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.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Collaborate? Or Not Collaborate ...

The collaborative model, particularly the full interdisciplinary model, is such a fantastic way for families to handle themselves in separation or divorce that it amazes me that disputing couples in Ireland are not breaking down the doors of collaborative professionals to find out more about this. There are many reasons for this, I suspect, among them, the large number of people who think it is too good to be true, it flies in the face of human nature, people want the row and all that sort of rubbish. Of course, there will always be some who want the row, no doubt about that, but the vast majority of people who come in the door of my office will identify to me in that all important preliminary consultation that they are not out for blood and that they want to be fair and civilised. However, it seems to me that a much more formidable hurdle for collaboration to overcome in Ireland is the recent nature of our divorce jurisdiction and indeed, the relatively recent nature of our separation jurisdiction. People forget that in Ireland we have only had legislation allowing for judicial separation since 1987 and divorce since 1997. Compared with Britain, Europe and the States that is very new indeed. The other relevant factor, I think, is that our family courts are held “In camera” ie, in private which seems like a blessing, and is in some ways, but it does mean that people for the most part do not know what goes on in courts unlike other countries where there is routine press reporting. The “in camera” rule has the unintended effect of preventing the community becoming knowledgeable about what happens in family court and the recent nature of our divorce jurisdiction has not yet percolated into a large anecdotal body of knowledge within families of just how bad things can get. Maybe as the recession bites deeper people will start to look at the alternatives.They could do an awful lot worse than look at the alternatives of collaboration and mediation.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Sudden loss of Gerry Ryan..

For many of us Gerry Ryan was part of our daily lives. His death more than anything else emphasises the fragility of our grasp on life. Over the past couple of weeks there has been saturation coverage of this sad, but hardly unusual event, to a somewhat over the top degree. I am conscious of not wishing to add to that. However, I do wish to thank Gerry Ryan and his family for being the living embodiment of all that I have spoken about in my articles and on my blog.
When Gerry and his wife of many years, Morah separated they did so with a great deal of dignity which was striking at the time. Neither of them became the subject of tabloid gossip. They made a quiet announcement and no one was any the wiser as to the cause or otherwise of their split, just that it had happened. Of course, we were all bursting with curiousity, I was no exception,as is always the case with celebrities, but Gerry and Morah managed to keep the whole sad business private and within the domain of their own family and perhaps close confidantes. That is some feat in a country as small as Ireland. Gerry had spent all those years talking about “Mrs Ryan” on the airwaves so that we all felt we knew her rather more intimately than I gather she liked or wanted though she seemed good humoured about it. It was quite clear that he loved her and was devoted to his children. Bearing that in mind, the separation must have hit his family hard but they kept their counsel and their dignity.
After he left the family, Gerry started a new relationship. He appears with Morah to have managed this with great delicacy to a point where after his death, his children visited with his girlfriend, Melanie, for lunch and she was subsequently welcomed into the family home for his wake. Everyone behaved with impeccable decency and it is to their great credit. Many were also struck by Morah’s mention of Melanie in her tribute to Gerry at his funeral.
It is precisely this dignity and civility that we are striving for in the collaboration process. Everyone wants their children to come through the process of separation and divorce without any long term damage. We know that heightened conflict has disastrous effects on the long term well being of children. We also know that heightened conflict will make future co-operative parenting nearly impossible and that like it or not the children will be caught in the middle. Therefore, if we want our children to come through the separation undamaged we have to choose a process that has some hope of delivering that result. The collaborative process emphasises the importance of communication between the couple going forward. Uniquely the process utilises the services of communication specialists or collaborative coaches who have a two- fold role. They help to re-establish good communication to enable co-parenting now and going forward and they help to balance the emotions so that each party is empowered sufficiently to deal with the decisions, financial and otherwise that need to be made in order to move forward. When parents are wrapped up in their own emotions, as they will quite naturally be, during the painful process of separation, the children’s emotional needs can often be overlooked. Quite often parents are not even aware that this is happening. In the collaborative process we employ the services of a child specialist who is a neutral, that is not aligned to any particular parent, and whose function it is to deliver the voice of the children into the process and to assist the parents by providing appropriate developmental education. The child specialist can also help the parents and the collaborative coaches when requested to formulate a parenting plan. The process is all about moving forward and no one is there to apportion blame or judgement.
I have been blathering on about this way of working and what it has to offer for some time however, many people have told me that it is too difficult or simply pie in the sky. Those who engage with this way of working often find it tough going. That is not to say that going to court is any easier, it is not but when you “do the right thing” you sometimes have a feeling of entitlement. Nothing works like a real life example. Now I can point to Gerry and Morah and say “See, it is not impossible. It may be difficult but it is not impossible.” Thank you Ryan family most sincerely on behalf of the collaborative process in Ireland!*

• Nothing in the above should be taken to mean that I believe that Gerry and Morah separated collaboratively. I don’t know how Gerry and Morah separated nor is that my point.