When I was first approached to write a piece for The Group Hug on a memorable case I’d been involved in, I thought this was a tall ask:
To siphon out just one from the hundreds of interesting, moving and often transformative cases that I have had the privilege of being involved with over the years.
However, to my surprise, a handful quickly rose to the top of the list in my mind with one remaining distinct, perhaps due to its early place in my practice of family law, but also to the tremendous outcome achieved for the client. So, I’m going to talk about Lila*.
Some ten years later, I can still picture Lila sitting in my office when I first met with her. She had her then 2-year old son, Josh, with her in a buggy and looked haggard and unsure, clearly trying to keep it all together and not make a scene or have Josh cotton-on that something was wrong. She was a bit of a modern-day hippy. This struck me too, as, though this is becoming normative, it was out of the ordinary from the types of clients usually sitting across from me: no diamonds, no designers to be seen, no salon or other treatments – no treatments at all. But she was intelligent, well-spoken and kind. And she was broken and needed my help.
She had had a whirlwind romance with her then husband that had swept her off her feet and away from her home and everything she had ever known. Indeed, she had been swept from America to England. She quickly became pregnant and soon became entirely reliant on Rob. In the space of just over three years, she had gone from being a creative, independent and arguably enlightened woman to the heap I saw before me. She wasn’t angry as she didn’t have the strength left to be. She needed me to be angry for her – and I was.
We tried to negotiate. We tried to reason. But this was a man where, when he discovered that Lila had eaten a roll of cookie dough, banned her from all groceries purchased by him, gave her a pittance as an allowance and would often leave her and Josh at home for weeks at a time without food or nappies and no money to purchase them. Lila had not become immune to begging.
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In the meantime, I set about giving Lila some tools to regain her sense of self: I gave her knowledge, choice, I listened to her needs, I referred her to helpful services and groups that she engaged, I let her go through her process whilst I looked after the legal process. And I got her to laugh. We were a team and when it was clear the time had come, I engaged fantastic Counsel who complemented our team.
Building the case
Through long days and long nights, we built Lila’s case (and her self-esteem) up brick by brick. She wanted to go home; she needed to go home. But home was 3,000 miles away in America and Josh needed to go with her. Rob wasn’t having it and he was throwing every penny and the proverbial kitchen-sink at trying to stop it.
To this day, I honestly don’t think that Rob’s true position had anything to do with Josh or Josh’s needs and best interests. Instead, I think it was about continuing the control he had exercised over Lila. He was furious that this control was breaking down and it showed in how he ran his case.
Over 5 days, which included an early snowstorm, Lila sat next to me watching the rest of her life unfold. She was scared and a few times she was shaking, but she was different now. She was stronger and she was ready for her voice to be heard. And the Judge listened.
HHJ Pearl delivered the most remarkable judgement I have heard to date. It was scathing, in parts humorous (HHJ Pearl remarking that he should have just let her eat the cookie dough), exceptionally meticulous and unappealable. She had her finger on the pulse and Lila was overjoyed: crying, laughing and unbelievably grateful. She was going to be able to go home with Josh and start a new a life. It was one of my best days in court.
We later thrashed out finances, getting a whopping c70/30 split in a short marriage (Rob really wasn’t helping himself with the court), including global maintenance, which was fantastic, but that didn’t really matter to Lila. She and Josh would soon be safe and happy.
So, where’s Lila now?
Well, during our long days and nights preparing for trial, Lila started making healthy, wholesome and surprisingly tasty snacks for us (gluten free before that was a common thing, all-natural ingredients, sustainable, etc). I think largely she was trying to feed me. I rarely ate when we were working, a trait not uncommon amongst practitioners. In any event, she grew from this and is now a successful entrepreneur in California. Josh is thriving and shockingly approaching adolescence. We keep in touch, checking in about once a year now. But even if we didn’t, Lila and Josh would always have a special place to me and it’s cases like hers that make me eternally grateful to be a family lawyer.
Relocation and related financial remedies are complex, fact-specific matters and the circumstances of each particular case can have a significant impact on how the court may determine these. If you are considering relocating with a child or the division assets on divorce, it is important to know where you stand and what strategies you should implement to ensure the best outcome for you and your family. It is not one-size-fits-all and your legal advice, shouldn’t be either.
For more information and to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with Chrissie Cuming Walters of Keystone Law, find her details in the Hug Directory.
*The names in this piece have been changed to protect client confidentiality.