Today we join Louise Poulton, a part time Senior Consultant Solicitor, who previously worked for a large multi-practice firm, to find out what it is like working from home.
Louise also gives us an insight into divorce and separation where there is coercive behaviour and/or mental health issues, what it is like for female breadwinners and the importance of Cohabitation Agreements for couples choosing to live together without getting married.
“Balancing my career with my family, whilst still finding time for myself is a juggling act (as all working parents know) but with the business model in place at Allard Bailey, I feel that I have struck the right balance for us all.
There are many reasons why we have a paperless office, but the benefit to me is that on days like today, when I am meeting a client close to where I live, I don’t need to physically be in the office. I can work just as well and just as hard wherever I am. It’s a refreshingly modern approach that saves me from a 2-hour commute.”
Whether she is working or not, Louise’s day usually starts in the same way. She rises early to enjoy a few moments with her husband, before waking their children around 7.15am. They have breakfast as a family as often as they can during the week, which is important as there are occasions when they may need to work late or attend client functions in the evenings.
Within an hour, Louise heads in the direction of school with the children, whilst her husband joins the morning commuters on their way to the city. Louise says the key to getting everyone out on time in the mornings is to make preparations the night before.
Louise is back at home before 9am. She makes herself a coffee then heads to her office for a call with Sabrina. They discuss the details of a new enquiry, a referral from another lawyer, before Louise makes her pre-scheduled call to this potential new client
“This lady currently lives in France but her husband moved back to England some time ago. At the moment, their relationship is fairly amicable and she would like to know if he or she should issue proceedings in France or in England. We discussed the jurisdictional requirements for issuing a petition in England and whether she has a stronger financial case in the English or French courts. England has a reputation for being favourable to wives and often this can lead to forum shopping. In this instance, for a number of reasons, I suggested that proceedings should commence in England.”
After checking her emails, Louise reviews a joint letter of instruction to a psychiatrist who is being asked to assess a female client’s mental well-being and prepare a report for Court. In such cases, both sides review the information given to the psychiatrist to ensure that it is fair and balanced.
“We are instructing a psychiatrist in this case as my client’s mental health has deteriorated due to the breakdown of the marriage and the recent loss of a parent. She is currently on leave from work on medical grounds and is keen to get back to a job she enjoys. However, she is finding her depression and anxiety insurmountable. If she is unable to return to work soon, this could have an impact on her future earning capacity. In that scenario, her mental health should be taken into consideration in settlement discussions and, ultimately by the court if an agreement on financial matters cannot be reached consensually.
Relationship breakdown can be one of the most stressful experiences in life with long term repercussions for a person’s mental health, especially if the relationship has ended due to domestic violence. It can, therefore, affect the approach that we adopt in proceedings. If our client, or their ex-partner, is suffering from the stress of their personal situation, or has any other mental health issues, we need to be aware of this.
I try to remain pragmatic and sympathetic in order to achieve a fair outcome for both parties. With greater focus now on mental health and well-being, it is imperative that we are alive to all of the circumstances that can impact upon a client’s well-being. We should encourage them to seek help from suitably qualified professionals who can provide them with the appropriate coping mechanisms or treatment programmes.”
Louise’s next call is to a female client whom she is advising on a Child Arrangements Order. She is calling to confirm that the client’s previous instructions still stand after her children’s latest contact session with their father.
“My client separated from her husband as the result of his ongoing coercive behaviour. Although there is no evidence that he has behaved in a way that is harmful to the children, his behaviour towards my client has been erratic and manipulative in the past. We have a hearing fast approaching where the arrangements for the children will be discussed, particularly with reference to the time the children will spend with each parent. I wanted to make sure that my client is still happy with the proposals we have recently discussed, before I prepare paperwork and brief Counsel.
Unfortunately, coercive and controlling behaviour within families is more commonplace than you think. It is often only recognised by the victim once they have exited the relationship. I always advise clients to keep a diary of any unacceptable behaviour and to retain any evidence of abusive behaviour (such as emails or text messages) in case it is needed at a later date. Of course, clients should always be made aware of the protection they can seek from the courts in the form of an injunction, if the behaviour warrants such action.”
Two hours of paperwork completed, Louise takes a short lunch break and enjoys a little sun in the back garden. At 1.30pm she leaves the house to meet a potential client to discuss difficulties which have arisen with her partner.
“I live in the commuter belt and some of my clients, who are the spouses or partners of city professionals, prefer to meet locally. I’m happy to do this as it saves us both an unnecessary trip into London and I often find that they are more at ease in familiar surroundings.”
They meet in the comfortable environment of the local coffee shop. Although every family is different, the overall themes of this situation are increasingly common.
“This lady has been with her partner for many years and they have children together. They never wanted to marry and, as she says, they didn’t see any reason to. Now that their relationship is in difficulties, she realises that the law does not provide cohabitees with the same level of protection as married couples. Her partner has a successful position in the city and she is frightened by the prospect of being on her own with a modest income.
They could have entered into a cohabitation contract. Such contracts can record each parties’ rights and responsibilities during cohabitation, as well as providing details of the arrangements the parties would like to be in place at the end of their relationship. Cohabitation agreements can be useful in avoiding costly litigation if the relationship turns sour, as it can document the parties’ beneficial interests in a home they once shared as a cohabiting couple.”
Louise returns home for a 3pm telephone conference with a male client, who now lives in New York, and with his barrister who is based in London. They discuss preparations for the upcoming financial remedy hearing and the husband is keen to consider the possibility of a settlement.
Unfortunately, there are concerns about non-disclosure of assets by the wife as the value of business assets disclosed by her are dubious. They discuss the possibility of asking the court for permission to instruct a Forensic Accountant as a single joint expert to prepare a report addressing these issues.
“Although it is still far from the norm, I am seeing an increase in the number of cases where the wife is the main breadwinner. Where this is so, she could be liable to pay spousal maintenance to help with the husband’s income needs. Although men are more usually the paying party when it comes to a maintenance claim, many high earning women are surprised to find that maintenance claims can be made against them too.
Spousal maintenance is different from child maintenance and there is no standard ‘formula’. There is an expectation that both parties will maximise their earning capacity, but with more women in successful and lucrative careers than ever before, some are finding themselves paying maintenance for their husbands to enable them to get back on the road to financial independence.”
This is Louise’s final case of the day as she needs to leave at 4pm to collect the children from their respective ballet classes and football training.
Once home, she encourages the children to finish their homework before preparing dinner for the family. Agile working enables Louise to continue to work in a career that she loves, helping people through some of the worst and best times of their loves, whilst giving her the opportunity to spend more time with her children. An equal priority for her, especially during their formative years.