My Blog

My blog is meant to inform but its primary purpose is not to be informative. It is about the law but it is not solely about the law but also about those places the law does not go. The law is the platform from which I dive. My blog is about my opinions but is not primarily about my opinions since I often temper these to the subject matter on hand, not to mention the imagined audience. Quite often when I open a subject which is related to the law for discussion, I find myself in a place I never meant to be, or to go, as if the subject takes on a life of its own. I write articles based on what I do for a living, and I am a family lawyer, but of course that is not all I am. I find that when I engage with a subject, and use writing to express my thoughts, that quite often the journey is more interesting than the end and that what I thought I was writing about is not what I wrote about at all. This seems to me to be a metaphor for life. I write, therefore, to throw some light into the dark, to increase my understanding and by extension hopefully, other people’s understanding of what often seems incomprehensible, to enliven the dull so my spirit does not sag and to throw some humour at what is often deeply sad so that I can, or maybe, dare I say hopefully, “we”, can gain perspective. I doubt I succeed but the effort is honest.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Spousal Support/Maintenance/Alimony.

One of the most controversial areas of family law is the issue of whether or not post-separation/divorce an ex-spouse who had been dependent or semi dependent should continue to be financially supported and if so to what extent, for a number of years or indefinitely, to a previous financial standard or close to it or to some other to be determined standard of a lesser nature. These topics are hotly debated by lawyers with each other and in front of Judges. Even in the case of spouses who both work it can arise if there is a big disparity in income. Not too surprisingly, the prospect of having to support an ex indefinitely, and sometimes even for a short period, is one that exercises the mind of the possible supporter to an excessive degree and can colour what might otherwise have been a fairly measured approach to the division of assets. Ex-spouses or partners in this position will wonder if continuing to work to the same exhausting degree as previously, is now worth it? 
Lawyers faced with this issue will often stress the difficulties for women in returning to work after a prolonged absence, loss of confidence in their abilities to navigate the workplace or in the value of their contribution, need to retrain, lack of technological know how etc. On the other side some lawyers will argue that a willingness to at least try and return to work would go a long way. Still others will suggest a retraining period or even a return part time plus some retraining and the remainder will just argue that a return to work is on the cards. 
As a long time, feminist, I tend to feel some sympathy with male resentment. I sometimes think that self-respect should determine a willingness to return to some form of paid employment. Many of the women involved are well-qualified and could at least try. Are these women lazy? Are they used to a particular lifestyle now? Are they unwilling to change?  Surely if you had spent a good deal of time, energy, money and graft in qualifying and climbing up a career ladder – you would want to get back to it asap? 
Before trying to answer these questions, I want to contextualize this debate. Very often in the course of a marriage, couples have divided up tasks in a way that makes financial and practical sense for their home lives. If one party earns more or has more career potential, then it can be practical or make financial sense for the other to downsize their own ambitions and focus their energy on family. The intention can often be that when the kids reach a certain age, the partner who back-seated his or her career at the altar of family life will return to work or College or will, at that time, be afforded an opportunity to focus on his/her own specific career opportunities. In reality, the partner who most often makes this sacrifice is female but that may change going forward. Sometimes, however, that conversation does not actually take place, it is more a silent understanding. Quite often, such understandings are often imagined as shared but are not shared at all and that discovery is only made when the marriage/partnership is in difficulties. This can lead to added layers of disappointment and anger. Even when the conversation is heard and remembered, there may have been life changes which would make such a well-intentioned agreement impossible e.g. marital breakdown, drop in salary, change of work location, sickness etc. If the relationship breaks down it is quite often the case that even if there was a will, there are insufficient funds to run two households and provide extra money for College or to remain at home and very often the parties are facing not only the ruins of their relationship but also the ruins of a lifestyle plan such as a return to College.  Looked at in a different way, it is worth remembering that men are very often enabled to shoot up their career ladder because women are prepared to take a back seat on their own career. It is also true however, that men can often work at unpalatable or dangerous jobs to ensure good pay because they are supporting families. A man’s ability to change careers is curtailed by his responsibilities or to take less paid work which might be more conducive to him. What is important here is that we do not make too many generalizations and that we see everything in its context.
In my experience, most women are prepared to contemplate a return to work but are hugely lacking in confidence that they can earn enough money or that anyone will want to employ them now. There are a few who genuinely have no intention of returning to work or who are ill and cannot contemplate return. Most women, who appear not to want to consider a return, are afraid that they will wind up with insufficient money post separation/divorce. Therefore in negotiations or in court, they present themselves as unwilling, incapable or unable to return to work so as to maximize the spousal financial support they might get. Lawyers are often hostage to their own prejudices in this situation. Their attitudes can be guessed at depending age and gender. Male lawyers will seldom encourage women, in a divorce case, to return to work. This may be a straight forward strategy based on the reality that a female client looking for support will get less if they are working and able to contribute something themselves.  While female lawyers are often caught in this trap too, they are likely to be working mothers themselves and aware of the issues involved and therefore, better able to have a conversation about a return to work. They are more likely to offer direct encouragement. Male lawyers often find it hard to position themselves in such a way with female clients to have such a conversation without coming across as badgering. Unfortunately, the Judiciary is not clear on this matter and while one Judge might take a strong view and raise the issue in court, another will not raise it. 
I take a view that with few exceptions, age or sickness, being most of them, that a separated woman is often better off returning to work as a part of her recovery from the marital breakdown and to give her a sense of financial independence. That said, everyone needs to fully appreciate the logistical difficulties of such a return. Quite often retraining is necessary or a phased return depending on the type of job and ongoing family responsibilities. Equally, a woman who was in a high- powered job or a job with considerable status in her 20s and is now 40 is not going to return at the same level or indeed any level and that may be humiliating for her. Accordingly, she may wish to pursue another career or different kind of work. Sometimes, the experience of being a stay at home Mum may have fundamentally affected her approach to life, values etc. and she may wish to pitch herself differently in the work force.
All of the above difficulties are conundrums that need to be discussed. In short, they are conversation pieces. Nothing will be resolved satisfactorily by either side making the other feel bad about life choices that worked for them as a couple and are now unsustainable.  Equally nothing will be served by either of them being led by well-meaning family, friends or professional people into bitterness. The end result of bitterness in the legal world is money and money will never compensate for lost dreams and hopes even if that were allowed by our system, which it is not. Ireland has a no-fault divorce system. The language of compensation is not appropriate in family law. If a party gave up a career to raise children or took less promotional opportunities because of family commitments, there will be no compensation for such sacrifice in a family court. However, the court will take some account of it when dividing the assets but only to the extent that money is there. All that will happen in family court is a careful balancing of the finances of you as a couple and as you currently stand financially and a division accordingly.

However, a back story, a look forwarded to where the parties might wish to get to in their future separateness can lead to conversations. Conversations can let light in and show ways forward to mutual benefit. Not always, because sometimes there just isn’t enough money no matter which way you spin things, but the conversation can break down bitterness and barriers which in turn leads to better parenting or communication. It is not much of a conversation when a person is being cross-examined in court or where negotiation is being conducted with each party closeted in their own area so that the people actually talking are the representatives and not the parties. Mediation, collaboration in all their myriad forms are the way forward in all family law dilemmas.   

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Happy Christmas :)

Conflict and Children

An article appeared in the Irish Examiner recently (29th November 2018) in the section entitled Life/Style, by Richard Hogan who is a practising psychotherapist, in which he wrote “recent research illuminates that separation doesn’t generally impact the child negatively but rather the damage is caused by how the parents deal with each other in that new post-separation landscape”. Wise words in my view and ones that echo sentiments expressed in this blog since its creation. I would urge everyone in this unfortunate circumstance to try and manage their marital breakdown in a civilised or amicable fashion. I am very much aware that it is a tall order, but the alternatives are so dreadful that rising to the occasion is the best advise that anyone can ever give you. I am not going to write now about the many and varied alternative ways in which you can resolve your disputes without going to Court as I have written extensively about them in this blog, in my articles and on the website and no doubt, I will cover them again in due course.  For the purposes of this article, I propose to address how conflict around children in the context of marital breakdown actually manifests and how it then impacts on the children. It is not only the obvious tug of war around residency and access that causes all the problems rather the difficulties are caused in more subtle ways and often without any conscious efforts on the part of the parents. 

   It seems from the research that the type of post-separation conflict that has been found to have the worst effect on children is that which occurs when parents use children to express their anger and hostility towards each other. This would seem kind of obvious to most parents even those that are blinded by anger and bitterness, but it is amazing how many parents involve their children in their conflicts and do not even appreciate the damage they are doing.  Often, they are even unaware that they are involving their children. 

       Asking your children to carry messages from one parent to the other is a big “No – No”. This is especially so, if the message is hostile which it generally is, either overtly or covertly. As a colleague of mine put it, no good is being expressed in a sentence beginning “Your Mother or Your Father”.  Tell your mother etc., or say to your mother, ask your mother, your mother should, and so on….are not phrases that usually bear glad tidings and love to all mankind. It is astonishing how many parents use their children to convey such missives. 

        Parents regularly contact me with reports of things their children have told them about the other parent.  There are circumstances in which this information is given by the child in answer to an innocent, non-intrusive question, but the opposite is equally true. Asking children intrusive questions about the other parent is not good. You are putting your children on the spot and they know it and resent you for it. They feel they are betraying the absent parent and also making you unhappy with the information they are giving. In short, they are in a no-win situation. Even if you don’t understand why you should not do this – don’t do it – as a good child psychologist will undoubtedly be given this information by the children and will rumble you. This will not play well if you find yourself in Court.

      Telling your children things about the breakup e.g., what led to it and who did what etc., but then asking them not to tell the other parent what you said, is not good. You should never put your children in a position where they have secrets from the other parent. Remember this is a stock in trade of child abusers. Do you really want to use similar tactics for any reason?         Confiding in your children inappropriately about adult matters is also a No-No.  It can be hard not to talk to your children and certainly the older ones when you find yourself living alone and a little isolated, but it has to be resisted as you are their parent, not their friend and you have to be the grown up. Inappropriate confidences can either serve to alienate a child from a parent or over-burden them with secrets and information they should not have and do not need. 

          Very often children will be afraid to say anything positive to one parent about the other or about spending time with the other parent, for fear of upsetting one parent or the other. A child in such a situation will feel constrained not to say anything for fear of upsetting one or the other. Sometimes this feeling can play out in ways that affect the access time of one of the parents. If a child cannot utter anything positive about the visits, the child might conclude that it might be easier not to go on visits or tell the upset parent that they do not want to go as a means to make the parent they primarily live with, happier. This happens frequently around holiday access when the prospect of the children being away for an extended period is more than the non-holiday parent can tolerate. This will result at no end of difficulties around passports, information about where the children will be at all times and an expressed wish to be able to contact them whenever wished. Apart from the passports, the other parent will not see anything wrong with any of this, which on the face of it looks quite innocent. It is, of course, a question of degree. Having information is a good thing as long as it is not over the top and being able to talk to the children while they are away seemingly innocent enough, unless it is two or three times per day. At this point, the holiday tends to become burdensome for all concerned and can be destroyed for the children. Parents will often tell me that a child does not want to go on access with the other parent and of course, that might be true but it can also be the case that the children perceive that the parent left behind is unhappy or particularly sad or even a little angry and if they are primarily resident with that parent, they may feel that it is better not to go on the visit.
         It is important to remember that children can hear and see as well if not better than many adults. In addition to this startling information, it is good to remember that children are bursting with curiosity and anything that seems secret or off limits will tease them to distraction. Lowering your voice is like an invitation to them to eavesdrop.  Every time you go on the phone to talk to friends or extended family, you need to be aware of the big ears around the place. A lot of parents do not even lower their voices and it is truly amazing how many parents can be heard shushing their children while they have one of these conversations so that the child even if not overcome with a need to eavesdrop, cannot but listen. A child’s view of a parent can be badly affected by overhearing such conversations and it should not happen. A child is entitled to an opportunity to get to know both their parents on their own terms and without having the lens coloured by one or other parent to a point where they are prevented from having that opportunity. Worst of all, of course, is when a parent directly badmouths the other parent to a child
               Children should feel safe when expressing their feelings to either of their parents at any time.  Sometimes children take on the responsibility for keeping the peace between the parents and hold themselves accountable for any fighting or unhappiness that breaks out.  Such children have poor outcomes post-divorce.

                 Another factor which can have a negative impact on children post-separation is the quality of parenting they receive from one or both parents. Imagine a parent who sheds tears every time he or she has access with the children and imagine how this impacts on the children just in terms of the actual visits but also the quality of parenting they are receiving.  Imagine a parent who gets upset every time the children have to leave the house and how that makes a child feel either about leaving the house or going home post visiting. Imagine a parent who talks to the children about the sexual behaviour of the other parent when the children have not even accepted the sexuality of their parents in any context and so on.  Parents who are obsessed with what the other parent is doing or who cannot cope with the strength of their negative emotions are not going to be quality parents. Part of any alternative dispute process is going to look at parenting in a more in-depth way than any court will do and will examine how future parenting will look in terms of communications how and when, decisions and plans that need to be made in the immediate or are coming up soon, and will try and empower the couple to deal with these matters. The experience of having sat together at formal meetings, and the experience of having business family meetings together for just you, the couple, can help enormously in giving you the courage to believe that you can deal with this. Accepting, however, that very often distracted and saddened parents can feel absent to their children, try as they might, I recommend counselling on an ongoing basis. It can help with relieving the emotional fallout when friends feel you should be getting on with it and it can empower you to take control. Counselling for children can also be very important as they need outlets to vent their frustration, sadness and anger too. Art therapy and play therapy can often be appropriate resources.

                 One of the greatest gamechangers arising out of a divorce or separation is the advent of a new relationship for one or both parents. When such a person becomes a step parent that can also give rise to a whole new ballgame. There is so much to think about here and I have already written an article on being a step-parent, however, some of the questions are 1) When should a child be introduced to another party or significant other? 2) When does a relationship qualify as steady/long-term/serious – 3 months, 6 months, 9 months or a year?  3) How and when do you tell the children?  4) What is the potential involvement of the long-term partner/stepparent in parental decisions or issues? We would routinely deal with these in all alternative dispute resolutions which can mean that such events do not jeopardize hard-fought peace and accord by taking people by surprise.  If parents handle these developments well, the children will generally be okay.


              These are not the only things that can affect children post-divorce and other examples are lack of finance for one or both parents as well as no contact with previously close extended family members. These matters can be managed if recognized in advance.  I have written before in this blog of the role of grandparents as bridge builders post-divorce and I would urge you to read that article. I find that where the parties adopt alternative dispute resolution as the method of resolving their dispute, the extended family no longer finds the need to take sides which ultimately benefits everybody. Lack of finances can often become most obvious around Christmas and birthdays and a little advance planning by the parents every year can often take care of this. Being able to talk and having to experience post-divorce of those conversations as you do in mediation, collaboration or managed negotiation can make co-parenting much easier going forward and ultimately, prevent your children from being caught up in parental conflict and promises better outcomes all round.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

3rd Divorce Phase – Co-Parenting

One of the key aims of Alternative Dispute Resolution which I have touched on in the two previous phases is successful co-parenting.  Co-parenting is what happens post separation or post-divorce when parenting has to be organised between two separate homes and sometimes around several children with competing needs.
While parents may have overlooked key differences in parenting styles while there was still some love and affection, the attention focuses on these differences in an unwelcome way when the trust in a relationship has broken down.  Parents have to learn to trust again and that different parenting styles do not make one right and one wrong.  They must also recognize that children will sense their nervousness around the other parent or will have heard negative things about the other parent in the course of the two phases to date, and will often determine that they do not wish to go on access.  It is important for children’s health and well being that they continue a relationship with the absent parent.  Learning to live with and cope with all the competing feelings and interests and have clear boundaries is a serious learning curve for both parents.
I would always recommend parents to try and agree on things like custody and access to their children.  Even the terminology here is archaic and even has criminal overtones which are out of place in family situations.  If those matters are imposed from the top (Judge) down they can cause considerable hassle in their implementation.  Far better to agree.
Aside from the considerable difficulties involved in recommunicating in a sufficiently calm and efficient way to ensure property and smooth transfer from one parent to the other, there are the considerable difficulties involved in different styles as mentioned above in a climate of strained trust at best. For example, if Mum feels that Dad is just looking for access to get at her and that really the children are just being parked in front of a telly or allowed to play games, she may have difficulty allowing access.  For both parents the restraint needed not to prod children for information may be too much.  There is also the fact that children may be upset when leaving one or other parent as would be normal but the parents can read too much into it to suit themselves without even realising they are doing this.  These are only a few examples of the sorts of issues that arise very frequently post-hearing which can often become even further complicated by the arrival of a 3rd party into one or other of the parent’s lives.  At this particular juncture, this can have a very destabilising effect and even more so if no provisions have been made for this likely event.
Of course, money can also be a major issue in the ongoing successful post-separation parenting of children.  Very often Mum will perceive Dad as being able to spend more money on the children than she can afford.  She will say he is buying their affections.  Such a scenario can get played out over Christmas with gusto.  Both parents decided to have Santa so two sets of presents.  No parental co-operation around the Mum and Dad presents and so both spend more than they have so as not to be seen as having skimped. In addition, there is the skirmishing around who has the children on Christmas Day and for how long etc.  All of this can be avoided with proper planning and looking at it from the children’s perspective rather than each parent focusing only on what they will have.  Disagreements can arise over what clothes the children bring back and forth from one home to the other.  One party will accuse the other of not laundering the clothes prior to return, not doing homework with them should that need to be done, not feeding them so they go to bed later than normal, not feeding them properly, not sending them over to the other house with enough clothes so clothes have to buy etc etc.  Is it any wonder kids would find it difficult to move back and for them with all these tensions spilling over?
If you go to court, the court will not look at any of the above i.e., they will not anticipate the difficulties that may arise, they will simply order access as they feel appropriate based on the individual Judge’s habits in this area and the evidence presented.  However, in ADR, particularly collaboration, we look carefully at the issues that might arise such as a 3rd or 4th adult coming into the picture, Christmas presents, grandparents and extended family contact.  We try and ensure that both parents anticipate issues before they arise and have a plan in mind for dealing with this and furthermore, that we have very clear rules set down as to how to deal with something which arises that was not discussed.  We look at money for children very carefully and try and ensure that each parent can and will contact the other to discuss any envisaged expenditure for the child/children of a large nature.   This minimises problems over Christmas and birthdays.  We future plan educational expenditures so that by the time the parties get to an agreement they have envisaged most of the issues likely to arise going forward with their individual homes and their children.   Quite often, however, the parties will remain living in one house awaiting a sale, agreement or court order before driving on so the actual experience of co-parenting post-separation in a physical way will not arise until after the case has concluded or is near the end.  Of all the issues that can arise post separation settlement or orders, access issues can be the most difficult to sort, causing further heartache not to mention expense to both parents and children.
The experience of co-parenting is a steep learning curve for both parents.  Mum has quite often been the hands-on parent and Dad the one coming and going.  Dad may have to learn how to manage the children without the assistance of Mum and in an everyday way as opposed to outings.  Mum, on the other hand, may have to share in a way she did not in the course of the marriage at a time when her ability to trust is often at an all-time low.  She may also be resentful that Dad is suddenly asserting himself as Dad when in the course of the marriage he was off most of the time.  Both parents have to share their concerns in a managed safe way, both need to acknowledge the valued role that each of them plays in the children’s lives and both need to seek help from counselors and parenting groups if needs be.  The beauty of ADR is that it can assist with all of this while the legal process is ongoing because, of course, some ADR methods are legal processes also.

Second Phase of Divorce – Legal

Law tends to be fairly cut and dried and generally speaking, does not mix well with emotion.  People can get emotional about the law and its significance and more particularly about decisions of the courts but the law itself is dry.   The majority of people consult their solicitor/lawyer when they are in the emotional phase of divorce and as a result have a very hard time making decisions or even just absorbing the information they are been given.   The law part of family law is not particularly difficult to understand but for family lawyers the hard part of family law may be client management and for clients the hard part can often be just accepting that the law will not buy into their anger, fear, sense of betrayal and often flat-out denial and will just make essentially cold-blooded decisions.
Bearing the above in mind, it is, therefore, often the case that clients are best off to wait as long as possible before embarking on the legal aspect of their divorce.  There are circumstances, however, when speed is of the essence, for example, where one spouse is being harmed, or where children are suffering for whatever reason or where assets or money are in danger of being dissipated if time runs on.  This is not meant to be an exhaustive list so it may be as well to check with a family law solicitor if you are unsure, however, when a lawyer tells you to take your time, you really should listen.
When you do decide to take time to allow things to settle a bit, attending counseling as part of that process is a very useful and good thing to do.  Counseling can help you to keep focus and can also assist you to see your own part in the breakdown of the marriage whether you are the Walk Away or the Leave Behind.  In the throes of anger and denial, it is very hard to contemplate this but it can often play a crucial part in recovery.  Counselors are trained in managing emotion and so can assist you to see things more clearly and teach you techniques to help you manage your emotions.
It is important to know before you embark on anyone legal process, that there are several ways of going about your separation/divorce.  I spoke about these briefly in the previous article on Phase 1 of the divorce process and mentioned them by name.  The most important thing to be aware of is that there is that you can divorce/separate in many different ways and a good understanding of all of them will help you to make an informed decision about how best to proceed.  The different ways that you can divorce, divide into those methods that come under Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and those that are adversarial i.e., in the Court side of things.  All of these processes, however, have a legal component so they come under the second phase.
Alternative Dispute Resolution embraces mediation in all its forms, managed negotiation and collaboration.   Adversarial on the other hand takes in traditional negotiation between solicitors or between barristers and the actual hearing before a Judge and all that is involved in getting to that hearing date. The dynamic of a couple separating, the background to their marriage and family of origin history, child issues, financial issues, company or property issues can often determine as well as their personalities what type of alternative dispute resolution process might best suit them.  Determining this requires a whole separate skill set all of its own and it also requires a couple who have processed through most of the emotional phase, though they do not have to be completely out of it even if that is actually possible, the more they have processed the better they will be able to work within the ADR spectrum.
In Ireland, all family law (adversarial) is conducted “in camera” which is a Latin term for privately.  This means that most people have no idea of how hard it might be to proceed through the court system.  When you combine this with the emotional phase, the experience can be really awful for many people.  As a solicitor, I tell clients exactly what to expect i.e., how long the process can take with or without delays, the costs involved whether it is settled and at what point of the process and what costs are involved in going to a full hearing, what to expect from the system on the day of hearing etc., but I think most people cannot take this in as there is nothing in their experience to match. Sometimes going to court is the best option for a client but I would urge everyone to explore their options before proceeding in one direction.  The problem is when you are angry or full of hate, the only option that might seem attractive is a court process because we are all full of television portrayals of courtrooms where mean and criminal types nearly always get their ‘come uppance’ and lawyers make inspiring speeches.  The reality is far removed from this.  Judges frequently have far too much on their court list on any one day to give individual cases the time they might like. Judges are never interested in inspiring speeches, they have to be saved for the jury and no jury will be involved in family court.  Barristers are often juggling several cases on the one day and will be moving between one frightened couple and another trying if at all possible to settle their cases.  Clients rarely feel they are getting the love and attention they want. Quite often there is nowhere to sit and no privacy and people are left standing around in small groups trying to negotiate for most of a day.  This is exhausting for everyone and not conducive to good settlements.  When your solicitor tells you all this and more at the beginning of your case, you are probably not able to listen and even if you do hear it probably don’t fully believe it and think he or she is likely to be exaggerating to dampen your expectations or to justify their big fee or whatever.  The vast majority of experienced family law solicitors will do everything they can to try and settle their cases in advance of any court date.
The legal phase can take 12 to 18 months if the matter if fully contested and that is without undue delays.  Delays arise when people don’t file their paperwork at the proper time and one or other has to keep going into court to seek sanctions to force the other side to comply.  Financial disclosure is one of the biggest delays in the family law system.  This involves each party to the proceedings making a full and frank disclosure of their financial situation to the other on sworn affidavit.  With rare exceptions, few people are happy with the disclosure made and it can become a war of attrition serving mainly to prolong the agony.
ADR with dedicated clients and good management is much faster than going to court and less costly.  You do not compete for attention when it is your time.  The process can go as fast or as slowly as is needed and often the process itself can assist with the emotions and with the co-parenting issues which can move clients forward through the six stages quicker than otherwise.  ADR itself helps parties to detoxify making some of their other adjustments more bearable. 
Family law clients often articulate a need to have the legal part over before they feel they can get on with their lives.  When the legal part drags on they get frustrated.  They feel that they are stuck.  This is often because they think that when the legal part is sorted everything will be over and the torture will end.   Often, however, when the legal part is coming to a close, the other stages are only just beginning.  Up to the time of divorce, there may be no experience of co-parenting as the parties are still in one house.  Therefore, the making of a court order in relation to how the children are to be parented going forward may bring on the Co-Parenting Phase of Divorce.  In addition, the granting of orders pertaining to property and finance may give rise to the first real experience for either party of the reduction in living standards which occurs when combined property and income is split bringing on the Financial Phase of the divorce.  Often when property is sold or one party moves away this can lead to the Community Phase of Divorce and then we get to the final part which almost certainly comes after all the other parts are fully processed and that is the Psychic Divorce where the parties finally come to terms and accept that they once again autonomous beings.     
      

THE SIX STAGES OF DIVORCE: Stage 1

Divorce is not a quick process even when you live in parts of the world where the paper divorce, i.e., divorce order, is obtained quickly.   Divorce/Separation is a long drawn out, complicated, process involving every member of a family, the immediate and extended, in their own process to come to terms with your divorce or separation and what it means for them and for you.  People often believe that the granting of a court order saying that the parties are divorced is the “be all and end all” of getting divorced.  Even in Ireland, where the court system is slow and you have to be 4 years living apart in the previous 5 to be able to apply, the complete process of divorce may not even be halfway through when the legal divorce is granted.   The legal phase of the divorce is only one stage/phase and there are an identifiable six stages. While this may seem like an off-putting piece of information on one level, it is in fact enormously helpful for both clients and their lawyers to have a full grasp of each of these divorce phases.  In this article, I am going to deal with the first phase which is the Emotional Divorce.  The emotional divorce can be further broken down by an examination of the grief cycle.  The grief cycle identifies different emotions that arise when something very important in one’s life is lost.  I have written about the grief cycle previously and you can find this article at
People are not one dimensional.   As well as their legal needs, they have emotional needs, financial needs, family and parenting needs, and psychic/spiritual needs.   The Court can either, after a full hearing or when parties have entered into a settlement, make a full order covering the granting of the divorce itself as well as making provisions i.e., orders in relation to children, finances and property, however, the paper is one thing but the reality of implementing and living with those orders even when they are agreed, as opposed to imposed, is something else again.  The practical realities and accepting them with all their limitations comprise stage three and four of the divorce i.e., the co-parenting and financial divorce.   When a house is sold or changes hands from one spouse to the other, one or both parties can lose their community.   This involves a divorce process all of its own and it is referred to as the Community Stage.   Finally, there is the psychic which is usually the most profound change and that embraces moving from coupledom to autonomy.  Another way of putting it would be accepting that you are single again.  A lot of people, particularly those who go to court, can experience 4 of the six stages post the granting of the decree of divorce or separation order.
When a person comes to a solicitor for advice on divorce or separation, they are often in the first throes of emotional divorce but if you look at emotional divorce from a grief cycle perspective you can find yourself presented with a client at the beginning of the emotional stage.  On one end there could be a fundamental denial that this is actually happening as well as anger with the other Spouse.  For ease of reference, I call the spouse who has broken the news that the marriage is over the “Walk Away” Spouse and the one who is receiving this unfortunate news the “Left Behind” Spouse.   Generally speaking, the “Left Behind” is in anger or denial and the “Walk Away” is on acceptance and let's get on with it.  Who is who is a crucial piece of information for the solicitor.  On the face of it the “Walk Away” spouse is often easier to handle being in a place mentally where decisions come more easily.   However, the “Walk Away” can often have little understanding of where the other spouse is at and this can make the divorce more difficult than it needs to be.   When this happens, as it does in most cases, it is important that everyone understands that the ability of the “Left Behind” spouse to deal with the rational and legal aspects of divorce or separation is severely compromised.   Quite often hate and anger takes over from rationality and where once there was love and affection, there is now the exact opposite.  Feelings of anger can sometimes be so intense that the “Left Behind” spouse is completely overcome engaging in irrational behavior like stalking, texting angry and abusive texts morning noon and night, anger outbursts frequently in front of family particularly children, uninvited appearances at the Walk Away’s home, calls to the Walk Away’s family of origin guaranteed to alienate them and so on.  All of these behaviors may affect, and if repeated or particularly bad, completely sabotage their legal case.   This happens because the Left Behind’s behavior shifts the focus from what needs to be sorted in a rational way, to their behavior.   Because a Left Behind spouse is unlikely to be angry all the time, even while in the emotional phase, and because emotions can shift from anger to other emotions like hope or despair and the depth/intensity of the emotions can vary, it can be very important to have an understanding of this phase even if you are smack bang in the middle of it.  A Walk Away spouse can seem almost alien in their emotional detachment to a Left Behind.    It is important to understand that is impression arises because the parties are communicating from very different emotional spaces.  Left Behind parties will often say and mean at the time of uttering things like “He/she is no longer the person I married” or “He/she is almost unrecognizable to me” or “He/she is totally cold and indifferent” or versions of the above.  This is normal at this stage and can give rise to a profound mistrust.   It is important for the Left Behind party to understand that their spouse is not evil, probably not under the influence of a malevolent being, and is unlikely to be someone who hid his/her true nature throughout the actual marriage.  He or she has not become evil.  It is important for the professionals not to buy into the anger or hate of one party as being a factual description of the other party. A failure to recognize this phase of divorce/separation for what it is can make any form of communication going forward between the spouses less or more likely depending and can render future co-operative co-parenting well nigh impossible.
During the emotional phase, personal counseling will be of real benefit to the parties particularly the Left Behind.  People often shy away from the idea of counseling thinking they can muddle their own way along, however, a good counselor can help you through a difficult time with a lot less scarring than otherwise.   Solicitors don’t tend to speak emotion and their professional language can be dry and often incomprehensible whereas counselors speak and understand emotion very well and can communicate effectively with clients in this phase.
As solicitors who deal with family law, we recognize that a client’s ability, i.e., a client who is a “Left Behind” to make rational and constructive choices and decisions whilst in the emotional phase is severely compromised.  A flood of emotions will quite literally cause the brain to be flooded making it possible to make one of two choices, fight or fly (I have explored this in a previous article      ) A Solicitor is called upon to be professional requiring them to give objective rational advice to their clients.  In a family matter, this professional requirement of the solicitor can give rise to a perception in the client’s mind that the solicitor is not on “their wavelength”.  When the Walk Away client comes into the solicitor’s office he/she can often communicate as if they have it all figured out and have processed all the emotion.  They often say things like “How quickly can this be done”.  Those of us who are familiar with the grief cycles know that they are not in a linear progression and people can be ambushed with any or all of the emotions in one day but less so as time goes on.   Recognizing this can assist to understand why on one particular day a perfectly rational client may be in a complete state on the telephone whereas totally calm the day previous.  It can also help the parties themselves to see what is happening and recognize it for what it is.
As an experienced practitioner of family law, I find that people who are at the same stage of processing will do better in resolving the difficulties of the divorce process but since most clients are not on the same sheet, it is a good idea for the Walk Away to bide his/her time until the Left Behind has reached a stage of acceptance at least some of the time.   The divorces/separations which are the least painful and the least, I believe, damaging to their children, are those where both parties acknowledge that the divorce was inevitable and they both have now reached the same degree of emotional detachment.   This involves the Walk Away party being patient, but I believe profoundly that this is in the Walk Away party’s best interests ultimately and that patients will be well rewarded.   The Left Behind party needs time to work through the emotional maelstrom and if not given that time, emotions will sabotage any attempt to resolve issues arising out of the ending of the marriage again and again.   When both parties are ready, they can then make an informed choice of the manner in which they will conduct their separation/divorce.  This involves making choices between various forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods or going the more traditional route of court.  There are times when the court is the best option and times when the alternatives should be fully explored.  Even, however, should you wind up in the court system, it is important to note that most case settle and a very small proportion wind up before a Judge.
It would take too long for me in this piece to elaborate on all of the Alternative Dispute Resolution methods or to talk about the court system and what is involved.  A lot of this information is scattered throughout my articles already, however, on the suggestion of a client, I intend to do a combination piece outlining each process in the near future in one article. For now, I will just say that each process whether it is in the Alternative Dispute Resolution family or the Adversarial Dispute Resolution family is very distinct, while grounded on some shared core principles.   It is very worthwhile to explore all of these in depth to figure out what suits you best.
Making the right process choice requires a clear head and good reliable information and is not something that you should undertake when you are in the emotional phase or you and your ex-are at opposite ends of that emotional spectrum.  I will explore the five other stages/phases of divorce in succeeding articles.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Tax Implications of Separation and Divorce

It is remarkable how similar many of the tax provisions we have in Ireland relating to marriage, separation, and divorce to those in other jurisdictions.  This struck me when I came across an article on Hogan Injury website recently.  I am attaching the article here for you to have a look https://www.hoganinjury.com/basic-tax-matters-in-family-law/
Hogan Injury is a very large Californian law firm with various offices around California.
It struck me reading this that I should perhaps do a post/article on the position in Ireland in relation to tax.  Many people it would seem go through separation and divorce without considering the issue of tax to any great extent and that is unfortunate. It is an important consideration.
Sometimes couples separate without any formal arrangements.  If you do this, then it is very important that you take tax advice on both of your tax positions based on whether or not you formalize your situation.  We all know that running two households can stretch a budget over its natural limit and put people into debt very quickly.  Should one party contact the Revenue and change the delicate balance, it can have implications for parties that were not intended when one of them agreed to move out.  It is generally advised on the internet that you should inform the Revenue about your physical separation however, this is often not carefully considered by the couple or either of them before they do so.  The couple or either of them has generally not sought advice before advising the Revenue of their situation. I would say do not advise the Revenue until you have taken proper advice from an accountant or solicitor with expertise in family matters and I would particularly stress that if you are not sure your separation is final then do not contact the Revenue until you are sure and until you have taken advise.
As part of the formalization of a separation or divorce, a couple should contact the Revenue Commissioners so that tax adjustments can be made for the year in which the couple separate.  The couple must confirm in writing before the end of the tax year which tax option they are choosing.  Gay couples may now marry as the world knows however, people may not know that as and from the 16th November 2015 Ireland no longer has the legal status of Civil Partnership available.  However, couples who became civil partners before that date, are able to avail of the tax provisions applicable to married couples.  There are three tax options available to married couples and they are:
Single: i.e., taxed as two single people and that option is available to a couple post separation or divorce. Please note that choosing to be taxed as a single person when you are married is not favorable in many circumstances and advise should definitely be taken on this.
Separate Assessment: The tax affairs of the spouses are independent except that some tax credits can be divided equally, for example, the married tax credit, age tax credit, blind person tax credit, and incapacitated child tax credit.  People who are separately assessed will on separation/divorce be assessed up to the date of separation in the normal way and can transfer any unused tax credits and rate bands to each other.
Joint Assessment: Under this one spouse is accountable for tax purposes and he/she is called the Accessible Spouse (AS).  The AS is entitled to married person tax credit and double bands for the full year in which the parties separate.  This can be a tremendous financial boost for a couple at a very difficult time.  The year of separation throws up a unique anomaly i.e., the credits and bands available to a separating couple can actually work out higher than would otherwise apply to a married couple.  The accessible spouse receives the married tax bands and the tax credits for the entire year with the alternate spouse benefiting from their own single person’s bands and credits.  The couple must advise the Revenue in writing of their separation before the end of the tax year if they are opting for joint assessment and they must be resident in the jurisdiction, there must be a legally enforceable agreement in place.  In addition, they must not have remarried. Advise on timing may be very important quite apart from tax advise per se.
Separated or Divorced spouses may choose to be taxed either as a married couple or single persons after the year in which they separate i.e. Single or Joint Assessment.  The payment of maintenance and the type of maintenance will have a large bearing on which should apply and again advise is crucial.
Quite often people are caught out by voluntary maintenance and when they find out that they could have claimed tax relief think that they might be eligible for a refund.  Note that voluntary maintenance is ignored for Income Tax purposes.   Spousal maintenance is taxable in the hands of the receiving spouse.  It is paid out of the payers’ gross income and is accordingly, taxable in the hands of the receiving spouse.
Apart from Income Tax, there is no CGT (Capital Gains Tax) on disposals between spouses which are made on foot of a separation agreement court order or a divorce.  Capital Gains tax arises on gifts or sales. It is worth noting however that the transfer of assets after the granting of a decree that is not ordered by the court are not exempt.  Another tax applicable is CAT (Capital Acquisitions Tax) and this applies to gifts or inheritances.  The value of the gift or inheritance is its open market value and between spouses or civil partners, there is an exemption.  Capital Acquisition tax will not apply to a property transfer made by the court on foot of a separation or divorce.
In addition to the above transfers between spouses and transfers between spouses on foot of agreement for separation, an order of the court or divorce, are exempt from stamp duty.  Finally, for the purposes of this article which is not meant to be exhaustive in any sense, parties who are separated or divorced post 15-6-2000 and who arising of said separation purchase another house and the other spouse remains in the family home may qualify for a first- time house buyers’ grant.
CGT provisions and CAT are similar in California cf article of Hogan Injury referenced above.
One other matter arises since it was also mentioned in the US article referenced above, and that is what is known here as SPCCC(Single Person Child Carer Credit) which is a tax credit in favor of a person caring for children on his/her own.  From January 2014 this only applies to one spouse.  Previously it had the potential of being claimed by both depending on the custody/child residency arrangements. This is an allowance if you have children residing with you and you are the primary custodian/parental residence.  It can, however, be waived and given to the other spouse.
Foreign divorces are recognized in Ireland and therefore a foreign maintenance order can be recognized for tax purposes.
Dry stuff, but death and taxes- what can I say, hardly amusing subjects!