship.

First published in The Independent. Reproduced with permission.

Latest news: Matt Lucas hires royal legal team to 'divorce' his partner
By Arifa Akbar, Arts Correspondent, The Indpenedent
Thursday, 19 June 2008
The comedian and Little Britain creator, Matt Lucas, has announced that he is splitting up with his partner of six years after getting "married" in a high-profile civil partnership ceremony 18 months ago.

The couple, who shared a £1.5m home in north-west London, are the first gay celebrity couple to "divorce" since the civil partnership laws were introduced and their split could be seen as a test case. Some have speculated that Lucas could end up paying his former partner millions of pounds following the break-up.

Lucas has employed the same high-profile law company – Mishcon de Reya - used by Heather Mills and Diana, Princess of Wales, in their divorce battles.

In a joint statement Lucas and his partner, Kevin McGee, said: "It is with sadness that Matt and Kevin announce that their relationship has come to an end. Their separation is amicable."

Lucas is believed to have earned £6m in 2006 from the BBC and other deals for his comedy work, and his personal fortune is estimated to stand anywhere between £10m and £20m. Under conventional divorce law, Mr McGee is entitled to half of this money but it is unclear what he is entitled to under a civil partnership arrangement.

James Stewart, a divorce lawyer, said: "A civil partnership is a marriage in all but name. Couples have the same rights and responsibilities and that goes for the finances as well."

It is unclear who will retain the house. They had been together for three years and were engaged for seven months before their civil ceremony. Their service was described as low key, taking place at Home House, a private members' club in London, but the reception, at Banqueting House in Whitehall, was one of the biggest showbiz events of the year – a lavish pantomime-themed event with a host of British and Hollywood celebrities who came in fancy dress.

Lucas, 34, wore an elaborate Aladdin costume while McGee, who is a television producer, turned up as Prince Charming.

Guests at the reception included the singer Sir Elton John, the actresses Barbara Windsor and Courtney Love, and Lucas's Little Britain comedy partner, David Walliams.

Lucas, who is best known among his fans as "the only gay in the village" after one of his most popular catchphrases in Little Britain, said at the time that he was "very much in love". He said: "We're going to have a civil partnership, or marriage, or whatever you like to call it. We are very much in love, but also it's important that gay couples have the same rights as straight couples."

The couple "married" shortly after civil partnership laws enabling same-sex legal unions came into force in December 2005.

They met in a nightclub in 2002 and became engaged in 2006. Lucas, who said little about his partner before the ceremony, except that "he's beardy... I love him very much". He added that he thought Mr McGee resembled the pop singer, Daniel Bedingfield, which is why he called him "Baby Bedingfield".

Lucas grew up in north London and achieved fame alongside his comedy partner, Walliams, with his sketch show which was originally produced for radio but was later screened on prime time television and then went out on tour. An American version of the show is in the process of being made by Lucas and Walliams for HBO.

Many of the often grotesque characters in the show had their own catchphrases and ranged from an unemployed teenage mother, Vicky Pollard, to a supposedly wheelchair-bound man and an obese woman at a health farm who became household names.

Such was its appeal that at its height, a spate of celebrities accepted cameo roles in a one-off stage version, including the model Kate Moss and the actor Denis Waterman. A number of notable figures also appeared as characters in the TV show including the comedians Dawn French and Rob Brydon.
First published in The Independent. Reproduced with permission.

Nearly half of all marriages in Britain will end in divorce before their 50th wedding anniversary, according to recent figures announced by the Office for National Statistics
The Law Society is advising anyone considering divorce to seek expert legal advice from a specialist family law solicitor.

Andrew Holroyd, Law Society President, says, ‘Divorce is stressful, the legalities can be complicated, and emotions can cloud reasoning, so it is important to consult an expert from the outset to receive independent, impartial, objective advice from someone who will steer you clear of the legal pitfalls and safeguard your interests.’

The reality is that the absence of an experienced specialist family lawyer in a family case puts the client at a significant disadvantage and slows down the legal process. ...
Read full article

Marriage rates in England and Wales have fallen to their lowest level since records began
By Margaret Davis, PA, The Independent
Wednesday, 26 March 2000
Marriage rates have fallen to the lowest level since records began, according to figures released today.

Provisional figures for 2006 published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal the number of marriages fell 4 per cent to 236,980 compared to the previous year.

The marriage rate for men over 16 was 22.8 per 1,000, and for women 20.5; the lowest rate since 1862.

This is the culmination of a steady decrease in the number of marriages in recent decades, bar a brief rise between 2002 and 2004.

The average age for those getting hitched has gone up by around five years since 1991, and in 2006 the average age for a first marriage was 31.8 for men and 29.7 for women.

The figures also reveal that more people are getting remarried.

Since 1981, the number of unions that were the first for both people has fallen by more than a third, accounting for 61 per cent of marriages in 2006.

Remarriages have fallen by a quarter in the 25 years to 2006.

Since 1992 there have been more civil ceremonies in the UK than religious.

The 2006 figures show that 66 per cent of ceremonies were civil, up 1 per cent on the previous year and up from 47 per cent since 1990.

Religious ceremonies continued to decline in popularity, down 7 per cent since 2005 and by half since 1991. Over the same 25-year period the total number of marriages fell 23 per cent.

Additional finalised figures for 2005, also published today, show that the sharpest fall in the number of marriages occurred in London (29 per cent) and the smallest in the North East (3%).

Divorce rates also fell by 8% compared to 2004.

The decrease in the number of marriages has been partly put down to a change in the law in February 2005, designed to crack down on "sham" marriages carried out for purposes such as securing a visa.

Judge awards Heather Mills a settlement of £24.3million in her divorce with Sir Paul McCartney
According to David Byers and agencies of Times Online,

Heather Mills said she was "very, very pleased" and stated that she had been offered £15.8million by Sir Paul.

The media will be full of stories today and in the coming weeks but Times Online went on to qote Heather Mills as saying,

'I don't remember the figures because the most important thing is just to get this over and done with.'
Story at Times Online
See our article re Litigants in person

Mills/McCartney High Court Ruling
As the couple were unable to reach a decision about the split of their finances earlier this month, the Judge, Mr Justice Bennet, will decide what the settlement should be.

According to the Judicial Communications Office, the Judge will hand down his ruling on March 17. He will then decide 'whether or not to make the judgment public in whole or in part,' a statement revealed.
Read the full BBC News article

View our Divorce Video
Divorce Aid is pleased to announce that their video 'What to do when your friend gets divorced' made in conjunction with VideoJug (Life Explained on Film), is now available for viewing online. It is aimed at the younger age group but its advice is of course applicable to older age groups. To date, over 2000 people have viewed it.
See it at What to do when your friend gets divorced

Honeymoon is over for gay weddings
Ceremonies fall by 55 per cent after a boom year
The number of gay weddings has plummeted by more than 50 per cent in the past year. Civil partnerships became legal for homosexuals in December 2005, allowing them to acquire the same sorts of tax and pension rights as straight married couples.
Initially, thousands of gay and lesbian couples held ceremonies. However, a survey by the Local Government Association found that all the 40 councils across England they surveyed had experienced a fall in the number taking place - the figures show an average drop of 55 per cent in 2007 from 2006...
Denis Campbell
Sunday February 3 2008
Read full story at The Observer

Chinese divorce rate rockets as little emperors grow up
Rosalind Ryan and agencies
Friday January 25, 2008
A leap in the Chinese divorce rate last year of nearly 20% has been blamed by experts on the country's restrictive one-child policy and a loosening of divorce laws.
Read full article at Guardian Unlimited

Discovering the real cost of divorce helped my own marriage to last
This is a very honest article by Daisy Goodwin in this week's Daily Mail, Femail section. She recalls her thoughts and emotions when her mother left and her father remarried.
Certainly, it is only now, after 19 years with my husband, that I realise how profoundly my own life was altered by my parents' divorce. ... Pretty soon afterwards he (my father) married my stepmother, Christine, and so, from the age of seven, I lived a divided existence.
Read the full article at Daily Mail/Divorce Story

'McCartney and Mills set to agree '£60m' divorce
By Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, The Independent
Published: 12 October 2007 Reproduced here by permission of The Independent
Sir Paul McCartney and his estranged wife, Heather Mills, are close to reaching an agreement over a divorce deal claimed to be worth as much as £60m after a secret meeting at the High Court in London.

Sir Paul and Ms Mills began the first stage of a mediation process that ius designed to find common ground between the two parties over the financial value of the settlement.

Accompanied by their lawyers, the couple arrived separately at the Royal Courts of Justice yesterday before heading for a hearing in Court 16, where they spent the day thrashing out terms. The press and public were strictly excluded from the court.

A final deal could outstrip the £48m that the insurance broker John Charman, 53, was ordered to pay to his former wife, Beverley, in May which was the biggest contested divorce settlement to date.

Sir Paul and Ms Mills, 39, who have a three-year-old daughter, Beatrice, announced last May that they were ending their four-year marriage. The 65-year-old musician, estimated to be worth £825m, is expected to consent to a structured settlement which would provide Ms Mills with a lump sum on top of further payments for the care and support of his daughter until she reaches the age of 18.

Since news of the breakdown of the marriage first emerged, estimates of how much Ms Mills would be paid have been the subject of wild speculation, with some media suggesting a figure of £200m. Most lawyers agree that because the marriage was a short one, any agreement will be worth much less.

In January, lawyers for Ms Mills denied she had been offered £32m.

Her solicitors, Mishcon de Reya, said in response to an article published in the News of the World: "There has been no offer made whatsoever at any time to our client and therefore no settlement has been agreed."

According to sources close to the couple last night, the mediation process was continuing and was unlikely to yield an immediate settlement.

When the couple announced their split, Sir Paul denied statements that his wife had married him for his money and said the parting was "amicable" . But subsequent spats in the courts over what was believed to be care of their child and public statements by Ms Mills did not support this.

They married in June 2002, four years after Sir Paul's first wife, Linda, died of breast cancer. Linda and Sir Paul married in 1969 and had three children, Mary, Stella and James.

That marriage was one of the entertainment world's most enduring unions. After Linda's death, a family spokesman said they had "never spent a night apart in the 30 years that they have loved one another".

Sir Paul and Ms Mills met at a charity event in 1999 and their relationship immediately made headlines, not simply because of the difference in their ages but also because of the supposed disapproval of Sir Paul's children.

The world's media were waiting yesterday when Sir Paul and Ms Mills arrived at First Avenue House in Holborn. In an attempt to evade press intrusion they arrived separately in cars at the back of the court building. Sir Paul wore a dark-grey suit and Ms Mills was covered in a blanket as she was helped from the car to the court building by minders.

Once inside the court building, they used the judge's stairs – a completely separate route within the public building – to reach Court 16.

Before the hearing began at 10.30am, the spyhole in the court door was covered from the inside and a row of office chairs was placed across the corridor to blockade the entrance.

Sir Paul left the gallery at 9.15pm, but not before his waiting car appeared to narrowly miss getting a ticket. To a storm of flashbulbs, he walked on to the pavement and into the road.

For a short while, Sir Paul posed in the middle of a media scrum before saying that he was off.
Ms Mills left later with her head covered.
First published in The Independent. Reproduced with permission.

Youth conduct problems in lone parent families increase at the same rate as other types of familes says new controversial report from the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College, London
Some food for thought for all of us
See King's College report

Even French football striker Thierry Henry feels the effects of his recent divorce
It must be difficult changing clubs after a painful divorce with everyone expecting goal after goal. Robert Pires says that Henry is weighed down by his divorce and no wonder he hasn't scored yet.
Read Reuters report

Osama bin Laden's son and British wife to divorce
A British woman who married a son of the world's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, is to divorce because of fears she and her husband will be killed, a report said Wednesday.
"We are both in fear of our lives," Jane Felix-Browne told The Sun. "People are opposed to my marriage because I am British. I wasn't prepared to see the man I love die. That is why we have decided to end our marriage."
Read the full AFP article

So, what's in a kiss?
Well, it all depends if you are a man or a woman according to new research by the University of Albany in America. Men tend to use kissing as a means to an end and women, on the other hand, see kissing as a way of assessing their relationship. Males tend to use it as a means of achieving sex..Research also confirmd that the fisrt kiss can be a real turn-off...
Read the article at Science Daily

Estranged husband not entitled to share of wife's £35million Lottery win under Scottish divorce law says Leonard Mair, an expert in Scottish family law at Morton Fraser, and a member Divorce Aid.
Scottish family law is quite different from the English system.
'When a couple separates in Scotland, a list of assets and liabilities is drawn up and divided between each side...

But Gerry Cunningham is a lucky man. Despite separating from his wife Angela eight years ago, she has reportedly promised to share her good fortune with him.
Read Times Online Article by Micheal Herman
See Morton Fraser Solicitors details in Edinburgh and Glasgow

The Body Shop survey shows that teen attitudes are a time bomb to domestic violence
Thu, 9th Aug 07
Research released today by The Body Shop, as part of their Stop Violence in the Home Campaign, reveals that the next generation will be as much at risk of domestic violence as today unless action is taken to educate young people on developing positive and respectful relationships.

The research showed that 1 in 5 teens (21%) believe it’s ok to tell a boyfriend or girlfriend what to do, with the figure rising to more than one in four (27%) in young men. A further 1 in 10 teens think saying sorry makes it ok after they’ve hurt or forced a partner to do something. A worrying statistic considering that on average, a woman will be assaulted by her partner or ex-partner 35 times before reporting it to the police.*

Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid commented:

“This research is very worrying. As young people enter relationships for the first time they must be aware that allowing consistent power and control over a partner in any relationship is abusive and not acceptable. We need to work harder to reach young people and make them aware of the risks”.

In light of the fact that one in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime*, The Body Shop® survey findings paint a worrying picture of youngsters attitudes towards domestic violence. Many do not seem to realise that domestic violence does not have to be physical or where emotional abuse can lead, suggesting that there is need for greater awareness at an early age to tackle this issue.

Zuni, 17, a survivor of domestic violence, said:

"My ex-boyfriend was very controlling, he used to check my phone, tell me what to wear and who I couldn’t be friends with. On one occasion he slapped me in front of his friends because I 'answered him back'. He made me feel really bad about myself and that I was always the one in the wrong. If I did what he said - things would be ok. I wish I’d known then that his behaviour was the problem - not mine. I think it’s really important for young people to know what a healthy relationship really is and that they don’t have to put up with being treated badly, like I did. I was lucky to leave but others might not be. Young people have to spot the signs early”

Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid commented:

“The only way we can do this is being able to finance awareness campaigns and offer support services aimed at young people. Contributions from companies like The Body Shop are vital in tackling domestic violence ”

Toby Morgan, Values Manager for The Body Shop® UK & ROI commented:

"The report highlights a number of grey areas in young people’s attitudes to domestic violence, particularly emotional abuse and where the boundaries lie. There is a need for greater awareness and support of charities like Women’s Aid so that help and information is available for young people. Throughout 2007, The Body Shop® is raising much needed funds for Women’s Aid by donating all profits from sales of our special edition pink Hi-Shine Lip Treatment** to the charity".

The survey was commissioned by The Body Shop® to support their latest campaign to heighten awareness about the impact of domestic violence, as well as raise funds for national domestic violence charity, Women's Aid.

Women’s Aid run a website for children and young people, which aims to support and inform about domestic violence. Funds raised from The Body Shop Stop Violence in the Home campaign will help to develop this vital resource.
If you or a friend need help, contact Women's Aid

A gender savings gap is putting women at risk of a bleak retirement
But there are things they can do to secure a brighter financial future says the Guardian's Harriet Meyer. She reports Doctor
Rake saying,
' Women are much less likely to be able to recover financially from divorce because they are more likely to have given up, or scaled back, their career during marriage and have even greater caring responsibilities after divorce.'
Read the full Guardian article

The quality of explanations parents give their child about divorce has a significant link with subsequent well-being.
New research from charity Young Voice links parents’ communication skills with children’s self rated happiness.

Parents can tell children too much about sex, money or dad’s new girlfriend, but not enough about the children’s top priorities. In this study children reveal how good communication about their priorities can help them adjust to the major changes in their lives.

They also explain that arrangements made when they were small should be revisited when they are teenagers. ‘It is remarkable that only one third of children felt they could approach their parents about this’ said Adrienne Katz, project director. ‘Others feared parents would be angry, upset or sad or said their parents would not listen to them. Of parents who were asked to change arrangements – only 52% did so.’

This project is unusual in that it asks young people to rate their parents’ communication skills and explores their own priorities in a new way. Children are given the opportunity to tell adults what is helpful.

On Friday 15th June Young Voice launches a website, a film and a research paper as a result of work with 292 children and young people. For the first time there will be a forum for practitioners and parents to listen to young people’s perspectives on family break up.

About the project
When Parents part is funded by the Strengthening Families Grant. 292 children and young people have been involved through in-depth interviews, surveys and making a film. 36 agencies were consulted in 4 regions of England. is an online forum where practitioners can share good practice and explore challenges in child centred work. Parents can find advice from young people while solicitors and mediators can see their services through children’s eyes.

The film provides children’s experiences in scenarios to use as a trigger in discussions with parents. This is helped by a booklet written by an experienced mediator. It is intended for use by those who work with parents or families. (£15 including p&p)

The research is discussed in a research paper in our accessible and well known Young Voice Matters series, (When Parents Part by Emma McManus is available at £5 including p&p).

Practitioners, voluntary and statutory colleagues are invited to join the network of members and to share their ideas and advice with one another. Researchers are invited to submit a short description of recent or relevant work with a link to a full download or purchase.

About Young Voice
Young Voice is the national charity making young people’s views count. We offer research, training, consultancy, and youth participation.

Children have the right to have their views heard on matters affecting their lives. Read the article below:

Children say they aren’t told enough by divorcing parents
Most children whose mother and father divorce say their parents do not adequately explain to them what is going on, or take into account their views, according to a major new study by the charity Young Voice.

The charity, which canvasses young people’s views on a broad range of issues, also found that children who feel they have been consulted cope better with their parents’ divorce.

Many children said they wished they could change access arrangements agreed while they were younger but most said they were too scared to ask their parents because they feared they would be either upset or angry.

“We have long known that family splits can have lasting and traumatic effects on children but this research shows that parents can do a lot to make the experience less damaging by communicating more openly with their kids,” said Adrienne Katz, director of Young Voice.

Although earlier research has established a link between the extent to which children’s views are taken into account in a divorce and their subsequent wellbeing, this is the first study based on the children’s own assessments of their parents’ communication and their own happiness.

Around one in three young people will experience the separation of their parents during childhood. Key findings from the Young Voice study include:

· Fewer than half of parents (43%) explained how often the child would see the non resident parent – a top priority especially for boys.

· Fewer than half the respondents said their parents explained where the child would live.

· More than a third of children felt their views were not heard on any issues

· 60% of children who had been under the age of six at the time of the divorce wanted to know more about why it happened

· Fewer than a quarter of children were asked their views on how much time they’d spend with each parent.

· Although more than half wanted to change arrangements governing time spent with each parent as they grew up, only a third of these young people approached their parents about this because they feared the parents would be upset, sad, angry or simply would not listen to them.

Young Voice has produced a DVD and booklet offering parents, children and mediators advice on how to communicate more effectively during divorce. It has also launched a website:

The study, part of a larger project on young people’s views on divorce, was based on 128 questionnaires and 54 one to one interviews with young people who had experienced the dissolution of their parents’ relationship. An additional 104 interviews were conducted with children who evaluated their experience of the CAFCASS (Children and Family Court Advisors and Support Service) service in relation to their parents’ divorce.

'Get a divorce' campaign goes mobile on trucks
We recently reported (see below) that billboards advertising divorce in Chicago, had been torn down by the council due to compalints from the public and law firms. The female lawyers responsible for the slogan, 'Life's short. Get a divorce,' showing pictures of a partially clothed man and woman have now turned their ad campaign around by putting the adverts on sides of trucks.

In response, another billboard has been erected. It reads: 'Life's short. Your marriage doesn't have to be.' Watch this space for further developments.

'A miser is being hunted by police
after his ex-wife was stabbed to death the day before he was due to pay her a £100,000 divorce payout' - read the article at the Daily Mail
Man is arrested

Alan Miller has lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
The Daily Telegraph reports, It was a ruling that alarmed wealthy husbands across England by establishing London as the divorce capital of the world for wives.

But now, the man who was forced to hand over £5 million to his ex-wife after less than three years of marriage is to challenge the ruling, claiming that his human rights have been breached. Alan Miller has lodged an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, in a case that could rewrite the country's divorce laws...>>Daily Telegraph article

Millionaire loses divorce payout appeal Thursday 24 May
John Charman, a multi-millionaire businessman lost his appeal on Thursday against a court order that he should pay a record-breaking, 48 million pound divorce settlement to his ex-wife. He had challenged the award in the High Court's Family Division last year.Editor's note: The text of Charman v Charman [2007] EWCA Civ 503 is available via Family Law Week
An article by our David Hodson summarizing the decision and analyzing its impact will be published by Family Law Week in the next few weeks.

Divorce Aid is pleased to announce that a member of our Directory of Family Law Solicitors has been short listed for Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year
Exeter Solicitor, Norman Hartnell, has been short listed for the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award, by The Legal Aid Practitioners Group that celebrates the work of solicitors and barristers across the UK who have dedicated their careers to the service of some of the most vulnerable members of society.

The panel of judges, chaired by Cherie Booth QC, will be making the Award at a ceremony in London in June 2007. The Prime Minister's wife said, “Someone needs to sing the praises of legal aid lawyers”, demonstrating her support for the hard-working, and hard-up sector of the profession.

Norman, founder of Hartnell Chanot & Partners, the largest family law specialist in the South West, was nominated by clients, colleagues and peers after a life-time dedicated to changing the face of family law. Monica Cockett, a colleague and Research Fellow at the Department of Child Health at Exeter University, said,
“Norman Hartnell has been at the forefront of developments in Family Law since the mid 1980's. He has always put the needs of children and support for the family above any monetary considerations. He has been a long time champion of mediation, which offers parents the opportunity to work together for more positive outcomes for their family and he has moved family law forward in the South West. It would be a poorer place without him.”

Norman has been singled out from hundreds of nominations for his commitment to providing legal aid services to clients, and he is the only solicitor in the Westcountry to be recognised for his achievements. A pioneer of family mediation, a collaborative lawyer, and an advocate for alternative methods of resolving family disputes, he gives freely of his expertise and time for all family issues and recently represented 5 children in care proceedings in which the Local Authority were keen to place the children within the family, uncovering a conspiracy to conceal the identity of a sexual abuser within the family who posed a significant risk to the children.

He is the secretary of the Peninsula Family Justice Council, has helped thousands of legal aid clients over the past 30 years and recently launched a new website devoted to family law with links to many regional and national organisations and a database of local support agencies from drug and alcohol abuse right through to contact centres and housing advice.

LAPG Director Richard Miller said, "Despite all the problems facing legal aid practices at the moment, all the fears caused by the proposed reforms, there are still thousands of lawyers across the country determined to continue providing an invaluable service to their local communities. They believe that everyone should have their rights protected and enforced, no matter how poor or vulnerable they are, and no matter how rich and powerful their opponent.
Every year, tens of thousands of people have the problems in their lives resolved by the skill and hard work of these lawyers. They are the unsung heroes without whose dedication, justice in this country would be a sham."

Despite the difficulties imposed on legal aid firms, (over 200 firms have decided not to continue doing any legal aid work after April 2007, and many more have dropped some areas of law) Norman said, " Like NHS dentists, legal aid lawyers could soon be a thing of the past. The Government's proposals for the reform of legal aid, has restricted the ability of people to get the advice they need on the problems affecting their day to day lives, and it is the poor and most vulnerable most affected. I am determined to continue providing Legal Aid to needy clients and will campaign relentlessly that clients need the advice of experienced practitioners because of the complexity of their circumstances, perhaps even more so where there is insufficient money to go around or where there are highly conflictual contact cases. I am both shocked and delighted to be nominated, and would like to thank my clients and colleagues for their comments and support.”

Notes: Hartnell Chanot & Partners are the largest family law specialists in the South West and possibly the UK; and are ranked as a leading family law firm in Chambers Guide to the Legal Profession and the Legal 500.
See their Directory page

Please scroll down for other listed articles:
*'Life's short. Get a divorce' sign taken down
*Millions of Brits spend less than 6 hours a week enjoying time with their loved ones. Do you lead a balanced life?
* Impending divorce led to Sikh woman's murder
*Unmarried couples win rights to half of shared properties
*Women account for nearly half of the millionaires in Britain for the first time, research has revealed
* Mum uses $1 million settlement to help abandoned children
*Danes are the happiest people in Europe, a survey suggests. But what is the secret of their contentedness?
*Children in Britain are increasingly likely to live in single-parent families, according to a new report
*Only 20 per cent of people in cases which are funded by legal aid opt for mediation
*A man charged with murdering a Melbourne lawyer outside his office had accused the solicitor of "stuffing up" his divorce settlement with his ex-wife, a court heard today
*Marie Osmond to divorce after more than 20 years of marriage
*Would you like the family courts to be more open/public? 'Confidence and confidentiality: Improving transparency and privacy in family courts' DCA publishes its findings
*Teenager Sam, via Divorce Aid, writes about his parents' divorce for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
*£135 million divorce fight relocates to England from Spain - jurisdiction is so important in international cases
*'There's no hiding place,' says the CSA
*Lawyers are demonstrating outside Parliament today against reforms to the legal aid system
*Bitter divorce led to wife's murder at church in Arizona
*Scottish divorce figures soar
*If marriage rates went up, if divorce rates came down - if more couples stayed together for longer, would our society be better off?
*Best friends? Children need mothers
*NHS facing dementia time bomb
*Can a mathematical formula predict which couples will divorce?
*David Cameron wants bad fathers to be treated like drink-drivers. Divorce Aid responds.
*There are many stories today in the papers about the fall in marriage numbers but this may be good news, says Christina Tait, Editor of Divorce Aid.
*Paying the price for being in debt
*Britain's children: unhappy, neglected and poorly educated
Damning verdict on the ordeal of growing up in Britain today
*The Miller case
*Divorce laws 'are destroying marriage'
*Making divorce humane
*Unmarried couples to get rights on property

'Life's short. Get a divorce' sign taken down
Life, it appears isn't the only thing that's short in Chicago. Billboards showing pictures of a partially clothed man and woman with the caption, 'Life's short. Get a divorce' were removed withing the week of going up. many people in the up-market neighbourhood and other lawyers made complaints.

But business improved for Fetman and Garland, the two female divorce lawyers who thought up the idea. Will there be any takers in Britain? We don't think so.

Millions of Brits spend less than 6 hours a week enjoying time with their loved ones. Do you lead a balanced life?
It comes as no surprise to hear that we Brits are not achieving a good work-life balance especially after the recent Unicef survey. According to the Independent article, (scroll down to read this in full), which states:

'Despite living in the fifth richest country, the next generation of UK citizens experience some of the worst levels of poverty. The research found they regard themselves as less happy, and that they drank more alcohol, took more drugs, and had more underage sex than children overseas.'

So we are spending more time at work and do very little exercise as we spend too much time at the office and not enough on relationships, especially on our children and relaxation. If only we could spend more time on our relationships! Although many people have to spend an increasing amount of time at work, many of us use this as an excuse to be away from our families, to hide our discontent.

Cowardice is a fundamental flaw when relationships break up, even in long marriages. So much heartache could be avoided if only we were brave enough to voice our unhappiness before it becomes too late. Although divorce can come as a nasty shock, we at least have the chance to examine what led to it and also the chance to change our lifestyle and with that, create a new work-life balance.

Impending divorce led to Sikh woman's murder
Surjit Athwal, 27, went missing in 1998 after travelling to Punjab with her mother in law, Bachan Athwal. A court was told that she was murdered during this trip for having an affair and wanting a divorce. Both Bachan Athwal and her son are charged with murder. They both deny the charge. Read more

The England& Wales divorce rate is at its lowest level since 2000 says ONS but increase in over 60's age group divorcing
According to a report by the Office for National Statistics, there were 141,750 divorces in 2005 and this compares with 153,399 in 2004. This equates to an 8% drop in the divorce rate. In Northern Ireland, there was good news too with a 6% drop and a 3% drop for Scotland.

'As people become more aware of the divorce process and the toll it may take on all the family, particularly children, we understand that more people are reconsidering their options and working on their relationships,' says Christina Tait of Divorce Aid, an independent voluntary organisation which assists families through divorce and separation issues.

The figures show that only 50.3% of the people in England and Wales are married; nearly 33% are single, around 8% are widowed and divorcees account for around 9%. (32.9 per cent), widowed (7.7 per cent) or divorced (9.1 per cent).

Figures are not available for cohabiting couples and the divorce rate is still quite high compared to our European neighbours.

The over 60's are the only age group to show an increase in the divorce rate in 2005. This trend had been noted by Divorce Aid who reported an increase in its 'silver surfer' cases with many long marriages coming to an end, even as long as forty years. Reasons were given as realising that people live longer and there is no need to stay in unhappy marriages when the children had long gone. It was said to be a last ditch attempt to find happiness but also leaving in its wake, some shocked and distressed spouses.

Divorce Aid has also seen a huge rise in divorce inquiries with an international element in England and Wales in particular. As people travel and work abroad in increasing quantities, there is a corresponding increase in these type of divorces often involving several jurisdictions and problems re contact and residence for children.

Just as much care and planning is made for a wedding, equal care and thought should be afforded to the divorce process. With the assistance of expert family law solicitors, the process can be made as least painful as possible. The fairly new and increasingly popular Collaborative Law process is a dignified process to avoid court and lessen the emotional toll on all concerned.

Unmarried couples win rights to half of shared properties
Unmarried couples who split have won equal rights to a share in their home - but only if they put it in joint names, the House of Lords ruled this morning.

In a landmark judgment, affecting up to two million cohabiting couples, a majority of the law lords, Britain’s highest court, ruled that where a couple own a house in joint names there should be a presumption that they own it equally.
Read the full Times Online article by Frances Gibb

This is a clear warning to all cohabiting couples to enter into a trust deed or co-habitation agreement at the very beginning. Family law experts respond to today's landmark House of Lords ruling on Times Online law Experts

Women account for nearly half of the millionaires in Britain for the first time, research from Datamonitor has revealed
British women entrepreneurs are achieving great success in business. Datamonitor, the research group, reveals that there 376,000 millionaires and around 46% of these are women - around 172,960 and the trend seems to be growing by 11% a year. if this continues, there may be more women millionaires than men. Nearly 4,00 women have wealth above the £5 million mark. Some divorce cases have seen several women being classed as millionaires in their own right and as we reported yesterday, there is one woman who used her settlement to aid orphans around the world. (See article below).

There are many articles in the news on this subject. The Daily Mail, Femail section reports on women entrepreneurs in lingerie, recruitment and training.

Mum uses $1 million settlement to help abandoned children
In 2003, Karen Gordon, a newly single mum of two children, saw a video of an orphanage in Hungary. This was an establishment which was put on film in order to show the good care the children were receiving but Karen thought that there was one basic thing missing and this was loving care. basic food and shelter were of course provided but she felt that love was of equal importance. Her mission then became to change the lives of millions of abandoned children across the world. She started a foundation, Whole Child International.

For more information on Gordon's organization, please visit:

ABC News reports that when asked why she didn't just enjoy her $1 million divorce settlement, she replied:

"Why did I not take the money and just live off of it? I would have been bored, wouldn't I?" Gordon said. "This is rewarding work. I work with the best and brightest in our country. That's priceless."
Read the full ABC News article

Danes are the happiest people in Europe, a survey suggests. But what is the secret of their contentedness?

Have the Danes got the right work/life balance or are their expectations not as high as unhappy Brits and other Europeans? The BBC article quotes,

'Denmark is very consumer-oriented and very family-oriented. People are sure to leave work at 4.30pm. They work their eight hours and go home. Pressure to work overtime doesn't exist.'

Read the full BBC News article

Children in Britain are increasingly likely to live in single-parent families, according to a new report
The survey by The Office for National Statistics said that children in Great Britain are three times more likely to live in one-parent households than they were in 1972. Last year, nearly a quarter lived with just one parent.

90% of single-parent households are headed by mothers and single-parent families are three times more likely to live in rented accommodation than traditional families. Sadly, lone-parent families are also more likely to live in 'non-decent' homes. While traditional two-parent families are on the decline (down to 37% from 52%), single-parent families are increasing. Couples living together with no children rose from 6% to 25%.

Jane Ahrends, from One Parent Families, said while single parents might face poverty, the image of them as 'young, feckless women who deliberately get pregnant' was wrong.

'The vast majority of lone parents are ordinary working mums and dads in their 30s and 40s, who are just trying to do their best in circumstances they didn't choose,' she said. Ahrends also added that single parenthood was a temporary state, usually lasting around five years.
The full Social Trends report may be viewed at ONS

Only 20 per cent of people in cases which are funded by legal aid opt for mediation
Too many family breakdown cases are going to court rather than being settled through mediation, the National Audit Office has today reported. Family breakdown cases which are resolved through professional mediation are cheaper and quicker to settle. And academic research shows that they secure better outcomes, particularly for children, as they are less acrimonious. However, only 20 per cent of people in cases which are funded by legal aid opt for mediation, and over half go straight to the courts.

There is scope to improve the value for money of the legal aid budget through increasing the take up of mediation in cases of family breakdown. The National Audit Office found that, on average, a mediated case takes 110 days to resolve, and costs £752 compared to 435 days and £1,682 in cases where mediation isn’t used. In the sample of cases it reviewed, the NAO found that over 95 per cent of cases settled through mediation were resolved within 9 months and all within 12 months. However, only 70 per cent of cases completed by non-mediation routes were settled within 18 months.

Despite these benefits, take up of mediation in cases funded by legal aid is low: currently 20 per cent. Between October 2004 and March 2006, only 29,000 out of 149,000 people attempting to resolve their family dispute tried mediation. This excludes some 30,000 domestic violence cases which would be unsuitable for mediation.

Although solicitors and legal advisers have a duty to advise their clients of the option of mediation, a survey of clients indicates this isn’t always happening. In a survey conducted by the NAO, one in three people who had been through a family breakdown case said they had not been told mediation was an option. Of those, 42 per cent said they would have been willing to try it. Use of mediation rather than the courts would have saved the taxpayer £10 million in these cases.

However, there may be a financial disincentive to solicitors of advising people about mediation: if a case is settled out of court, this will result in a loss of potential fees for them . The NAO recommends that those solicitors who have significantly lower numbers of cases which go to mediation should be investigated to find the reasons for the low take up and, where these reasons prove unsatisfactory, should have their contracts curtailed.

Sir John Bourn, head of the National Audit Office, said today:

“One in three in our survey told us that they had not been made aware that mediation was an option. The Legal Services Commission needs to publicise the advantages of mediation and remove the financial disincentives to solicitors of recommending this option to their clients. Mediation can provide a less adversarial route than the courts for many families involved in family breakdown and result in savings in legal aid of over ten million pounds a year.”
The full report by the NAO may be seen at PDF Report

Divorce Aid Editor's note
: Please see our Directory of family law solicitors many of which promote mediation and offer legal aid.
See our article on Mediation

A man charged with murdering a Melbourne lawyer outside his office had accused the solicitor of "stuffing up" his divorce settlement with his ex-wife, a court heard today
Read the full report at

Marie Osmond to divorce after more than 20 years of marriage
Marie Osmond and her husband of more than 20 years, Brian Blosil, have, according to Reuters News Agency, decided to divorce. It will be Marie's second divorce as her first was back in 1985 and there is a son now in his 20's from this marriage. marie and Brian have seven children, five of which are adopted...
It's always sad to hear of long marriages ending in divorce, especially with numerous children, but this couple's aims and friendship are quuite refreshing. Let us hope that they are able to maintain their dignity in the media spotlight.
Copyright Reuters Reuters

Would you like the family courts to be more open/public? 'Confidence and confidentiality: Improving transparency and privacy in family courts' DCA publishes its findings

Foreword by Lord falconer, Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, and Harriet Harman QC MP, Minister of State, Department for Constitutional Affairs.

'When we consulted last summer about the openness of family courts and how it could be improved, we were clear that any proposals to make the courts more open should not be at the expense of the privacy of those people involved in family proceedings. In particular, we were clear that children should be protected.

Many of the proposals were welcomed, such as making the rules consistent across the different family courts; and providing better information for people who had been involved in proceedings as a child. In fact, making the court process more open was viewed positively.

The response paper contains a detailed analysis of what people have told us, not only to the formal consultation but also through stakeholder events and discussion forums. One of the reasons for using a variety of approaches was to encourage people to contribute and ensure the voices of children and young people were heard and listened to. After all, they are usually at the centre of family proceedings, and reluctantly so in almost all cases.

We have considered what people have said very carefully and will reflect on the responses received before bringing forward our proposals.' Crown Copyright 2007

Wide support was received for increasing the amount of information on how the family justice system works and for giving information to adults who were children when involved in this process. This could take various forms such as providing a transcript or a summary of the judgment.

Concerns were raised about what more openness would mean for children and vulnerable adults in the courts. One way forward would be to allow more people to attend proceedings including the media and he latter caused much debate. There was much support for others to attend on application and subject to the discretion of the court. The following statement from the Association of Lawyers for Children emphasises the need to ensure that the family courts continue to operate in a child-focused manner,

'It is the welfare of the children and young people that the family justice system exists to prioritise and protect. We forget this at our peril.'

And the President of the High Court Judges of the family Division said,

'It is not in the best interests of children, who are subjects of litigation between their parents or in care proceedings, that intensely private matters should be laid bare to the public at large; nor is it in the public interest. Children of whatever age are, we believe, entitled to as much privacy as possible from intrusion by the media and the public during their informative years.'

When adults discussed the report, there was significant agreement that allowing the media into family proceedings would be damaging to those involved, particularly the children.
For a full PDF version of the report, click here

Teenager Sam, via Divorce Aid, writes about his parents' divorce for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children
When you hear that your parents are splitting up it can feel like your world is falling apart. When everything begins to change and your parents aren’t getting along as well as you would like, things can be difficult to cope with. Genevieve Noble caught up with sixteen-year-old Sam to find out what it feels like when you’re parents split up and what helps make the best of a bad situation.
Read the full article at NHS Great Ormond Street Hospital
Also see our Teenage/Young Persons' section

£135 million divorce fight relocates to England from Spain - jurisdiction is so important in international cases
The property tycoon Jim Moore failed yesterday to stop his ex-wife bringing her legal battle for half his estimated £135 million fortune to England...Read full Daily Telegraph article
Please also refer to our International Legal Section if you need advice.

'There's no hiding place,' says the CSA
They now use fines, prisons, bailiffs, debt collectors, tracing agents and take payments from your wages at source.

The CSA is changing as part of a long-term project that is looking at every aspect of child maintenance. However, it will be some time before a new system will be in place. Until then we will be helping the Government to get tougher on parents who avoid their financial responsibilities to their children.

We have a number of powers to help track down parents who avoid us. We are using information held by other government departments, such as HM Revenue & Customs and the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (the DVLA).

If we still can’t find them by doing this, 8,000 of our employees can search information from credit reference agencies. Private sector specialist tracing companies are also helping us with particularly difficult cases. It is a criminal offence if someone fails to give us information or gives us information that they know is false. We can take them to court and they could be fined up to £1,000.

If the non-resident parent does not give us the information we need to work out child maintenance, we apply a rate based on the number of children they should be paying child maintenance for. This is called a ‘default maintenance decision’ and in many cases this works out higher than if we worked out how much they should pay using their net weekly income. We will continue to take enforcement action to get them to pay this amount, unless they provide us with the information we need.

The legal action we can take
If the non-resident parent has a job the first thing we try is to take the money direct from their wages. For new cases we aim to do this within four months from when we first told them what they should pay. An employer is required by law to take maintenance from parents’ wages if we tell them to. Currently 160,000 parents pay child maintenance this way.

If this does not work we will start by applying to the courts for a liability order for the missed child maintenance. This allows us to take legal action to get the money owed. Between October 2005 and October 2006 12,900 liability orders were granted. This is up from 10,500 between March 2005 and March 2006.

The legal action we can then take will depend on each case and we can use more than one at a time. In summer 2006 we started working with private debt-collection agencies to collect money from parents who had not paid for a number of months, or years. Their bailiffs act on our behalf to seize the parent’s belongings and sell them to get the money owed. So far 23,000 parents have had their cases pursued by private debt collectors.

We can take a range of action through the courts. 13,000 parents were presented with a summons and taken to court between October 2005 and October 2006. This might include getting a third-party debt order to freeze money belonging to or owed to the parent. This stops them from using their bank account or getting money from an unpaid invoice if they are self-employed and we can then ask for the child maintenance to be paid.

If we can prove to a magistrate that the parent has refused to pay the child maintenance they owe, we can apply to have their driving licence taken away or for them to be sent to prison. Between October 2005 and October 2006 400 parents received immediate or suspended prison terms. Even if the parent is disqualified from driving or sent to prison, they will still have to pay all the money they owe. Read more about Enforcement Powers
Find out What we can do if a parent moves abroad

Bitter divorce led to wife's murder at church in Arizona
A successful businesswoman shot to death outside an East Oakland church had offered her estranged husband three of their jointly-owned six homes to settle a bitter divorce, but he angrily refused and killed her, according to her family and police...
Read full divorce/murder story

Scottish divorce figures soar
Divorces in Scotland reached their highest level for more than a decade last year.

More than 13,000 marriages were dissolved in 2006, a 19% increase on the previous 12 months. Meanwhile, the number of marriages dropped to its fifth-lowest level since Victorian times...
Read the full article in The Herald

If marriage rates went up, if divorce rates came down - if more couples stayed together for longer, would our society be better off?
David Cameron has spent his first 15 months as Tory leader promoting himself as thoroughly modern. But when it comes to supporting marriage he is an unashamed, up front traditionalist...
Read the full Daily Telegraph article

Best friends? Children need mothers
More and more women prefer to be their children's pals, rather than giving them the guidance and discipline they so desperately need - and the results are often disastrous. Why can't they just grow up, asks Judith Woods
What makes a good mother? Read the Daily Telegraph article

NHS facing dementia time bomb
'The report (Dementia UK) highlights the fact that families and individuals are bearing the biggest burden of caring for dementia sufferers - a burden this study makes visible on a scale never before acknowledged' said Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society.
'This burden falls heavily on families weakened by divorce as lone parents struggle to care for their offspring as well as elderly parents with dementia, says Christina Tait, Editor of Divorce Aid.
Read the Guardian article in full.
The full report should be published later today.

Can a mathematical formula predict which couples will divorce?
There are no general laws of human relationships as there are for physics, but a marital researcher and group of applied mathematicians have teamed up to create a mathematical model that predicts which couples will divorce ...
See Maths and divorce

David Cameron wants bad fathers to be treated like drink-drivers. Divorce Aid responds.
Errant fathers should be made to feel as "socially unacceptable" as drink- drivers, David Cameron says.

According to the article in the Daily Telegraph, 'As with drink-driving, it is a combination of government action and culture change that will make the difference,' Mr Cameron said. He wants young people to grow up with a strong male influence in their lives.

The BBC commented,
'Mr Cameron has argued that a lack of role models was fuelling gang culture and called for fathers to be compelled to take a greater role in bringing up their children.'

Christina Tait, Editor of Divorce Aid, agrees that errant fathers should be made to pay for their children's upbringing and felt that more recourse to the Courts system rather than a revamping of the CSA would bring more financial security for low income single parent families.

Poverty is one of the main causes of social deprivation and lack of social responsibility in some of our youth. 'There's a feeling of hopelessness and vulnerability in this sector and the lack of a father's input can only make the situation worse.' Tait added, 'All fathers should be encouraged to continue contact with their children. Although their roles may be different after separation or divorce, their parenting skills are still a much-needed resource and they remain an important part of their children's development and identity.'

'But when mothers are left to cope alone without the fathers' support, they can only do their best, Tait continued. 'Even though they cannot be a male role model that Cameron endorses, they attempt to be both mother and father.'

Nine out of ten parents living alone with their children are female and only 3% are teenage mums. The average age of a lone parent is 35. They come from many different backgrounds and ethnic groups but all have one thing in common, their determination to better the lives of their children. They cope with all the responsibility and challenges that this entails and we must congratulate the many families who battle to succeed against all the odds.

For those families who get into difficulties, let us remember that many are from two parent backgrounds. David Cameron called for fathers to be compelled to take a greater role in bringing up their children. Tait stated that it would of course be impossible to compel them and all we can do is try to provide a positive role model for our children by interacting and relating to them, especially teenagers, on a daily basis, whatever our gender.

There are many stories today in the papers about the fall in marriage numbers but this may be good news, says Christina Tait, Editor of Divorce Aid.
Some 244,710 people got married in 2005 . This was the lowest number since 1896, the lowest marriage rate since 1862 when records began. The Office for National Statistics said the rates in England and Wales were 24.2 per 1,000 unmarried men over 16 and 21.6 per 1,000 unmarried women.

Despite the decrease in the numbers of people marrying, marriage remains the main type of partnership for men and women in Great Britain. Marriage is also the aim of most people even after divorce according to recent surveys. People in marriages tend to be happier emotionally and sexually. They also tend to be in better health with less depression.

In 2004/05 around half of men and women were married and one in ten were cohabiting. The average age at which people get married for the first time in England and Wales has risen to 36 for men and 33 for women in 2005. Cohabitation, however, has increased over the past three decades as marriage has declined.

This increase in the age of people when marrying may signify that people are more aware of the importance of marriage and aim to prepare themselves well. There has been a huge rise in media coverage of divorce and its effects on families in recent years with Divorce Aid contributing. This has undoubtedly played a role in people's awareness of possible future marital problems and divorce. Today's youth also have had to contend with their parents' divorce and consequences. This could all augur well for the future of marriage.

Notes: For 'Marriage Care' preparation courses, please see Courses
Statistics quoted are from the Office for National Statistics

Paying the price for being in debt
More people are struggling with their finances - that's the finding of research carried out exclusively for BBC's Breakfast as a leading charity, Consumer Credit Counselling Service, says more people are asking for help. The number of people getting in touch with the CCCS rose by 65% last year. You are not alone. Read Divorce Debt Help for ways to seek help today.
To read the ICM poll results, see Debt Poll

Britain's children: unhappy, neglected and poorly educated
Damning verdict on the ordeal of growing up in Britain today
By Jonathan Brown
Published: 14 February 2007

British children are languishing at the bottom of an international league table examining the physical and emotional well-being of youngsters in the world's wealthiest nations.

Despite living in the fifth richest country, the next generation of UK citizens experience some of the worst levels of poverty. The research found they regard themselves as less happy, and that they drank more alcohol, took more drugs, and had more underage sex than children overseas.

They were also more prone to failure at school, to experience violence and bullying while suffering a greater number of unhappy relationships with both their families and peers.

The Unicef report, which prompted outrage from children's charities and embarrassment for the Government which has lavished billions on child health and education, placed the UK last in the survey of 21 nations, which included Europe as well as the United States, Canada and Japan.

British children came last in three of the six categories analysed, finding themselves in the bottom third for two others. In the second most successful category, education, the UK was ranked 17th, way behind the former eastern bloc countries Poland and the Czech Republic

The Netherlands topped the league, followed by Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Spain. The overall quality of life for children in the United States was judged only narrowly better than in the UK, finishing 20th in the table.

The report's author, Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of York University, said he was surprised by the findings. "This is the result of previous decades of neglect and shows how far we have to catch up," he said. "We knew the UK was high in child poverty and in the number of children living in workless households but we were surprised that it came consistently low across so many of the categories."

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, said: " Unicef's report is a wake-up call to the fact that, despite being a rich country, the UK is failing children and young people in a number of crucial ways."

Colette Marshall, UK director of Save the Children, called for an extra £4.5bn to meet the Government's target of halving child poverty by 2010. "It is shameful to see the UK languishing at the bottom of this table. This report shows clearly that despite the UK's wealth, we are failing to give children the best possible start in life," she said.

The shadow Chancellor George Osborne hit out at the Government. "This report tells the truth about Brown's Britain," he said. "The Chancellor has failed this generation of children and will fail the next if he's given a chance. We need a new approach."

The assessment, entitled Report Card 7, Child Poverty in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-being in Rich Countries, is the first study of childhood well-being across industrialised countries. It analysed 40 separate indicators based on existing data.

Among the most depressing findings were that more than a fifth of UK youngsters rated their physical and mental health as poor - the worst among the rich countries surveyed. Girls reported lower levels of well-being than boys across all the nations surveyed with more than 27 per cent of 15-year-old females expressing dissatisfaction with their health compared to 16 per cent of boys of the same age.

Overall, youngsters in the UK were more likely to feel left out, awkward and lonely, than nearly all their peers in other developed countries, the report said.

Italy and Portugal topped the table with the UK, the US and Czech Republic propping up the bottom of the league when the quality of children's relationships was examined.

Among OECD counties, the UK had the second highest number of children living in single-parent families or with step-parents. Italy, Greece and Poland, traditional Catholic countries, enjoyed the most stable families. The authors said there was a well-established link between family breakdown, educational failure, poor health and reduced life chances.

Less than half of Britain's 11-15-year-olds said they found their peers " kind and helpful."

In terms of economic well-being, Britain was 18th in the table, with only the United States having more children living in a household where the income was less than 50 per cent of the national median.

While the report acknowledged that children today enjoyed unprecedented levels of health and safety and Britain was judged the second safest country behind Sweden in terms of the number of youngsters dying from accidents, the UK once again came in the bottom third of the table for infant mortality and low birth weight.

Meanwhile, British children fared better at school, at least up until the age of 15. But their position plunged when the numbers staying on in education and training were factored in.

A Government spokeswoman said it was committed to improving children's well-being and pointed out that 700,000 fewer children were now living in relative poverty than in 1998-99, while the number of children in absolute poverty had been halved.

Britain's children

British children consider themselves the least content in the wealthy world. More than a fifth of UK youngsters said they rated their physical and mental health as poor - only Latvia, Russia and Lithuania fared worse. Girls reported lower levels of satisfaction than boys. UK youngsters were among the least likely to enjoy school or to rate their happiness levels as above average. Overall, they were the most likely to admit to feeling left out, awkward and lonely.


Family & friendships

British children were found to have the worst relationships in the developed world. The UK had the second highest number of children living in single-parent families or with step-parents. Less than two-thirds of British families said they ate together regularly. Britain also came bottom of the industrialised national table when relationships among 11-15-year-olds were examined.



Regarded by Unicef as vital to a child's future life chances, Britain fared well when 15-year-olds' ability in reading, maths and science was assessed, ranking ninth. But the UK's overall position fell when its poor record in persuading pupils to stay on in education and training was taken into account.


Health & safety

Children born in wealthy nations now enjoy unprecedented levels of health and safety. Britain found itself ranked second behind Sweden as the place where children are least likely to die in an accident. However, this good performance was marred by the UK's relatively high infant mortality and low birth weight rates. The UK also fared poorly when it came to the percentage of children aged 12 months to 23 months immunised against the major vaccine-preventable disease. It was ranked in the bottom third.


Poverty & inequality

Despite being the fifth largest economy, Britain was ranked 18th for material well- being, beating only Ireland, Hungary and Poland. When it came to the number of children living in households where income was less than 50% of the national median, the UK beat only the US. British children were also among the most likely to have a jobless parent and in the bottom third for homes with fewer than 10 books.


Sex, drink & drugs

The UK easily outstripped all other countries when it came to bad and risky behaviour. British children were more likely to have been drunk or had sex than those of any other country. The UK also had the second highest teenage fertility rate. British teenagers were much more likely to be involved in a fight in the past 12 months than other nationalities and more likely to have been bullied.


'I feel like whatever I'm doing, there is someone watching me'

Leo, 14 North London

I am doing my GCSE's and am under a huge amount of pressure from my teachers and parents to do well. There is a lot of coursework to complete and I am always being nagged to do things like homework clubs and revision tests. The other thing that annoys me about my situation is that I feel that whatever I am doing, there is always somebody watching over me - the only times I feel that I can let go is when I am talking to my friends at school or when I am playing sports.

Chris, 10 Glasgow

I live in a rehabilitation centre - it's where people come to get better, where they can get off drugs and become themselves again. There are 300 toilets here. It's my mum who's coming off the drugs. I think that my mum is in now care because she could not cope with me and my twin brothers and my sister... who takes ages doing her hair. She [my mum] didn't have any money for school clothes... the reason my mum took drugs is because she was always asleep, sometimes she did not look well and was being sick, but that is just life.

Will, 15 Harrow

My biggest fear is getting mugged, but it is something you have to live with. When you go into town, especially on your own, and there are large groups hanging around it can be scary. Most of the time they get away with it... you get a few kicks to the face and they take your mobile or a couple of pounds. My younger brother was mugged. They stole his MP3 player and a few of my friends were mugged as well. One of them took a few punches and got a couple of kicks. And there have been a few attempted muggings. Being out in a group doesn't mean you won't get mugged either.

Stephen, 16 Cheshire

We're pretty lucky around here when it comes to poverty but we've done some projects which makes you realise how little some other people of my age have. For them, a room of their own would be an unbelievable thing, which I take for granted. I'm not surprised to hear that other countries in Europe are better when it comes to their attitudes to children and I think a lot of the headlines about hoodies has made older people, in particular, think we have got nothing to offer and that we are something to worry about.

Sadhia, 17 Middlesex

Every time I pick up a newspaper or hear another TV report about teenagers, it is always demonising us, rather than reflecting the reality for most of us. At the end of a school day, when we sometimes go shopping together, we're looked at suspiciously because we are taking up so much space. People are quite judgmental about teenagers, how we look, where we go, and I think it's a shame that middle-class children are treated with more respect than maybe someone who's wearing a hoodie.

Ed, 17 London

I spend time regularly hanging around my estate because that is how we socialise - we can't really have so many friends round to the house - but we don't cause any trouble and we have a good relationship with the residents. The police stop us fairly regularly, which I find irritating. Two of my friends were stopped and searched by an officer, who was rude and aggressive when they were doing nothing wrong. I have been stopped and searched twice and asked questions four or five times.

Kelly, 15 Cheshire

We've done the Victorians at school and you'd think that there wouldn't be lots of children in poverty any more. I think the Government is saying it wants everyone to have the same opportunities but I'm aware of how many children don't have them. I don't think people my age think there's any way of changing things through the Government. Politics is a bit of a switch-off and I never pay much attention to it. But that's supposed to be the way of stopping poverty - voting for changes through your MP.

Helena, 16 North Yorkshire

Most teenagers do drink, but it depends where they do it. I think it's silly to drink standing on a street, and I understand that this can be intimidating for adults. But it's difficult for us because not everyone's doing this, although people are going to pick up on the worst cases.

Samarra, 11 Hull

I have one leg shorter than the other so I have to wear a built-up shoe. I can run but I always come last. I've got a younger brother and an older sister with cerebral palsy. Mum is on income support. To get things like new wheelchairs you have fill out a lot of forms. And there's a lot of debt. At Christmas we look down the lists and if it is too expensive, we're a bit poor, and it goes to next year. It would be good if we had some money. What I would say to other children is appreciate what you've got."
First published in The Independent. Reproduced with permission.

The Miller case Guardian Unlimited, 7 February
A City fund manager whose private life was dragged into the public domain when he was ordered to pay his former wife £5m in a divorce settlement is leaving his high profile job at New Star. Alan Miller had been chief investment officer of the fund ...

Divorce laws 'are destroying marriage' By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent.
Published: 26 August 2006

The cheap and quick divorce laws in England and Wales are undermining the institution of marriage and need to be reformed to help prevent acrimonious break-ups, a senior Court of Appeal judge has warned.

The call for a change in the law comes from Lord Justice Wall, one of Britain's foremost family law judges, and follows a string of bitter and high-profile divorce battles. Under the antiquated divorce laws of England and Wales, couples have to blame each other if they want a quick divorce, which is usually granted within six months.

In an interview with The Independent, Lord Justice Wall called for an end to fault-based divorces and the introduction of a system that puts the needs of children and financial provision at the heart of the process. He said: "I do believe strongly in the institution of marriage as the best way to bring up children and that's one of the reasons why I would like to end the quick and easy divorces based on the fault system. I think that it actually undermines marriage."

The judge, who was a member of the Court of Appeal which heard the recent case of Miller v Miller in which the former wife of a wealthy businessman was awarded a £5m settlement after a three-year marriage said that big-money divorces which grabbed the headlines distracted attention from the misery of thousands of ordinary divorces which take place each year. " Fault has become almost entirely irrelevant to financial claims post- divorce, yet conduct remains the most important peg upon which to hang a decree," said the judge.

Last night, the family law reform group Resolution welcomed Lord Justice Wall's intervention. Jane McCulloch, the vice-chair of Resolution, said: " We are behind the principle of no-fault divorce because we would like to see an end to couples having to make allegations about each other's behaviour."

Just over 300,000 people were married in 2004, compared to 350,000 20 years ago. But most recent figures show that almost 170,000 people were divorced last year, making Britain the capital of Europe when it comes to marital separation.

In the past few months a number of very public divorce battles have shown how the law has helped to stoke the fires of acrimony in divorces involving the rich and famous. "Divorce has become very easy so that it is a box-ticking exercise, something administrative dressed up as a quasi-judicial function," said Lord Justice Wall, whose view is known to be shared by other senior members of the judiciary.

Lord Justice Wall says the courts are not adequately equipped to deal with the social and emotional consequences of divorce, which he says rarely leave anyone unscathed and can often destroy lives. "People who divorce often simply don't know what they are letting themselves in for and the family courts are not well geared-up for dealing with the bitter battles which follow, particularly over children," he said. "I am only sorry that the Government did not pursue non-fault-based divorce when the seeds had been sown for a change to the post-separation consequences of divorce."

In 2001, Labour abandoned plans to scrap fault-based divorces on the ground that parts of the scheme, which sought to encourage mediation, were thought not to be working. But Lord Justice Wall says he "did not buy" this explanation, although he accepts that the Law Commission's original proposals had been "mauled" by a series of amendments in Parliament. "I still think the Family Law Act would have helped make couples think seriously about the care of their children and proper financial provision," he said. "But divorce is very emotional and people often bring unfinished business from the broken relationship into court; their positions become polarised and, particularly in disputes over children, they sometimes think of using the courts to seek revenge.

"For many people, the fact that, for example, one spouse ran off with someone else remains of paramount importance. But it is not relevant to the issues the court has to address. I do believe in getting rid of fault because it should have nothing to do with the divorce process and shouldn't affect the result.But it will be difficult because people actually don't like not being able to blame someone in a divorce.

"They will say fault is what matters 'He's gone off with someone else, he's broken the contract. Why do I have to give her or him more money'. Mr Miller was saying the same thing 'Why should I give this woman more money? I don't think she was a very good wife'."

Earlier this year, the House of Lords ruled in favour of Mrs Miller and said that fault was irrelevant in financial divorce settlements. Now Lord Justice Wall says fault should be removed completely from the divorce process. He says that the system has become "cynical and utilitarian" and not fit for the purpose for which it is now intended.

The architects of our first divorce laws, which influence the rules today, designed the legislation to reflect society's disapproval of a breakdown in a marriage which often had a negative social consequence for women.

But Lord Justice Wall argued: "That's all changed since the war. Now a divorced woman has no social stigma, so I would welcome an initiative that got rid of fault. Under the abandoned Family Law Act, couples had to think about the consequences of their actions by ensuring that they had made provision for their children and their finances before they would be granted a divorce. Now it looks like we will have to wait another generation for reform of the divorce laws."

A judicial reformer
Nicholas Wall's judgments often attract the unwanted attention of fathers' groups whose members have posted his name on the internet and sent him hate mail. But Lord Justice Wall, 61, is in the vanguard of a reforming movement in the judiciary which has helped pave the way for open justice in the family courts. Called to the Bar in 1969 before taking silk in 1988, his forward thinking on family law has propelled him to the upper echelons of the judiciary. Three years ago he was appointed a judge in the Court of Appeal where he has sat on some of the most important divorce cases of recent years.

Celebrity splits
Sir Paul McCartney filed for divorce in July in the hope of a quick settlement with his estranged wife, Heather. Both had hoped for an amicable split, for the sake of their two-year-old daughter, Beatrice. Sir Paul's petition for the break-up of the four-year marriage is understood to have cited Lady McCartney's "unreasonable behaviour". The singer was said to have described his wife as "argumentative" and "rude to staff". Lady McCartney has hit back by saying she would be filing counterclaims in British and American courts. She is reported to be claiming £200m but most lawyers believe the final pay-out will be much less.

In May the House of Lords upheld a ruling that Melissa Miller should receive a £5m divorce settlement from her husband, Alan Miller, who is worth more than £17m.

Ms Miller had argued that one reason she was entitled to a larger share of her husband's assets was that he had committed adultery. But the law lords, in a ground-breaking ruling, said fault should not help determine how much a spouse receives in a divorce settlement.

Instead, Ms Miller won her case because the courts decided Mr Miller had earned large sums during the marriage and that she was entitled to think her financial position would last for life.

The former England footballer and TV presenter Gary Lineker and his wife, Michelle, were divorced after 20 years of marriage earlier this month. Mrs Lineker was granted a decree nisi on the grounds of her husband's " unreasonable behaviour". In documents, she said the 45-year-old Lineker's behaviour caused her "stress and anxiety". They separated in April when she moved out of their £2m mansion in Berkshire. Mr Lineker, said to be worth £30m, did not defend the petition. Neither attended the hearing in the Family Division of the High Court before District Judge Caroline Reid.
First published in The Independent. Reproduced with permission.

Leading article: Making divorce humane. Published: 26 August 2006
This Government's only serious attempt to reform the divorce laws came to nothing. Five years ago Labour shelved a legislative package devised under the previous Conservative administration that would have scrapped the concept of finding "fault" in one party as grounds for divorce. This package would have also compelled couples to attend meetings to discuss their problems and seek a reconciliation. All this was put aside. And apart from a tentative pilot scheme to teach divorcing parents conflict management skills two years ago, the Government has stayed well clear of this area ever since.

Yet the deficiencies in the divorce system that prompted the Government to attempt reform in the first place remain as glaring as ever. As Lord Justice Wall, a distinguished court of appeal judge, tells The Independent today, the lingering existence of the concept of "fault" promotes conflict. The fact that a divorce will be granted sooner if the behaviour of one party can be shown to be "unreasonable" encourages couples to accuse each other. As many of those who have gone through this process testify, this is deeply unpleasant for all involved.

It is also unfair to the children of divorcing parents. Not only is it traumatic to be caught in the middle of an acrimonious separation, if two parents are not co-operating, there is little likelihood that adequate plans for access and childcare will be in place by the time the divorce is finally granted. This is no small consideration. More than half of divorces in England and Wales involve children under the age of 16.

The solution is to complete the process begun by the 1969 Divorce Reform Act and fully liberalise the divorce laws. Ministers claim they dropped their original plans for reform because they feared a backlash from couples forced to wait longer for a divorce while they attended compulsory meetings. Yet this was always the flaw in the original package. The idea that forcing couples to talk will result in a significant number of them getting back together remains unproven.

So while compulsory mediation is a bad idea, the scrapping of fault remains sensible. This is not a question of making divorce "easier", as some will doubtless claim, but making the system more humane to all involved. The Government should bring this issue, that sadly affects a growing number of people, back on to the agenda.
First published in The Independent. Reproduced with permission.

The choice: When a child decides to move parents
As Molly Campbell is made a ward of court in Pakistan, Elisa Bray - who chose to live with her father at the age of 11 - describes what it's like to go to court and apply for custody with the 'other' parent

Published: 09 September 2006 Read this article.

I can still remember that feeling of separation. My mother could not look me in the eye, the day, aged nearly 12, I went to court and said I want to leave my mother to live with my father.

And all these memories were brought back, 13 years later, because of a news story: Molly Campbell, the 12-year-old girl from Scotland who left her mother to live with her father in Pakistan. While my situation involved neither cultural nor religious differences, and my move was within two miles of my mother's home compared to thousands in Molly's case, it was the question asked by both newspaper columnists and callers on radio talk shows that brought home the parallel between our stories: "Can a 12-year-old child make such a decision?" Or, put another way, "How can a 12 year-old child know what is in their best interest?" Hearing this question, and the common response that "a 12-year-old is just a child" and, "children don't know a lot" took me back to 1993. Just a child? Too young to make a decision? It forced me to reflect on my own actions.

Molly defiantly reiterates that the decision to move to Pakistan was her own: "I told them in my letters I was going with my dad and my family, that I was safe and it was all my own choice." Molly's parents were, like mine, estranged. Molly's situation differs from my own because the proper procedure was not followed for her to live with her father. Unlike Molly's, my case was dealt with legally, with both parents involved and present before a UK court and the assistance of a Cafcass (welfare) officer. But the question over whether a young girl is emotionally or mentally equipped to make such a choice remains the same.

My mother was given custody of me when my parents divorced. I was then two. While Molly's home life with her mother in Scotland has been described as unhappy, and, more condemningly by her elder brother, as a "living hell", mine was anything but. I have wonderful memories of time with my mother: of her devotedly blow-drying my hair as I perched on a stool in the kitchen in front of Neighbours; the surprise birthday parties she put on for me; our mutual love and affection.

We lived in a flat in Fulham, west London, which my mother chose because it was near the doctor's. Two doors away was a dodgy working men's pub which has since metamorphosed into a swanky bar. Back then there was a stabbing outside the pub and I remember the drunk old leery men hanging around. My mother had to deal with a burglary the night we moved in. But we would deal with the intimidation using our own catchphrase "eyes and ears" as we inconspicuously entered our cosy home.

My father remarried 18 months later, and I spent much of my weekends with him and my stepmother. Two years later, my half-sister was born. Aged five and a half, I was delighted. I still have the letter my father wrote to me announcing the arrival of my new baby sister in big capital letters and the picture he enclosed of her, hours old, in her hospital crib. A sister! Having a playmate would certainly make a change from my only-child days. My little sister became my best friend. On weekends and holidays we were inseparable and I revelled in her childish unconditional adoration of me. I was her role model and she became my ally, precociously standing up for me in any kind of family dispute.

One night, when I was 10, I was sick. While my mother soothed me as I vomited into a bucket, the phone rang. It was a call that would change the course of her life - and mine. On the end of the line was the man who she calls her first true love and soul mate, but from whom she had to part when she was 19 and he 25. He'd heard that she had since married, had a child, separated and was now single - like him. Every time I retched my mother would come running. She would then excitedly resume the phone call with the man she had not seen for more than 20 years. After two hours of interrupted conversation, that night he drove from north London to our Fulham flat and they have been together ever since. (They married when I was 14, and I gained two lovely step-sisters.)

So why did I decide to move in with my father? I suppose it all began when a plan was made to move into my mother's partner's house on the other side of London. Like Molly, who one writer suggested escaped to live with her father as an act of "rebellion against her mother making a new life and a baby with another man", I wasn't sure I liked the idea of moving into a new home with a new man and sharing my mother .

I was suddenly acutely aware of a feeling of resistance that was, for me, a turning point. At a time when I was starting to become more conscious of myself, I stepped outside myself and looked back to see a creature who was compliant; willing to adapt to any situation. Instead of being accommodating - as I'd been through all my parents' holiday and weekend arrangements - something kicked in and I craved the security of a stable family instead of having my time divided up for me.

When does being a pawn in your parents' divorce end? I decided it would end for me at the age of nearly 12. After 10 years of being a child of divorced parents, I felt it was time to take control of my own life. The idea of a secure family unit became my wish. I was resolute - rather than moving with my mother, I would live in the home my father had made. I would have my own room in a house I knew well and above all, a full-time sister. But I had to be sure I was doing the right thing as I knew how devastating my actions would be. What Molly said about wanting to be with her sister, and the need to be in a family, I understand so well. "I asked my sister if I could go with her ... I knew that my mum would miss me, but I miss my family ... I wanted to live with my family. I thought I could live with my dad and still see my mum." And there was my family: father, stepmother, and sister in a house. It was all there for me. My father supported me. He believed I would excel at school and I even planned a career in law to follow in his footsteps. I could ask for a reverse of custody roles and he would make an application to the court under the Children Act 1989 to determine the terms.

The application for my father to have "custody" of me during the week and on intermittent weekends was sent off shortly after I began secondary school. On 14 January 1993, I was taken to a room in Somerset House (where the family court was then held) to put my decision and my reasons behind it to a welfare officer. The wait with my stepmother outside the courtroom for my parents to emerge from the hearing was uncomfortable. And the decision of the court to grant my father custody came as a shock to my mother and stepfather.

The welfare officer had told me not to feel guilty about my decision, and that my parents should not make me feel bad. But I felt dread. I knew the damage my choice had done to my mother, and was only too aware of the effect it would have on our relationship. Life was weird after the court hearing. Three out of four weekends were spent at my mother's new home and, although we tried to resume our close relationship, an awkward distance had taken hold.

I felt the pain my decision had caused and it affected me very deeply. It had been the two of us in Fulham, a team - "eyes and ears" - but I had to remind myself all along that I had chosen the situation that would be best for me and give me the best possible start in life. The one thing my mother always told me and I always held close was: "You are always welcome back here." I knew when she said that, she was saying: "Please come back soon." That it was one of the worst times in my mother's life remains an unspoken understanding between us, a feeling I'm sure I will only fully be able to imagine when I myself am a mother.

Looking back I see this was a difficult transition period and do not regret the decision I made when I was eleven and a half. From then on, my life went from strength to strength. As I grew up, my mother's and my relationship was improved and the angst of the split eased as my own teenage angst built.

When I was 15, the two of us holidayed together in Italy and a year later I realised I missed my mother and needed her more in my life. By that time I knew and loved my stepfather as a family member and it seemed a natural time to move back to their home. By reversing the situation I couldn't help but repeat the upset of my decision aged almost 12, but this time it scarred my relationship with my sister. Now aged 10, she felt betrayed by my departure.

I have come to realise that very few things in life are irreversible and I am thankful that my family relationships are strong enough to allow me to write this piece with everyone's respect and agreement. I am fortunate enough to have two wonderful families whom I see regularly. And I challenge any girl or woman to show me a better mother-daughter relationship.

As the recent proposals by the Department for Constitutional Affairs to give children the chance to be legally represented in their parents' divorce cases reflect, children who, like Molly and myself, are embroiled in divorce proceedings, should have the right to a voice. Thirteen years after I made my choice, I still believe I did the right thing and I am glad my voice was heard.

I regret the hurt I caused my family members, in particular to my mother back in 1993, but I know that she has come to understand and respect the choice I made. As Molly said recently, desperately pleading with her mother to recognise her decision. "If she loves me, she will respect that I am happy here. I am happy that my dad has custody of me now.

Daily Telegraph
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