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Where are the private detectives?

NB: The following article is the sad but true situation underlying the lack of effective divorce law reform that has inspired SOS launching a Divorce Relationship Makeover initiative

With the vast majority of divorces being filed by women, and the most common reason being extra marital affairs, it’s not surprising that the process can easily become litigious, angry, and misery inducing. With ‘blame’ being integral to the process in order to divorce within 2 years thanks to ‘no fault divorce’ still not becoming part of divorce reform, the need for private detectives and DNA testers at the world’s first ever Divorce Fair in Austria in 2007 – a country with a nearly 50% divorce rate – was understandable.

So where were the private investigators and DNA testers at the first UK divorce fair in Brighton this March, and why will there be none exhibiting at the first London divorce fair next Spring?

SOS Brighton and SOS London March 2010 have a different focus, and one not a million miles away from the recent Centre for Social Justice report “Every Family Matters”. SOS does not stand for ‘save our souls’ but ‘Starting Over Show’, and both events not only make clear that Private Detectives will not be exhibiting, but aim to encourage a holistic and non combative approach to divorce and relationship breakup.

As the creator of the Starting Over Shows, I feel that where children are involved, we just have to go against the aggressive divorce culture exacerbated by media hype around angry celebrity breakups, and focus on the positive future we want for ourselves and our children. The focus of our events is not so much about getting through a difficult time – it’s more about starting over by getting the right information and inspiration before all communication breaks down. It’s really about offering hope.

In the Grant Thornton’s Forensic and Investigation Services sixth annual survey, they canvassed the opinions of 70 of the UK s leading family lawyers.

Covering the period 2007 to 2008, the level of cases in which assets are concealed has continued at similar levels to previous years. In such cases, it has been more common for the concealment to be an action of the husband (91% of the cases). In 2008 there were no cases (2% in 2007) of the concealment resulting from the actions of a wife.

Extra marital affairs are cited as the most common reason for divorce in both years. However, worryingly, between 2007 and 2008 there have been a significant increase in the rise of ‘abuse’ and ‘financial worries’ cited as the most common reason for divorce.

As the recession deepens, it is hard to be optimistic about these trends not continuing in the same direction, which makes the lack of legal protection for couples who live together even more of an issue.

All the solicitors surveyed by Grant Thornton have advised on cohabitation agreements over the last year, an increase from 97% in 2007. Yet most couples are unaware that common law marriage is effectively a myth.

With a rise in couples cohabiting, we are seeing a growing number of lawyers demanding clarity and guidance over the issue of cohabitation and couples rights if they do separate. In the eyes of the Courts common law marriage does not hold the same legal rights as it does for married couples, however many cohabiting couples often do not realise this until it is too late.

One in six couples in the UK co-habit – a figure that is predicted to rise to one in four by 2031. This is why Lord Lester has introduced the Cohabitation Bill, which received its second reading in the Lords on 30 July 09.

But let’s not lose our perspective here: the Grant Thornton study reveals that although women continue to file for divorce in 91% of cases, in all but 3% of cases, (up from 2% in 2007), the divorces are not contested.

This means that in the vast majority of cases, the decision to divorce begins with a mutual desire for both parties to end the marriage. So why is there so much misery surrounding the divorce process?

A positive trend which may improve the situation is the rise in the number of lawyers training in collaborative techniques. The Grant Thornton survey shows that the number of respondents trained as collaborative lawyers has increased to 50%, up 2% on 2007 and there has also been an increase in lawyers intending to undergo the necessary training (up to 13% from 11% in 2007).

But who really knows what collaborative lawyers do, or even that they exist?

I’m keen to change that situation. I was amazed to find out only a couple of years ago about collaborative lawyers and financial mediators, not so much because of what they do, but because I never even knew they existed. I want to use the Starting Over Show events as a platform to raise awareness of the wide number of choices open to people facing breakup and divorce.

The Centre for Social Justice Report concludes that: “there should now be strong Government encouragement of couples getting married to take part in high-quality, standardised and accredited pre-marriage information and preparation, delivered in an accessible fashion.”

I believe that much of the information and advice available at the Starting Over Events helps prepare people to not only leave their current relationship with some dignity, but also effectively prepares them for a healthier relationship in the future. You never really know someone till you break up with them – this is something many of us have discovered to our cost.  But it is also true that you can get to know yourself pretty well too. If you can manage to break up well by keeping a long term view, the lines of communication open and maintaining hope, then you will also develop skills that will be valuable in keeping your next relationship healthy and strong.

The Social Justice Executive Summary doesn’t only quote Mr Justice Coleridge’s comments on how the Government “is allowing the whole family justice system to be starved to death”. There is also a quote from ‘Angela, daughter 11, son 10’ – which strikes to core of the matter. “As long as solicitors and Society continue to view divorce and custody as adversarial, ie. That there should be a ‘winning’ and a ‘losing’ side, then the issue of where the children from these relationships should spend their time will be a painful, expensive battleground for those involved.”

A pity perhaps, that the same report does not include recommendations for introducing ‘no fault’ divorce.

References:

Centre for Social Justice: Breakthrough Britain – Every Family Matters

Grant Thornton “Boom or bust for divorce?”

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2 Comments

  1. Good article, Suzy.

    Lawyers are a big problem for divorcing couples. They can have a tendency to have more of an eye on their fees than what is best for the couples and respecting what they have amicably agreed. They have a huge incentive to inject areas of contention.

    Another point that you may like to look into, or campaign about if I’ve got this right, but that is to remove the negative effect of moving out of the shared home on any eventual proceedings. Time & again I’m told I shouldn’t have moved out but it is absolutely bonkers that a couple should be forced to share the same roof because of some arcane legal nicety. Isn’t it?

    Nuff ranting from me…. 🙂

  2. You are so right Stephen, people staying in the same house because the lawyers tell them to is absolutely crazy. And now we have people staying in the same house because they cannot afford to move out before the house is sold, which can take over a year……

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