At this time of year Family lawyers could be forgiven for shouting “Bah! Humbug!”, retiring to bed early on Christmas Eve and staying there for a week, having been exhausted by last-minute contact applications, emergency maintenance hearings and the usual crop of people who just can’t stand the prospect of Christmas with their in-laws. Is it just me or does everybody else get the impression that the courts list First Appointments and FDRs for the week before Christmas just to annoy us? How many of us have missed out on various firms’ lunches because we’ve been stuck in Court trying to negotiate contact arrangements over Christmas? By the time we emerge into the gloom of a December afternoon, the rest of the staff have scoffed all the mince pies, quaffed all the drink and pushed off home, leaving us to an empty, cold office where we dictate our attendance notes to the sound of merry-makers reeling past the window.
All the extra work we have at this time of year only goes to prove how stressful Christmas is for many families. Tensions already bubbling beneath the surface are likely to explode in a family confined to a small house with unlimited alcohol available. And relations between ex partners are likely to deteriorate over the annual squabble about where the children should spend Christmas Day.
But I did wonder about the ethics of an offer from one firm of solicitors who advertised a fifty percent discount for divorces commenced in December. Cynical as we all might be, should we really be encouraging our clients to divorce sooner rather than later? We all recognise the client who comes in for an initial interview wanting to know “where they stand” before they decide whether to issue proceedings. Sometimes they decide to proceed, sometimes they decide to stay and work on the marriage. Somehow it seems wrong to encourage them to take that irrevocable step because they can save themselves some of the costs. Many clients are caused to think twice about divorce purely because of the potential cost and in some cases, the hesitation leads to the marriage being rescued.
Even the most Scrooge-like among us must surely welcome a little bit of good cheer at this time of year?