It was reported today in a national newspaper article that the recent increase in so-called ‘silver divorces’ (i.e. divorces involving older couples) has given rise to a new problem: interference from meddling children.
The article claims that divorce lawyers are reporting that the adult offspring of the ‘silver splitters’ are making their jobs more difficult by interfering in the proceedings, often with the intention of protecting their inheritances.
The interference from the children comes in various forms, the paper claims, from trying to persuade their parents to get back together when the marriage is beyond rescue, to trying to persuade a parent to change their will, to bombarding their mother or father’s new partner with angry or abusive messages.
In August the Office for National Statistics released details of trends in divorces which showed that the number of people divorcing who were aged 60 and over has been rising since the mid-1990s. Possible reasons for this are increased life expectancy; a loss of the stigma once associated with being divorced; and increasing participation in the labour market by women, making women more able to support themselves outside of marriage than in the past.
I have to say that I don’t particularly recall there being problems with meddling children of older parents when I practised. Perhaps the issue has become a lot worse in the four years since.
What I do recall, however, was the issue of meddling relatives and friends generally. All divorce lawyers will have come across the scenario: the client comes into your office, perhaps in a state of some distress, and asks if it is alright if their friend comes into the interview with them. Of course, you agree, only to be rewarded by the friend contradicting the advice you have carefully been trying to impart, or suggesting that you are not pursuing the case with sufficient aggression.
In her excellent (not to mention extremely reasonably priced) book Divorce & Splitting Up, Marilyn Stowe calls such meddlers ‘faux friends’. As she says, these ‘friends’ come in various different types. They may or may not be well-meaning, but even if they are, their ‘help’ may not always be valuable. Marilyn concludes:
“A client should be able to rely upon their legal team 100 per cent. Friends play a completely different role, which is socially centred. It is free of the professional ethics, scruples, obligations, privilege and confidentiality that are the lawyer’s domain.”
So, the moral is: if you are going through a separation or divorce, by all means seek the support of genuine friends. Leave the legal advice, however, to your lawyer.
John Bolch is a family law commentator
Photo by Detective C via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence