Archives For April 2014

On April 4th 2014 Vladimir Putin’s divorce was finalised and, as it was a family law story, I mentioned this fact in a tweet as @familylawman_me on the same day.  I also mentioned the fact that he was, therefore, now a single man!  Rather spookily, within 24 hours I was being ‘followed’ by @visting_russia.  Followed in a twitter sense, you understand, rather than a KGB sense.

Just prior to this I read a fascinating article in the Observer by Yvonne Roberts looking at the effects of divorce in the older generation which made some very interesting points and to whom I am indebted for many of the facts below.

Mr Putin, who is 61, was married for 30 years to Lyudmilla who gave him two daughters, now in their twenties.  There are many who would ask why, after so long, Mr Putin and his wife decided to end their marriage and seek, as they put it at the time, a ‘civilised divorce’.  As the Observer article and my own experience confirmed, Mr Putin is not alone and so-called Silver Splitters are, as a class, on the rise.  According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2013 the number of those divorcing aged over 60 had tripled in two decades to 1.3 million, with the average length of marriage being 27 years for men and 32 years for women.

There are many reasons for this I am sure, including that we are living through a huge demographic shift in that there are now more pensioners than there are children under 16 in the UK, and it is predicted that by 2025 one half of the entire UK population will be over 50!

As our life expectance has also effectively doubled in a very short time, there are some that suggest a partner for life meant something different when you lasted only twenty to thirty years as an adult before you shuffled off this mortal coil.  When significant numbers of people are living considerably longer today there are those that suggest that it is only natural that there is now time for a second meaningful lasting relationship

For my own part, separation early into retirement is a scenario I have seen played out on a number of occasions.  At the risk of blatant sexism (but we are talking about retirees here and gender stereotypes were a little stronger then) Mr Blogs retires and has far too much time on his hands and is at home considerably more than he was before to the increasing annoyance of his wife.  Mrs Blogs, who had everything in her life quite sorted following the kids leaving home, having filled her time with her clubs and coffee mornings, does not need a bewildered new retiree getting under her feet.  As each is pushed out of their comfort zone you can see that conflict can arise.

Recognising this Relate launched their ‘Retirement Together’ campaign in 2013 to ‘raise awareness of the importance of relationships in later life’ and sought to point out the many disadvantages of separation, most of which are the same as for any separation.

Whilst no-one wants relationships to end, it is my view that just because a relationship is over does not mean it has failed.  People do grow apart and an effectively- and positively-managed separation and divorce can make the parties and any children involved happier in the long run.  Who wants to be stuck in a loveless marriage bickering the twilight years away?  Whatever I or others might think, a threefold rise in twenty years speaks for itself and the Silver Splitters are here to stay.

I understand (from Yvonne) there is such a thing as the Harvard Grant Study which looked at male development by following Harvard students since there were 19 in 1942.  In looking into the evidence, one George Vaillant suggests the results have thrown up some general conclusions on how men can live a long and fulfilled life – such as cigarettes are bad and alcohol isn’t much better, and that marriage becomes better after the age of 70!

Mr Putin really didn’t have that long to wait then, before he got happier, but there are those who suggest he has an eye for a certain Russian gymnast (I had better put allegedly before I get ‘followed’ again).

As Mr Vaillant interpreted the evidence ‘Happiness is love.’  I suppose if you fall out of love for whatever reason then finding happiness elsewhere becomes more urgent the older one is.  Pensions can be split and houses sold and the proceeds divided and each party given financial freedom for their new future.  As a family lawyer it is my job to make sure that any such transition is managed with the least acrimony and for the greatest benefit not only to my client but to the larger family too.

It was impossible to escape that phrase recently (even my mum told me about it), and many were quick to respond negatively to the very ‘Hollywood’ way Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin released news of their separation on her website,  But just what where they getting at with the idea of ‘conscious uncoupling’?  And should we be less sniffy about what they are saying, even though they are a pair pampered to the point they wouldn’t know the reality of most peoples’ lives if it bit them on their perfect ‘A-list’ posteriors?

A YouGov poll published in January for the charity Relate said 58% of adults don’t believe there is such a thing as a “good” separation. Yet, Relate’s figures also suggest one in two children in the UK will see their parents split up before they reach the age of 16, be that whether their parents are married or not.  Whilst news of any split is sad where there are children involved, separations continue apace and there seems little that society can do (despite all manner of political rhetoric and posturing) to stop this trend from continuing.  Hence, in my eyes, it is probably better to concentrate on easing the passage of the death of a relationship, and that can be where a good family lawyer comes in.  Particularly one who is a fully signed-up member of Resolution ( and their non-confrontational approach to family matters.  Like me!

Anyway; back to conscious uncoupling, and, after a little gentle Googling, it turns out that it is, in fact, a real thing and not just showbiz-speak for a divorce.  Indeed, the concept was developed it in 2010 by Katherine Woodward Thomas, and has been made into a five-week course, and Ms Thomas is currently writing a book about it, which is fantastically good timing for her!

Now I have not paid the no-doubt commensurately A-list fee for attending on Ms Thomas, so I cannot comment on the content.   I am always doubtful of anything that suggests a major life crisis can simply be dealt with by attending a five-week course, but was particularly dubious when I saw from her website that Ms Thomas has also written a book on how to attract the ‘love of your life’ in seven weeks.  However, putting that to one side, I understand the idea of conscious uncoupling can be distilled into not entering a destructive ‘blame culture’ as the relationship deteriorates and ends, but, rather, to try to agree that the crisis and breakdown is not the fault of one person and there may have been myriad factors.  In accepting this, the parties can be focussed not on scoring hits against each other, but on trying to work together to agree their future, separated, relationship for the benefit of the children.

I quite like it as a concept – who wouldn’t?  But then, whilst our methods may differ in getting there, there are broad similarities with what we Resolution family solicitors, in conjunction with our mediators, have been doing with clients for years and years in seeking to refocus on an agreed outcome.  We try wherever possible to ameliorate any apportioning of blame and to be positive and constructive when engaging with the ex and their lawyers, particularly where children are concerned.

We are very aware that words once said cannot be unsaid, and hurt can be inflicted in a heated instant that will take years to overcome, if that is possible at all.  The children will have school plays and sports days they will want both parents to attend; they will graduate from college and get married and have babies themselves; and all the while if the relationship between one ex and the other is so poisoned they cannot be civil to each other the kids may feel they have to choose; and it may be you who loses out.  Equally, if your child has to exclude one of their parents from their significant life experiences because they cannot be in a room together then they, your children, miss out.

And so we Resolution lawyers attempt to assist you in agreeing things rather than battling it out adversarially.  We help you agree how the children’s time should be shared between you by helping you put their interests first.  We help you agree how the assets of the relationship can be best shared to provide a secure financial base for both parents so that the children can benefit from having happy and financially independent adults caring for them.

In short we help you separate, but to do so thoughtfully and positively and with the least lasting acrimony.  We could call it uncoupling consciously…!

Perhaps then, in this regard conscious uncoupling is a concept not just for the stars of Hollywood or singers in superbands, but for everyone; or at least anyone with a good quality Resolution lawyer on their side.