No Vice Penguins

ProfileLewis Hulatt, South East consultant with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

I have no idea what is taught in school as to ‘morality’ these days.  It seems unlikely that many of us have gone through the Sister Act experience of earnest matrons lecturing us on ‘sin’ or enduring a brutal masterclass in punishing bad language such as Kathleen Freeman gave as The Penguin in ‘The Blues Brothers’.  Of the two, I prefer Dame Maggie Smith who was clearly a superior Mother.   Dame Maggie always brings something to the part and starting out unsympathetic, she discloses an underlying wisdom and understanding of worldliness which she applies for the benefit of others including Whoopi Goldberg’s nun on the run, novice Sister Mary Clarence.  Both films are good clean fun – sort of!

It being about 40 years since I had RE at school under our own Penguin, I am a bit rusty on The Seven Deadly Sins and had to research them.

Pride, Greed, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Wrath and Sloth can endanger relationships: I probably mentioned an amicable divorce I handled where sloth was to blame – not the Gogglebox Sloth (Neal), but the inattention that the husband embodied in not being bothered his wife was off getting a bit of Lust providing she didn’t distract him from defeating the end-boss when she came in. There is tolerance and there is indifference.  One ‘sin’ begat another, but they showed some virtues too and were a likeable un-coupled pair.

Not as well-known as the Dark Side’s Seven Deadly Sins, the counterpart Seven Heavenly Virtues are the Cinderella Brides for Seven Brothers.

Owing to their innate niceness, the Virtues smile fondly at the more famous Three Graces who always get the limelight prancing around in gauzy costumes.   Such is their modesty, I had to look up the Virtues and found them rather pertinent to sustaining a healthy relationship – so the Seven are:

Chastity                                consideration in sexual conduct and health

Temperance                         not ‘losing it’

Charity                                  not just about money – generosity of attitude and tone

Diligence                              being supportive

Patience                              tolerance – forgiveness

Kindness                              unselfishness – empathy

Humility                               self-honesty – open-mindedness – valuing others – doing what it takes

Put that way, the Seven Virtues sound positive and modern thus not a girl group for Simon Cowell!

The Seven Virtues – coming to a good relationship near you!


p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

I was not much of a watcher of US sitcom ‘Friends’.  I vaguely recall non-stop ‘hilarity’ announced by either an over-enthusiastic studio audience or a much-valued laughter track.

Back in the day, late-night radio presenters survived on provoking callers into killing dead-air by encouraging tin-foil hatters to express their obsessions and delusions and whilst Trevor of Dulwich or Edna of Ealing may have been happy to consider themselves ‘a friend of the show’, the laughter was ‘at’, rather than ‘with’ them. The radio presenters may have sounded ‘friendly’ but they were not ‘friends’ any more than the cast of the sitcom had to be anything more than work-colleagues.  Business is business and laughter is often at somebody else’s expense.

Real ‘friends’ are the people who have earned the right to be honest through being supportive, but when a relationship has broken down, even good friends can call it wrong.  People outside of the relationship do not always recognise the dynamic and often do not understand what their friend ever saw in Miss X or Mr Y.  It is not just a case of not knowing the secrets of the bedroom (which sometimes explains a lot!), but even old friends may not understand the dynamics of their friends’ relationships and even less be able to take into account feelings which may not be clear even to the person undergoing them.

In all that uncertainty and confusion, what helps?

‘I told you so!’ ‘She was never good enough for you’ and ‘I didn’t like to say, but he…’ are probably some of the least helpful things.   Saying what we think the person wants to hear – to validate their ‘rightness’ and their partner’s ‘wrongness’ at the end of the relationship is rarely the action of a good friend.   As a family lawyer, I give people the opportunity to express their ambivalence and uncertainty and I strive to never put people ‘on a conveyor belt’ where they start by asking about their situation and end up with a Decree Absolute in their hand in a lonely room.  Clients need to be making their own decisions and if they attempt reconciliation, they do not want the shame of doing so after all their friends have bad-mouthed their once-again partner.

Listen and remember that whatever you think, they might want to get back together.

A friend has two good ears and one cautious mouth.




Under the thumb

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the best divorce and family law specialists, comments:

At the weekend, I went to celebrate the wedding of a young couple setting out on married life for the first time and I was there as a guest through my wife, so did had met very few of the people before.   My ice-breaker was my confession that I was a divorce lawyer and one couple, contemplating re-marriage asked me about Pre-Nuptial Settlements.   Now that the inclination of the courts is to accept such settlements as binding if they are fair and meet certain other criteria, we see an increasing number of people asking about them – both Pre-Nuptial Settlements for people contemplating marriage and Post-Nuptial Settlements for married couples who want some certainty about what should happen if they were to split.  Indeed, I took instructions only last week for a Post-Nuptial Settlement for a couple trying a reconciliation, but wanting some certainty should it be unsuccessful.   I am hoping that for them it will be an easier discussion in an atmosphere of hope, than one taking place amid the emotional devastation of irretrievable breakdown.  One of the helpful aspects of settlements is that it can lessen the hostility of adult children to their parents’ spouses:  often children are defensive of their parents and want to protect them against exploitation as well as protect their inheritances.  I was consulted for that reason a couple of years ago and the re-marrying older couple eventually decided to make their wishes known by letting the children see their Wills, but in my professional opinion a Pre-Nuptial Settlement would have been better, even if more expensive.

My wife cut her thumb so badly she needed hospital treatment last week and on returning to work with bandaged hand, the teenager she was helping had the first reaction of ‘How are you going to text?’ rather than worrying about the pain.  Anyhow, one pleasing aspect of the reception was that people were only using their mobile phones to take pictures and even that mainly of the couple’s first dance, cutting the cake and suchlike.  For a crowd of tech-savvy people, many younger than myself, it was a refreshing change that people were engaging with each other.

We do Settlements for conflict reduction or avoidance and wish the couple well. If it goes well, John and Sam will have their silver wedding when we have golden.

Any photographs purporting to show me Gangnam Style might be faked…



Fall In

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

The Summer is drawing to a close, holidays have been taken, the football transfer window has closed, the lighter nights are gradually drawing in and the school run has been added to traffic flow. I guess I shall soon be back to the gym rather than striding across the Common or out-pacing narrowboats in the Summer breeze.

So the Autumn – season of mellow fruitfulness – has arrived. The Americans with their no-nonsense approach, call it ‘fall’ to remind them to dodge leaves and fruit.  ‘Dodging fruit’ is a transatlantic sport it seems, but their main course portions make up for it.   Travellers’ Tip: it is always worth spotting the proportion of American tourists being catered for before deciding on what to order – what to us Brits might be noodles for a table of four might be regarded as a single portion, as I once discovered.   Would it be followed by a wafer-thin slice of peach?   “Fall Off!” or something similar emanated from the Creosote party of diners.    But enough of fruit-dodgers.

Family lawyers have long conditioned themselves to expect two or three peak times for new enquiries: September, when the children are back to school and the memory of a miserable family vacation is fresh; January, when the family have been crammed together, over-stuffed and the relationship feels like a ‘turkey’ and there is a minor surge in February, when crass commercialisation has surrounded the 14th February with a sea of pink schmaltz, much to the annoyance of those for whom their relationship fails to sizzle, sparkle or steam.   More ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ than ‘9½ weeks’ those domestic dossiers could not even be ‘sexed-up’ by Tony Blair on a mission for Bush.  More black armband than little black book, February like those other pinch-points in the year usually see an increase in enquiries.

‘How do I stand?’ is a common enquiry at such times, falling on family solicitors’ ears like the ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ of a few weeks before.

Avoiding trite responses to such questions is a mark of professionalism.  We have a complex system in which subjective ‘fairness’ is recognised as being more important than mathematical certainty and it requires nuanced thinking to deliver such outcomes.   Responsible lawyers do not promise outcomes, but comprehensible evaluations, tactical experience and diligent approaches.

Fall out.


What family lawyers don’t tell you about child relocation

Lucinda Connell silhouetteLucinda Connell, Associate at Major Family Law, the best divorce and family law specialists, comments in this month’s North East Times:

In our ever shrinking world, many families have close connections with more than one country. As a consequence of this, together with other reasons such as career prospects and lifestyle choices, there is considerably more movement of international families.  Those seeking to emigrate or relocate often receive advice from numerous and various agencies such as the Government, migration agents and lawyers.

If a separated parent is seeking to relocate and move abroad permanently with their child(ren), they will be swiftly advised that they must legally have the consent of the other parent – or the permission of the court if such consent is not forthcoming. However, parents seeking to relocate are rarely advised that following the relocation, they might never be allowed to return home with the children.  A desire to return home could of course be for any number of reasons although the most common would appear to be in the event of the parents subsequently separating or if one party wishes to stay whilst the other wants to go home; in such circumstances it can be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to be allowed to return home with children.   Thousands of parents across the world are currently experiencing these difficulties.

International law provides that when you arrive in a new country with the intention of staying there, the “habitual residence” of your child changes to the new country. Accordingly, unless the other parent provides permission for the children to be taken back home, an application for permission to relocate again must be made to the local court (the court in the country which you now reside).  The laws governing how a court treats such an application varies widely from one country to another and specialist legal advice in that particular country will be required.  It should not be assumed that the courts will readily grant permission for the children to return home again and the converse is often true in practice.  For example, there are many instances of permission for the children to return home being denied in cases where the parent with care is fleeing domestic violence, or is in dire financial straits or even where the other parent is imprisoned.  Again, much will depend upon the justice system in each individual country but a relocation application can take around 2 to 3 years to be dealt with and permission to return is by no means a given.

Needless to say, being stuck in a foreign country – and one which you do not wish to be in – is tough. It is likely that family members and friends who can provide support may be many thousands of miles away. Simply leaving and taking your children home is not an option as the removal of a child without the knowledge and consent of the other parent constitutes an offence of child abduction.  There are 81 countries in the world which are signatories to the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Parental Child Abduction 1980.  The purpose of the Hague Convention is to secure a common accord and aim that a child removed (or retained) across an international border without the consent of all parents who have the right in law (generally the child’s parents) should be speedily returned to the state of the child’s habitual residence to enable the court in that state to make a decision about the child’s future.  Hague Convention proceedings are perhaps one of the few areas in international family law where decisions of the court and consequent action can be speedily taken; in addition to this, child abduction is a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment under the Convention; there are only narrow defences to a Hague Convention abduction which rarely succeed.­ Within Europe, the procedures and timetables under law known as Brussels II are even tighter and more vigorously enforced with less opportunity to oppose a return order.­ If a child is not returned, the courts of the country from which the child was taken can still make an order, known as a “trumping order”, requiring the child’s return.­ This order takes effect across Europe.

So, is there anything that parents can do to protect themselves in the event, for example, that one of them decides s/he does not like living in the new country but the other does or if relationship comes to an end? As with all important decision making processes, ensure you are armed with all information before you relocate and are therefore able to make an informed decision.  It is strongly advisable that you and the other parent consider such issues before relocation takes place.  Family mediators and lawyers will be able to provide further advice and aid discussions between you to ensure there are pre-agreed arrangements in place to cover the various scenarios that could arise.  Although there is currently no “pre-migration contract” in existence, the organization Expat Stuck Parent is working to produce one which will be similar to that of a Pre-Nuptial Agreement. Although such an agreement is not currently legally enforceable in a court, it is strong evidence of the arrangements that were agreed to be put into effect in the event that one of the parents wishes to return home with the children.  Whilst the interests of the individual children in every case are likely to take precedence, such an agreement is clear and cogent evidence of intention and undoubtedly significantly better than nothing.  A copy of a potential contract, together with lots of other information about the Hague Convention and Expat Stuck Parents can be found at








Happy Work Anniversary

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

Today marks my 30th anniversary of legal work: I started in September 1986, but like all the other ‘articled clerks’ of that time, I had my qualifications and these days would be called a ‘trainee solicitor’.   Trainees had to be ‘articled’ (manacled?) to an experienced solicitor who had to take responsibility for them.  Back then, it was a somewhat feudal relationship like being an ‘indentured servant’ but for those living in the modern world, it could be compared to being ‘vouched for’ in the Mafia, prior to becoming a ‘wise-guy’.  On proving ourselves for a period of two years, instead of the button, we had Admission to the Roll.  Modelled on the Rolls of Chivalry, I guess – champion knights, but without the chivalry: more often compared to White Company mercenary Sir John Hawkwood than Sir Lancelot.   Instead of King Arthur, the Capo di Tutti Capi in charge of who is allowed to be called a solicitor is called ‘The Master of the Rolls’, which these days sounds like an achievement Paul Hollywood grants a handshake for in British Bake-Off.

I did indeed get a handshake – as we filed across the eponymous Law Society Hall I had my hand shaken by the President of the Law Society and a certificate which was, in keeping with my status, rolled up. I did my parents proud by managing to walk, speak and collect a piece of paper without tripping up.

I was officially a wise-guy.

Like something from Subway, I had been admitted to the Roll.

Whilst being a family lawyer can sometimes chew us up dealing with the stress of other people’s disappointments and emotional turmoil, 30 years of knowing that every case has an outcome helps.

Working remotely with a law firm 300 miles away is a far cry from learning to use the correct ribbon to sew documents together or wrapping documents in ‘brief-paper’ with instructions typed using extra-long typewriters before being correctly tied up with ‘pink string’. Back in my first firm, we had solicitors who were working into their 70s and 80s, so at least I was given realistic expectations of what might happen.

Thirty years on, a septuagenarian solicitor sitting in the office, listening to ‘The Archers’ and spending most of the day being brought cups of tea might not be expected, but if that ‘office’ is your home?

Blackberry Way

ProfileLewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the leading divorce and family law specialists, comments as follows:

It may sound an odd thing to mention, but I went blackberry-picking on Bank Holiday Monday. I hadn’t done that since I was a kid, but having spotted the potential harvest of blackberries just out of reach, I armed myself with a stick and put a plastic box in a backpack.   Because we were going to pick some berries later on, we were more observant and noticed that they were much more prevalent than we had previously thought. As we yomped the bulk of the usual route to get the cardiovascular system out of normal mode, I was thinking about how what we do as family lawyers affects more than the person for whom we act.

That ‘systemic’ thinking – recognising that legal advice, assistance and representation goes beyond the client – is part of the Resolution philosophy. If we encourage aggression and the neglect of the needs and wishes of the other party, then we are not doing what we know to be best: the ‘best interests’ of our clients go beyond the immediate, so if getting an extra 5% of the assets causes years of bad-feeling and hostility spilling over onto the relationship with the children, was it a ‘better’ deal than one that was mathematically less?   The family relationships go on many years longer that a solicitor’s retainer.

By the time that I had reflected on whether to blog about resentment this week, we arrived at a lush patch of brambles near a railway cutting.   Many of the easy-to-reach berries had gone, but there was a goodly amount of ripe fruit still to be taken and being willing to get a bit scratched and a bit stung by the guardian nettles, we got a tub of blackberries to take home. Even being prepared by having the stick could only reduce, not obliterate, the risk of nettles and thorns.

Sometimes it takes a bit of pain to obtain something satisfying – the minor discomfort of those scratches and stings were forgotten well before we had eaten the dessert I prepared.

Resolving the issues of separation and divorce can be like that – often concessions that somebody feels are a little unfair can hasten a settlement which in the big-picture, is reasonable.   Sometimes to get better things, we need to endure unhappiness for a while.

At Major Family Law, we know life continues after we have left the scene.

Summer Holiday

p131940-(2)Lewis Hulatt, South East Consultant with Major Family Law, the best national Divorce and Family Law solicitors, comments:

It is not unknown for me to use the inspiration of popular music to reflect upon my work. It goes far beyond ‘Money Money Money’ or ‘Cuts like a knife’ and whilst I can go back to ‘Your feet’s too big’ (1936), songs of different eras express aspects of family work in different tones. Vibes, man.

“We’re all going on a summer holiday!” proclaimed the young Cliff Richard in a somewhat more innocent lyric than The Stranglers adopted in ‘Peaches’ a little over a decade later and way closer to Madonna’s upbeat pop anthem.  Lovin Spoonful expressed the urban delights of pavements ‘hotter than a match head’ when it was Summer, whereas Travis may have been equally ‘on the money’ asking why it always rained.  Never seen ‘Fog on the Tyne’ in August, but have seen Lindisfarne this time of year.

Summer, with its long school holiday which rarely matches the availability of parents, creates extra stress and as family lawyers, we have the confrontational problem of children’s time with separated parents either in advance or with the last-minute spanners thrown up, whether deliberate or not.

As well as trying to solve time-critical holiday arrangement problems, we later get the spouses for whom a week or two on holiday together is an uncomfortable experience. It does not take temptations beyond the time to reflect on the thought that greater happiness might be possible to get those seeds of discontent nurtured.   Discontent is like a rambler or bind-weed – emerging unexpectedly and usually difficult to completely eradicate.  After the schools have gone back or couples returned from their self-imposed mandatory breaks, we often experience an upturn in enquiries about separation and divorce.

Maybe your holiday partner is as Steve Harley described ‘A friend for life’ and you decide ‘Let’s stay together’ (or ‘work’ if you prefer Canned Heat) in which case you can enjoy the time.

Just spare me Agadoo and leave the pineapple on the tree.


Blame it on Rio

211px-2016_Summer_Olympics_logo_svgLewis Hulatt, Consultant Solicitor based in Surrey, of Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

Four years ago, I was watching Olympic football at St James’s Park and saw the boys from Brazil in the men’s competition. We also saw women’s football back in 2012 and the standard had already risen tremendously from when the idea of a woman footballer was a novelty as it was in 1992 when ‘Born Kicking’ was made on that premise. As with other TV football dramas of that era, it involved Woking FC.  The goalkeeper, Laurence Batty is on IMDB as a result and Mandie Fletcher directed.   Arguably, Mandie’s greatest contribution to British TV must be her iconic ‘Blackadder’, the first series of which was filmed partly in Northumberland bringing North and South together as the writer, Ben Elton, was at Godalming College, Surrey.   I mention this about women’s competitive team sport because on Sunday, in the 2016 Olympics, we got enthused by women’s sevens rugby, watching Team GB set up a final clash the Kiwis.  Winning a cup final turns players into ‘legends’.   A long time ago, Lawrence Dallaglio and I both trained at Surrey University sports centre – his side were not performing well and despite his stature, he was ‘fair game’ for mickey taking in the changing room. That rather changed when he was a key member of the team that won the Rugby World Cup.

Trophy-winning goalkeeper Lawrence ‘Lol’ Batty, as well as finding himself name-checked on IMDB, had other claims to fame and having a father who scored a number hit singles, himself netted a winning goal against the Kuwait international side.  One of his dad’s hits was ‘Lost in France’ which must have inspired Roy Hodgson this summer.

Back then, Lol Batty asked me if I would become a football agent as there were playing contracts to sort out, but primarily a family lawyer, I passed the opportunity.   I wonder how life would have been different if I hadn’t – perhaps the glamour of negotiations with The Magpies (Dorchester Town) or doing deals at Scunthorpe (where Tinie Tempah hadn’t been) or gracing the San Siro? (Welling United).  From San Siro to Scunthorpe sounds like a Toon player’s career over four years…

The family lawyer team at Major Family Law have been through a few Olympiads and with hard work will help achieve a Personal Best…

…and not take four years.

Go Team GB!

International Child Maintenance and Divorce

linkedin shotMelanie Barnes, Consultant Solicitor based in Oxford, of Major Family Law, the divorce and family law specialists, comments:

It is not yet clear how family law will be affected when the UK exits the European community, but anticipated that we will continue with recognise maintenance orders made by courts in the other 27 member states under the 2007 Hague Convention on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance. The European Union ratified the Hague Convention on behalf of all member states, and likely that the UK will deal with maintenance claims under those rules if the debtor or creditor is resident in the jurisdiction.  With regards to a divorce, the old rules that require a petitioner to prove residence or domicile are likely to apply.

Reciprocal arrangements for maintenance within the EU are currently governed by the EU Maintenance Regulation 4/2009, which will no longer apply in the court of England and Wales when the UK leaves the European Union. Parents who live within the UK will no longer qualify for free legal assistance within the EU under those rules, and likewise, parents from abroad will not be entitled to legal aid in this country.  The benefit of the EU Maintenance Regulation is that foreign orders are automatically recognised without further procedure.  Future cases will need to be commenced through the Central Authority (known as REMO in the UK), and it is therefore likely that applications to apply for, or enforce, maintenance will once again be delayed by additional process.

Where a parent lives abroad, it is also possible for them to apply directly to the court of England and Wales for child support under Schedule 1, Children Act 1989. This Act grants the court power to make orders for periodical payments, secured periodical payments, lump sum and property transfer or settlement if they are ‘for the benefit of the child’.  In many cases, the court will order that funds are settled on trust to the mother so that she is adequately housed during until the child’s majority, ensuring that both parents have an adequate standard of living.  In making a decision under Schedule 1, Children Act 1989, the court will have regard to ‘all the circumstances of the case’ and take into account the income, earning capacity and financial resources of the parties, including any foreign assets and income that are disclosed.

If the court deals with child maintenance upon divorce, the court has power to order the payment of periodical payments, capital payments for the benefit of the child, special expenses and payment of school fees. There is no limit to the number of lump sum payments that can be ordered for a child, but capital payments are uncommon and there are few reported cases. Where parties are married, the court also has power to order an absolute property transfer to the spouse, which means that it will not return to the paying parent upon a child’s majority.