Sunday, 2 December 2012

Stalkers Face New Laws in the UK

The term stalkers conjures up images of dark figures looming at the end of low lit streets. This menacing figure wears dark clothing and is broad shouldered and appears with a stance that strikes fear. The reality is very different and often stalkers can be those that are closest to you such as an ex boyfriend, a friend or a relative or neighbour. The appearance of a stalker is not menacing and they are ordinary people just like you and I which is often what surprises the victim when the identity of the stalker becomes clear.  What makes stalkers develop these obsessions with another person is a story with many facets and the reality is that little is known about why stalkers chose the victim. What is evident is that the victim's life becomes controlled by the actions of the stalker and victims become fearful of going out and fear constantly being followed. The reality is that the stalker will be around the victim at some point and often may be sat right next to them. There is one such case where the young lady being stalked took up an offer by her male friend when he offered to stay in her home and keep her safe, when all the time he was the stalker and was sending her explicit sexually charged messages.

This victim had knowingly placed her trust in the very person who was making her a life a misery. It has long been the case that women reported stalkers and due to the stalkers ability to keep their identity a secret, it was difficult for the police to trace the individual. This allowed such behaviour to gather momentum and the stalker would progress from anonymous texts to appearing in the same places as the victim. Often by following the victim the stalker would easily find out the residential address  of the victim and the behaviour would escalate. Some stalkers will simply sit outside a home and refuse to move on or would return to the victims address and wait outside for hours on end and unless they are actually known to be committing an offence they are not moved on. All the time the stalker is familiarising themselves with the victims movements and work habits which empowers them with the knowledge of when the victim is most vulnerable.

The introduction of new laws offer more protection to victims of stalking as if someone is found guilty of stalking by harassment, following or spying on the victims they could face up to 6 months imprisonment and those that are guilty of stalking with the threat of violence can face up to 5 years imprisonment. The new provisions  have been introduced under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and includes the two offences of stalking and stalking with violence and threats of violence. The previous Protection from Harassment Act 2007 did afford  protection but there was no recognition that stalking was a crime. It is hoped that these new measures send out the message that stalkers will be prosecuted by the police.

There have been many high profile cases in the media. One such case was that of Clare Bernal who was shot in Harvey Nichols by her ex boyfriend Michael Peach in 2005 whilst he was awaiting sentencing for harassing her. There was also the case of Lorna Smith who was stalked and killed by Clifford Mills in February 2011 and he was jailed for a minimum of 21 years. The Governments introduction of the laws is welcome and has been called for by campaigners for many years. In the UK around 120,000 women fall prey to a stalker and often the result of the death of the victim is an end to an abusive relationship which may have continued for months or years after separation. It is not always the case that the stalker has been in a relationship with the victim and may have just locked themselves into an imaginary relationship. This can cause real fear if you know that someone is watching you and is aware of what colour blouse you wore, where you went and who you met. Stalkers may often give the victim snippets of information about how they arrived home and who with or what they wore and this is unnerving when you are simply living your own life and doing every day things. This is more frightening if you live alone.

The new laws are a welcome development in the recognition of this crime which many woman have struggled with for a number of years. The Government has also signed the Council of Europe's Convention on Violence Against Women which has been signed by 18 other European Countries. This is a strong message to stalkers that this behaviour will no longer be tolerated and that it will be taken seriously by the Police and other agencies. I would not expect that these new laws will make this behaviour disappear but the recognition of this behaviour as a crime is certainly a step in the right direction. In my area of practice I am familiar with those who end abusive relationships and the behaviour that they have tried to escape from continues to follow them. Many receive threats of violence under the cloak of their partner saying that they want a relationship with the children. In the majority of such cases the Court recognises the violence and the impact that this may have on the children and the mother. However, stalking is emotionally upsetting to the victim and although it may end with a crime resulting in the death of the victim, these new laws ensure that the Police can address this behaviour before the matter is allowed to escalate too this level. 

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Impact of International Law on Families

In society today the modern family unit has changed. It is no longer the case of husband, wife and 2.5 children. The family unit today maybe an unmarried couple of opposite sex or a couple of the same sex. With this change in society there has also been a lot of change within the employment markets with husbands and wife's travelling all across Europe and on some occasions living apart in different countries. So when a separation occurs in such a case, the argument is often  whether UK law or the law of another country should apply.

The reality is that as lawyers we are comfortable with the UK laws which regulate the breakdown of a relationship but when there are other elements of law that can apply, unless solicitors are aware of the limits of their expertise and know when to call in the experts or tell the client clearly that this is not an area that they familiar with, couples that are part of the overseas relationships can suffer. There will certain aspects of European laws which may favour one party over the other. In some cases they may provide your clients with a more favourable outcome.

Where the proceedings are started will determine the law which will apply to that matrimonial breakdown. If for example parties have not lived in the UK for a certain period of time before they file the proceedings then the UK laws will not apply. However, it may that the husband or the wife return the UK and reside here for the specified time before filing a Petition under UK laws and then jurisdiction is opposed by the other party .

The modern globe trotting families have other complications in their affairs should the marriage or relationship end. Often there may be homes in more than one country or multiple investments made in the different countries. This can complicate the management of the financial settlement which may impact on the financial resources available to each party. Over and above that there may be pre nuptial and post nuptial agreements in place which one party may seek to have considered unfair if it discriminates against one party or the children. The post nuptial agreement/ pre nuptial agreements are another issue and these have been discussed in a previous article.

In a case involving international laws it is important to ensure that the appropriate experts are appointed to assist the lawyers based in the UK to ensure that the settlement that is reached is fair. The question is can UK based solicitors represent their UK based clients who own property abroad. The answer is yes they can provided that they know when to call in the experts and ensure that the correct team is put together to represent the financial interests of the client. It is important to also understand the legislation and provisions that apply in the country in which the other spouse is resident. Only if you know the laws regulating a separation in the country of their chosen habitual residence can you ensure that you can advise them of where there interests are better protected. It may be beneficial to apply the laws of the other state to reach a settlement in which negotiations will take place between a UK lawyer and an overseas lawyer.

Over and above the issue of the financial settlement is the issue relating to contact between the children and the non resident parent. Where should the children reside and with which parent? Here is the issue is not just about with which parent but in which country. Often if the parties live in different countries this is a major issue and often one party may seek to return to their country of origin after the marriage has ended. Children will inevitably suffer as contact cannot be arranged each alternate weekend and it is important to be inventive with the ways that contact can be accommodated. There are many sites such as face time, Skype and other such applications that can ensure that the relationship between the children and the non resident parent continues. Again, the situation becomes more complex in terms of child maintenance and again the issue of which state will regulate it and how will non payment be recovered become major parts of the lawyers considerations.

In my view it is important to recognise that the laws relating to such families can be a minefield and experts should be drafted in to ensure that any client is not at a disadvantage when the marriage has ended and the situation requires the application of international laws. At Leeds Family Law we are acutely aware of international laws and their complications. Our solicitor will not hesitate to refer the client to an expert should this be required. At Leeds Family Law we put together teams that will represent our clients interests fairly and justly who work alongside our experienced Director/Solicitor and Collaborative Lawyer, Talvinder Penaser. We represent many clients with properties and investments abroad. If we find that we are in a position where an expert is required we will locate such experts and ensure that our client is protected. If you are in a similar situation and require advice please do not hesitate to contact us on 0113 3944145.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Christmas Contact for the Children of Separated Parents

Christmas time shall soon be upon us and for many parents who have separated and have children the saga of who will have contact with the children is part of the list of things to do. Many solicitors will agree that when looking at the situation from the outside in, it is clear that where possible the children would benefit greatly from having contact with both parents on this day. When it is possible many parents will share this occasion if they live close enough to each other or if they live at a distance it makes sense to alternate the occasion between the parents each year. Sometimes even parents that live close by decide to alternate this occasion each year so that the families of each parent can spend with time with the children.

Many reading this will say that the above is simple enough and from a solicitors point of view, it is. However, there is no better evidence than this simple concept of the effect that a difficult separation can have on contact. In some cases the parents may have issues between themselves which cloud the contact as a result of which it almost becomes a battle of who will "win" the child for Christmas. This is not the way that contact should be for children. Where there are no child protection concerns or safety concerns surrounding the child, it is accepted that children benefit from having a positive relationship with both parents. So when they see their parents bickering between themselves the children are inevitably learning what type of behaviour is acceptable and may well begin to accept that this is what adult relationships are like.

Is this really the example that parents should be setting for their children?  The most important consideration should be that the parents both  have time with the children without any issues from the other parent. Whether the parents decide that Christmas is shared or alternated, this is family time when parents and children are free from the constraints of our working and school life and are given the opportunity to enjoy quality time together. The focus on this occasion should be the children and neither parent should depart from this principle.

I think every parent appreciates that quality time with the children is hard to come by with the usual school routines, swimming, dance and football lessons and many parents take on the role of their children's PA as they become older and the children's social Calender often means that parents have little time with the children. This is more the case for the parent with whom the child lives who manages the children and their time. For the parent who does not live with the child it is often the argument that the other parent lives with the children and sees them all the time. This is true, they do. But for the majority of the time they are not spending quality time in a relaxed environment with the children. They are making tea, getting them ready for bed, baths, completing homework, sorting out packed lunches and so on. This can often cause issues as the parent that does the everyday running around often feels that the parent who does not live with the children has a better quality of time with them as they are free from the restraints of school routine etc. I am equally aware that some parents share the contact and both are actively involved with the children but the more common approach is that when parents separate the child remains with one parent.

Issues such as the above can lead to a build up of emotions which then results in Christmas contact becoming an argument. Often unless agreed in advance this can become a yearly saga for many which they dread almost as much as the Christmas traffic.

Often when confronted with this situation I advise clients that there are two options during this time. Either the years are alternated or they are shared. A workable arrangement should be made so that the children benefit from time with each parent during this time whether it is contact shared on the same day or on alternate years. This allows the children to spend time with each parent and their families and children can build up their social connections with the extended family. The children benefit from contact with the families of both their parents. There are those cases when one parent can become completely unreasonable in their demands and that is where the difference between good advice and bad advice come in. It is very easy to provide your client with the lip service and agree with what they telling you to do and as solicitors we comply with our clients instructions no matter how unreasonable the instructions are. I differ in my approach here from many others. I will make clear what can be achieved and what a reasonable outcome of a court hearing would be. I also ensure that my client understands when they have a good argument or whether they have a bad one. Once the clients are informed of what the Court would be likely to order taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case, and looking at what the arrangements were in the previous year, it is often very clear where a child would be spending Christmas.

I encourage clients themselves to be reasonable and take into consideration the needs of the children. This issue can be resolved cost effectively provided that you consider the situation in the cold light of day and do not let personal issues or selfish thoughts cloud your judgement. If you had contact over Christmas last year, it would be fair to agree to allow your partner to have it this year. If you shared the contact on the day maybe you want to alternate the times. If you woke up with your child on Christmas day last year would it not be reasonable to allow the other parent the same opportunity this year? Just think about the child and the fact that Christmas is about the children and the parents should keep it that way.

If you are struggling with a difficult ex partner with Christmas contact this year or have struggled for many years with this issue, call Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 and our Directors no nonsense approach will set you straight and if you are being unreasonable you will be told. We pride ourselves on providing good honest advice and the fact that you may not like what we tell you makes no difference to us. We believe our role is to advice you and ensure the advice is a realistic and that you do not spend your money chasing an outcome which is unrealistic. Please call in confidence to book your free consultation now.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The effect of Social Networking Sites on Families

Many legal professionals and Judges will have experienced first hand the statements that pile into court proceedings with various exhibits attached from a number of social networking sites. Many users of such sites will make negatives comments about their estranged partners following the breakdown of a marriage or a relationship.  These comments and insights into this sensitive situation are there for all their families and friends to see. On some occasions the children may also be exposed to what their parents are saying about each other as may their friends' parents. This can have an extremely negative effect on children to see adults behaving in this way towards each other. It is not just the public that do this but celebrities are often engaged in mud slinging matches about their relationships and it is there for the whole world to see. Everyone can get caught up in the hype and want to get their point across but at what cost? Why is there this need to justify to the world the intimacies of the relationship, why it went wrong, who is to blame etc. On the other hand there are celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes who reached their financial settlement within weeks of separation and remain dignified about the whole process.

In some cases estranged partners will openly threaten violence against each other and other family members may often join in. Inadvertently if the children are part of this social circle they become embroiled in these issues and it can have a devastating effect on them. I have seen many such instances where the relationship breakdowns often mention that partners are on such sites all of the time as a result of which they fail to spend time with their families. Many will wake up in the early hours to respond and communicate with their networks of friends and many have rekindled childhood romances through the use of such sites. This can lead to affairs within marriages and relationships which then ultimately causes the breakdown. Are we really that vulnerable as a society? Is it true that such sites contribute to the breakdown of families? Or is it simply the fact that such sites make it easier for those that are in unhappy relationships to seek solace with another ignoring the significant other in their lives already.

It is concerning that there are so many different networking sites right from those that are to socialize to those that allow people to simply meet others for sexual relationships without any strings. So are we responsible as a society for using such sites to fulfil our every need or are these sites simply providing an easy way out of a unhappy relationship for so many users. I think that in our society and within the busy lives that we lead it is so easy to tap into our smart phones and tablets what we want and many sites will spring up offering you everything that you are looking for and much more. This is right down to bathroom soap through to sites offering affairs to married men or women or to those that are simply bored in their current relationships.

I would say that this market is consumer driven and some of those consumers are in relationships. People have the desire to have such relationships and seek out these sites, pay the membership and sign up to be able to indulge their whims and fantasies.  If their partner was to find out then the current relationship may end but is the easier option to have discreet affairs and remain in a relationship? Is that what the stable family unit has become? It is very easy for people to make negative comments about such sites and say that these caused the breakdown of their relationship. The reality is that it is the person using such sites for illicit purposes that results in the breakdown of families. The intention of the individual is what is questionable and not the sites or its contents.

The reality is that such sites have made it easier for those who have the intention to seek out extra marital affairs to meet like minded people to have such affairs, whether married or in a relationship. The cause of the problem is the ease at which such relationships can be made available to those that seek them. I am well aware of the impact that the use of such sites can have on the family and on the children. It concerns me that such bad publicity is given to social media sites and networking sites when it is only as good as the users that are in there. I believe that the responsibility to stay together as a family unit falls on both parties and it is when one person loses that desire to remain as a family unit that problems start. The sad reality is that we all find what we want on the internet. It takes a lot of hard work to keep a relationship going and as a society we need to learn to fix what is broken and not seek solace elsewhere. If our relationships are not working we need to address such issues. Inevitably, some relationships do breakdown but the heartache that such sites and affairs can cause send ripples through family units and it is important to remember that if you have children each parent should behave in a dignified manner and aim to not cause their children embarrassment through making negative comments on such sites. Many children will tell their parents that they are embarrassing enough as it is!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Leeds Family Law Celebrates 1 year in Practice

Time really does fly when you are having fun. This month on the 14th June we celebrated one year in Practice and to mark the occasion I appeared in the Law Society Gazette making comments on the Criminalisation of Forced Marriages. This really made the end of year a special moment. You can read the comments that were made at http://www.lawgazette.co.uk/opinion/comment/combating-forced-marriages-requires-more-robust-legal-measures.

I am hopeful that the readers will find the comments interesting as forced marriages are an issue that I feel strongly about.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Marriage Foundation

People do not treat marriage seriously? People divorce too easily? They give up on their relationships? There is no commitment these days? Young people do not understand marriage? Is this true? Justice Coleridge, a High Court Judge has 30 years expereince in dealing with complex family breakdowns. Justice Coleridge has been out spoken about his views about marriage and it comes as no surprise that he has set up the Marriage Foundation, an organisation designed to be the advocate of marriage within society.

The Foundation aims to highlight and promote the benefits of marriage within society and it is no secret that Justice Coleridge has experience  of the impact of family breakdowns. He himself has been a Barrister who has dealt with many marital breakdowns and he is now part of the Judiciary and sits as a High Court Judge in family matters. Justice Coleridge feels strongly about the impact such a breakdown has on the children.

It is important to recognise that children are affected significantly by the breakdown of the relationship of their parents, whether this is a marital or cohabiting relationship. The children often struggle to understand the breakdown and the adult issues associated with this. It is sometimes the case that children blame themselves for the breakdown and this can present itself in various types of behaviors. Some may become withdrawn, introverted and quiet, others may rebel and go off the rails or misbehave as school.

The separation of the parents impacts on children whether their parents are married or not. It is the separation of the two parents that often causes the most emotional damage to children. This is when parents working positively together can help. As a Resolution accredited specialist myself, I advocate that the children must be protected and I reinforce that children benefit from a positive relationship with both parents. Is this damage limitation or does it really work? Only time will tell whether the parents working together ended up with a well rounded and stable adult at the end of the childhood period.

Would this child have fared better if his parents had stayed together and provided a stable family unit? This depends often on the relationship between the separating parents when they were together. Sometimes, if the relationship between the parents is not positive and one of them is unhappy in the relationship but stays there, this can be just as damaging to the children. Children learn that they have to stay in unhappy situations and may mirror this behaviour in their own adult relationships. So would the parents staying married help this child?

In some cases parents become better at being parents when the parties separate. I often have clients tell me that their spouse is now making much more of an effort with the children and they are genuinely pleased that what was lacking whilst they were together is replaced by a positive relationship with the other parent and the children after the separation.

Marriages end for many reasons. What one person may find ends a marriage may be something that another has lived with without any issues for 30 years. Personalities, emotional development, tolerance levels and understanding vary from person to person. There is no magic formula which will confirm compatibility for the next 30 years following your marriage. Many who have been married for this length of time will confirm that there are times when their spouse may have driven them to despair and madness but underlying this relationship there is something deeper that what the human eye can see. There is a sense of belonging and more importantly a desire to stay with each other. This magic is something that all married couples are not lucky enough to have.

What everyone must also consider is that people who choose to give their relationship the status of a marriage very rarely envisage that they will be sitting at a solicitors office talking about financial provisions and children years later. Couples do take the marriage seriously and committ to one another. So if one party to the marriage decides that they want a different life then the person being divorced is often crushed by this. Some form other relationships and often cite that the marriage was lacking in some way or that they drifted apart. Is this the reality of growing older or is it that both parties take each other for granted and become complacent during the marriage.  Both may stop making the effort to talk to each other or make time for one another.

In the busy lives that we all lead with children, school runs, meals, gym memberships, pets, work commitments and ever decreasing bank balances is it any wonder that often the pressures result in people being unable to maintain the emotional and physical sides of their relationships. Like anything marriage needs time, effort and commitment to survive against the odds. More than that it takes both wanting to stay together. When one loses that desire the marriage ends.

I believe that the decisions to end a marriage is very rarely taken lightly and one that is a choice that everyone is entitled to make. Whether society accepts this choice or not, staying married and staying happily married are two different things altogether.

If you are going through a marriage breakdown and require legal advice, please do not hesitate to contact Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 for a confidential discussion.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Gay Marriage is not a Human Right.

Gay marriages are a controversial issue.  The Government has finally taken the plunge with David Cameron pledging that he wants to recognise Gay Marriages. The Consultation process has begun and David Camerons plans have been met head on with a strong decision made by the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg clearly indicating that a Gay marriages are not a Human Right.
So where does the decision of the European Court of Human Rights leave the consultation in the United Kingdom? Should the law be used to change the definition of marraiges and thereby regulate faiths and religious opinions?  Should religious places of worship be allowed to refuse to marry two people of the same sex? And should those that wish to allow such a marraige be permitted to do so? Religion does not dictate the community that we live in and people make a choice whether too accept a religion or not. With that religion there are certain beliefs and traditional faiths do not support same sex marriages. Many individuals may accept their faith and not agree that their faiths should discriminate this way against same sex marraiges but it does. It is not the place of the Law or Politics to enforce anything upon a religion or faith and the law cannot regulate faiths and compel them to support same sex marriages and force religious leaders to allow them to take place in their place of worship. Religious beliefs cannot be regulated in this way and it would be wrong for the law to become involved in something as emotional as religion and issues of faith.
But then there may be those religious leaders and places of worship that want to allow two people of the same sex to marry and they will pose the question of whether they should be allowed the freedom to do this.
I for one applauded the Civil Partnerships which recognised and gave status to many same sex relationships, but I appreciate the position that many religious leaders are preaperd to fight for the traditional view of marraige.
The Government plans to make progress with the issue of same sex marriage by the next general election in 2015. Many MPs have the view that the politicians should not be able to redefine the traditional view of a marriage which is between a man and a woman. They maintain that a political definition changing what society sees as a marriage to include reference to recognition of same sex marriages undermines the traditional family unit. The social impact of this should not be under estimated. Many countries have changed the reference to mother and father on birth certificate since same sex marriages have been recognized in their countries. The recognition would have a knock on effect in society and it is unacceptable to some that same sex relationships should be given the same recognition as that of a marriag between a man and a woman. Many religious leaders and MPs will say that same sex relationships undermine the traditional family unit.
Although those in same sex relationships will say that they do not seek to change the definition of marriage, this is a definition that would need to be changed. A marriage is recognised and defined in English Law as the " union of one man with one woman, voluntarily for life, to the exclusion of all others." The definition refers to a woman and a man and religions reflect this. If marriage was to be recognised in same sex couples this definition would need to be altered to take account of this. This change would have an impact on those religions that then refused to offer marriage in this way to same sex couples. Is it the place of the law to enforce social changes upon religions which hold many orthodox beliefs and opinions and have done so without interference for thousands of years?
However, how does this effect those that are in same sex relationships? How do they feel about not being able to have a religious service? Some same sex couples that feel that as their relationship is not given the same status as a marraige they are almost treated as second class citizens. Some may have religious beliefs although they are in a same sex relationship. Is this is matter for law or an internal emotional struggle for those that have chosen this way of life to seek justification from society and have their relationship recognised.
Social change occurs all the time. Previously it was frowned upon if women had children out of wedlock. Some religions condemn such children and mothers. However, many family units today are made up of unmarried couples and single mothers with children. However, the law has taken no steps to ensure that religions accept this into their fold and give it their blessing. So why is same sex marriage any different?
A same sex relationship is a choice and a way of life that suits many people throughout the UK. However, such social changes and acceptance of such relationships has come a long way since being attracted to the same sex was considred  socially unacceptable. There is a higher level of acceptance of same sex relationships in society as a whole now than there was 25 years ago. Changes happen over a long period of time and it is clear that the law cannot and should not enforce social change and impose this upon society.
It may be an issue that need to be addressed in the future but is it the right time to address this now? Or is this an attempt by the Government to be seen as something more than the one that is solely  responsible for the reduction of deficit. Would this issue enure that they receive more votes form the same sex  relationship communities and support groups?
At this stage it is clear that many religious leaders are oposed to the idea of same sex marraiges and prepared to fight for the traditional union of marraige between a man and a woman. It may be that politics and religion meet head on to address this issue but anyone that takes on a religion and challenges faith may find they are fighting with both hands tied behind their backs.
If you are thinking of entering into a Civil Partnership or are having difficulties in your relationship there are a number of options available to you, if you are yet to enter into a civil marriage you an take steps to protect your financial positions before you enter into this relationship. If you wish to discuss matters further in confidence, please call Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Arranged Marriage vs Forced Marriage

Arranged marriage and forced marriage. What is the difference?  Is there a difference? Yes there is. And it is a big difference. An arranged marriage is consensual. Both parties are introduced to each other and given the choice of whether they wish to proceed with a relationship based on the intention to marry. A forced marriage is not consenual and one or both parties may not wish to engage in the marriage ceremony at all. An arranged marriage is traditional  and cultural and a forced marriage is not traditional and nor is it cultural. A forced marriage is abuse.
Many young boys and girls are taken out of school and often although they are missing for weeks on end no reports or further action is taken by the school. No steps are taken to alert the authorities or the Police to say that someone is missing. If someone went missing from the park for 3 days they would be considered missing. So why not report the young Asian school children who go missing for weeks on end? Is it the fear of upsetting someones religious beliefs or being too culturally sensitive that prevents such action. Are people too afraid to ask questions or ignorant of what is happening around them?  I do not think any one knows the reasons but this attitude towards these missing children can result in horrific abuse being suffered by them. Some children are forced into marriage, raped, beaten and left without their families abroad. Does the fact that they are married to their abuser make this any less significant than child absue? I think not. Or does being married make it acceptable to society? Again, I think not.
When these children return to school they may have been sexually abused and may appear withdrawn. Often their appearance has changed dramatically and yet again, no one asks where they have been and the simple question of 'are you ok?'. Often, the children suffer in silence and have no one to talk to and no appointed contact at the school. They cannot tell their family or their friends as they may fear isolation and may not know how to explain what has happened to them. When I was at school, lots of my friends went abroad and returned with drastically altered appearances. I was a child myself and now realize how much they must have suffered. Many went away wearing western clothes and returned wearing Asian attire throughout the school years.
Finally some progress is being made and the Home Secretary Theresa May is considering whether the act of forcing someone to marry should be made a criminal offence. At the moment this is a Civil law matter and the onus is placed on the victim of the forced marriage to take action against their family and loved ones in order to protect themselves. These are young children who are often being asked to take adult decisions and deal with adult emotions. Naturally they find this very difficult. The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 allows an individual to make an application for a Forced Marriage Protection Order. If this order is breached the victim must make an application and return the matter back to the Civil Court and prove that the breach occurred.
This is a great burden emotionally on that individual. Many that have obtained a Forced Marriage Protection Order find themselves isolated and without support after the order is in place. The agencies that help them think that the individual is protected as the order is made. But in my view the real work starts after the order is made. That is when the most support is required and many victims will say from experience that they are left with none. Most children that are affected by the practice of forced marriage come from close knit, large families and do not cope well being on their own. Without the right level of support many may return to their parents and families and decide to comply with the marriage which they did not want for the sake of preserving the family honour (izzat).  Many may be reluctant to take action against their families even when the order is breached as the victim often feels a tremendous amount of love for their parents and family despite the situation they find themselves in. Many will not take action for fear that their parents will be imprisoned and their status in the community will be effected.
The children in Asian families abide by a certain code of conduct that is dictated by the community within which they live. A certain level of education is expected and tolerance of relationships outside of marriage is still largely frowned upon. The children are preconditioned from birth to conform to certain pressures that society and community place upon them. Gays and Lesbians would find it difficult having their relationship and their sexuality accepted within the communities within which they live and many may be forced into marriage to "cure" them of being attracted to the same sex.
Honour (izzat) is often the most important aspect of the families standing in the community. To have this ridiculed or shamed by the actions of children can result in honour killings and many victims in the UK have suffered this ordeal. Parents killing their own children because they fail to conform or want to live life independently.
So should forced marriage become a criminal offence? Yes. Because this sends out a strong message to those communities that engage in this practice that if they are caught or reported to be engaging in this act then it will be considered a crime. At the moment there is no real sanction. Many are made subject to the Forced Marriage Protection Order and the sanction is limited to the victim returning to Court.  It is often easier for the victim to return to the family and in many instances accept the marriage. The order seems to lack the weight that is attributed to injunctions which if breached are considered a criminal offence and the necessary action is taken by the Police and CPS.
All those in communities that are affected by this practice should take the opportunity to comment on the Home Office consultation paper relating to forced marriages. Often it it those communities that this practice affects that remain silent. If you have been subjected to a forced marriage and have views that can assist or put into place provisions that help protect someone else in the future, then you should make your comments known. They can make a difference. You can respond to the consultation at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/about-us/consultations/forced-marriage/
If you require advise and assistance on an international aspect of a divorce or separation or forced marriage, then please contact Leeds Family Law on 0113 3944145 to discuss your options now. Married abroad and want to separate? We can help you to understand your legal rights.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

The D (Divorce) Word

Divorce. Just the sound of this word being uttered by your spouse can send waves of panic rushing through you. And quite rightfully so. Panic, guilt, blame, shame, fear, anger, sadness are all very common and natural emotions that one may experience at this time. Sometimes there is elation and a sense of a weight being lifted from your shoulders if both parties were expecting something like this to happen but too scared to broach the subject. The fact is that there is no right and wrong to feel about Divorce.

The truth is that Divorce is a life changing event which some describe as the closest thing to bereavement that they have experienced. Many will shed tears in my office and I have a large supply of tissues handy for those moments. Many will be fine until they start to talk about the marriage and what went wrong.

Each breakdown of a relationship involves two sets of behavior that at some point stop complimenting one another. This leads to issues and arguments and eventually disagreements and growing apart as a result. Many trial separations are the beginning of the end. Separation will teach you to be apart and not always help to resolve the issues. By the time the client reaches my office many have already concluded that the marriage has ended. They want to end the relationship and some want to rant and rave and express anger at what they experienced. Others come to the quiet dignified conclusion that they want to keep matters as amicable as possible.

 As a qualified Collaborative Lawyer, this element of my training often seeps into the advice that I give. In some cases it is wise to let the party that wants to vent anger get it off their chest. I am able to identify such cases where there this need exists and advise the clients accordingly. For some venting the anger allows them to move on to consider other more important issues, like contact, children, finances and debts.

There are many ways that Divorce can be progressed with as little aggravation to the other party as possible. However, many Solicitors let their clients take over and dictate how the proceedings should be conducted and allow anger and hostile comments to be made in correspondence. I for one, discourage this. What will is achieve in the long run? Is it not better to limit the correspondence to the issues in hand rather than draft 10 pages of reasons why the marriage ended. Surely keeping it simple and concise would reduce the anxiety and distress for both that are involved. Heightened emotions will only lead to the issues becoming clouded.

As a Resolution Accredited Specialist Family Solicitor, my aim is to make this chapter of your life as easy and simple as possible. I cannot make Divorce a seamless transition but I can make it effective, non confrontational, constructive and cost effective. I am wary of companies that offer a Quickie Divorce for under fifty pounds and promise a divorce in weeks. As reputable as these companies may be, this is simply not possible to achieve. The picture is painted that if you involve a solicitor it will cause lots of delays. The fact of the matter is that by the appointment of a Solicitor you will receive legal advice along the way which is very important as divorce can effect your inheritance, your will and your finances. It is important that if you have children the correct financial claims and considerations are undertaken on your behalf. The correct claims must be made on your behalf so that financial matters can be progressed if disputed.

There are 5 facts upon which you can commence divorce proceedings in the UK; Adultery, Unreasonable Behavior, 2 years separation with Consent, Desertion and 5 years Separation. The solicitor instructed would advice you as to the most suitable fact for your divorce. Commonly, I have spoken with people who have said that they thought that the Divorce was automatic after 2 years. Many think it just happens if you separate and a telepathic communication is sent to the powers that be and they automatically grant the divorce. It is not that simple. Until you begin Court proceedings to dissolve your marriage you will remain married regardless of how long you have been separated.

If you have been through a separation or are contemplating Divorce you should obtain legal advice about your legal position and the action that you can take. failure to take the correct course of action can leave you with undesired financial implications.

At Leeds Family Law we offer a free consultation and ensure that even if we do not see you again, all myths about divorce that you have heard are cleared and you leave understanding your legal position and legal rights.   Please call us to discuss your family matter in the strictest confidence on 0113 3944145 or visit our website for more information at www.leedsfamilylaw.co.uk and see what we can do for you. Good, honest Yorkshire advice comes as standard!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Dowry Practice In The United Kingdom

Many will read this title and the immediate response would be "doesn't happen in the UK". Unfortunately, this is a misconception and the giving of dowry is an ingrained practice that takes place at almost every Asian wedding.

What is not known is the exact amount of money that often exchanges hands and the value of the expensive items given as part of the dowry.

I took part in an interview with the BBC Asian Network addressing dowry and practice in the UK and found that throughout legal practice, many come across dowry and are ill informed and do not understand the value behind this custom. The interview can be heard at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b017sxjk.

Many solicitors do not understand the dowry system and may take the view that items cannot be recovered and some may be politically sensitive and not ask questions for the fear being seen to be racist or are too careful being culturally sensitive.

The main problem that under pins this practice is that the concept of dowry giving and receiving is so in grained within culture that it is considered the norm to give and accept such items. What must be understood about this practice is that it is not necessarily a demand that is made by the grooms family. Often, the Brides family will fund the items for the dowry and give them to the Grooms family alongside the bride when she leaves her paternal home. It almost a given that this practice will take place and it is expected and accepted with no questions.

The Grooms family will often accept all items and take them with the Bride although no demand may have been made. In more extreme cases however, where demands are made by the Grooms family the Bride may be ridiculed or humiliated by the Groom and his family if they feel the items brought to their home are inadequate. In this setting domestic abuse is often heaped upon the Bride and for fear of bringing shame upon her family, the Bride will endure this often for many years.

So how does the UK deal with this practice and what laws are there to protect the bride and her family in the event the marriage ends and they seek the return of the Dowry? The answer is that there are no laws and the practice is not afforded any protection.

This is where the solicitors understanding of Dowry is important. A solicitor who is aware of the sensitivities surrounding this practice can build this into negotiations rather than an after thought which is often the case at Court Hearings where I have often heard solicitors say ' oh, and there is the dowry as well'. And that is as far as it goes. Well what about it? Where is it? If it was a bank account you would seek financial disclosure. The dowry is the same. It is an investment and in some cases many families can produce receipts and documentation of the value of such items.

The practice of Dowry is so underground in weddings that it is difficult to determine what items are dowry and which are gifts. This is mostly where the problem lies. The Grooms family will say they are all gifts and therefore should not be returned. Then there is the argument is this a gift to the Bride or the Groom?

The return of the Dowry is always a problem in that the Court will not litigate this issue as costs can often exceed the overall benefit to each party. For example if the value of the dowry is £10,000 and each party is to spend £5000 in terms of costs for a final hearing to decide the issue, then there is no monetary benefit to the parties.

The Courts tend to hear evidence which is limited on this issue. It should also be understood that the Court is limited in that it can only apportion the assets that are immediately available to it. Often the dowry argument is one that remains an issue within the community long after the marriage has ended and the case concluded.

So is it fair that the brides family should lose their money in this way? If they had invested money into the matrimonial home and registered their interest against this property, then on the sale they will receive their share. However not many families will seek to take these steps for fear of offending the Groom and the family. But should the family wash their hands of their life savings simply because they fear the marriage may not take place or that they may face ridicule?

Most families will invest heavily into the marriage and then often have no way of recovering the Dowry or its monetary value. However, if your solicitor is aware of this practice it can be discussed and raised as part of the negotiations early on. Many that want to save face in the community will often agree to return the items for fear of being labelled greedy and jeopordising any future prospects of marriage proposals to their family and other children. However, just as many will simply do nothing and often end upon retaining the items after the Bride may give up trying to recover the said items.

It is clear that this practice exists but if a law was passed in relation to the giving and receiving of Dowry, would it stop? Well, lets look at countries wher Dowry practice is against the law. In India there are laws against this practice and despite that Dowry remains common practice within the South Asain, Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities. Many women are burnt alive and tortured due to the Dowry and even those families that have given a Dowry beyond their means may find it did not live up theexpectations of the Grooms family. So the woman are ridiculed and beaten.

Their families have to suffer knowing that this suffering is taking place and in some cases the Bride will not tell her family so as not to upset them. So a law may not benefit. But recognition of this practice and making it a consideration under the usual factors considered by the Court would assist many of those that live in the UK.

Clearly, the Court does need to recognize that where such a practice has taken place it should be considered more fully and any matrimonial settlement should reflect this.

If you can relate to this practice or you are going through a marriage breakdown then please contact Leeds Family Law Ltd on 0113 3944145 for your FREE consultation.