Thursday, September 28, 2006

Land of the Free(?) and Gullible

Oral Roberts - is he sticking two fingers up at his gullible audience, or perhaps the IRS?As anticipated, I've been enjoying reading The God Delusion, especially some of the remarkable stories Dawkins mentions in the text. For example, one about American TV evangelist Oral Roberts who received (more than) $8 million (tax-free) from his audience after he told them that God would kill him if they didn't pay him that sum. More worryingly, I didn't know that former president George Bush senior when asked whether he recognised the equal citizenship and patriotism of American atheists apparently replied: "No, I don't know that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God." As Dawkins says, try replacing 'atheists' with 'Jews' or 'Muslims' or 'Blacks'.

Exploding the Myth

ResolutionIn what appears to be a press release, Chairman and Press Officer of the Coventry and Warwickshire group of Resolution Alan Markham says it’s vital that the law is changed and clearly communicated to clear up the public misconception that cohabiting couples have protection as “common law man and wife”. Resolution is not recommending that cohabiting couples should have the same rights as married couples but that they should take some responsibility for each other’s welfare when their relationship ends. As Markham says: “Heterosexual couples are free to marry and same sex couples can enter a civil partnership. If they choose not to, that’s fine, but the law must protect the vulnerable – especially where one person may have given up their earning capacity to look after the couple’s children".

In it's response to the Law Commission's consultation on cohabitation, Resolution suggests that if a couple have been together for two years or more, the protection should be automatic, unless they choose to opt-out of the system, but financial support should last for only three years at most, other than in exceptional circumstances. The consultation period is about to end, on the 30th September, so we must now await the Commission's Final Report, due in August 2007.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Hobson's Choice

H.M. Courts ServiceA client of mine recently issued an application for a contact order in the local County Court, only to have that court transfer the matter to the Family Proceedings Court. The transfer was made "upon it appearing in the Court's view that this application may be appropriately transferred to a Family Proceedings Court". This doesn't explain why the transfer was made, but I suspect that the reason was to reduce the County Court list, on the basis that the matter would be dealt with more quickly by the Family Proceedings Court. The only problem with that is that the County Court took nearly two weeks to order the transfer, then gave the parties a further 7 days to object, then my client will have to wait for the transfer to take place, and for the Family Proceedings Court to fix an initial hearing date. The Family Proceedings Court will have to deal with the matter extremely quickly if these delays are to be made up.

So it seems that choice of forum between County Court and Family Proceedings Court may in many cases be academic. Of course, why we have a choice at all is another point - if we ever get a single unified Family Court then there will be no choice.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The God Delusion

The God DelusionI have mentioned Professor Richard Dawkins previously in a post that followed my viewing of his Channel 4 documentary series about religion, The Root of All Evil?. In that series Professor Dawkins challenged what he described as 'a process of non-thinking called faith', including the indoctrination of our children with religious superstitions, and their categorisation according to their parents' religious beliefs.

Dawkins has today published his first book exclusively on the subject of religion, The God Delusion. To quote from the blurb, Dawkins "eviscerates the major arguments for religion and demonstrates the supreme improbability of a supreme being. He shows how religion fuels war, foments bigotry, and abuses children".

Further details of the book can be found on The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science website, including a review by Joan Bakewell, here. The book can be purchased via Amazon, here.

I have just purchased the book and am very much looking forward to reading it. I may even do my own review at a later date.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Condemned to be free

"Existential philosophy evolved from the work of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre, whose common concern was to explore existence and what it means to live well." Not the sort of sentence you expect to read in a legal journal. In an article in the September edition of The review, the magazine of Resolution, existential psychotherapist Diana Pringle explains her approach to counselling clients suffering from the effects of divorce.

The existential approach to counselling involves helping clients to realise that they are responsible for their lives, both in terms of what has happened to them and in terms of building a new life for themselves. Inevitably the realisation that we are all free to make life-changing decisions can provoke feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, and the counsellor helps the client to deal with this in a positive way.

Further information on this subject can be found on Diana Pringle's website, here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Web Tools for Lawyers

infolawMoving on from canine-themed posts, I'd like to recommend a new e-book, to which I made a (very) small contribution. Web Tools for Lawyers is written by Nick Holmes and Delia Venables and "gives guidance on several web tools developed over recent years that will help you promote your practice and get the most from the web". The tools discussed are blogs, website syndication, search engine optimisation and search engine advertising. Further details can be found at infolaw here and on Nick's blog here.

Give a dog a bone

Divorce lawyer?A common complaint about divorce lawyers is that they make matters more complicated than they need be. I would like to be able to defend the profession against such slurs but unfortunately, like many such things, there is some truth in the complaint. I often find that my opposite number on a case is more concerned with raising unnecessary or even irrelevant matters, rather than concentrating upon trying to resolve the main issue.

A typical case in point is when trying to negotiate a financial/property settlement. Instead of getting on with the negotiations, the other solicitor will embark upon a lengthy and expensive fishing expedition through my client's means, in the apparent hope that they will turn up some previously undisclosed offshore bank account. Of course, we are all under a duty to ensure we have a full picture of the other party's means before advising our client upon a settlement, but the reality is that most people have a pretty good idea of their spouse's means. Requests for information from the other side can easily be limited to those matters not within our client's knowledge, such as pension valuations. Instead, the other solicitor will demand full disclosure by way of exchange of Form E financial statements. For the uninitiated, a Form E is a 27-odd page document which goes into great detail about all aspects of that person's financial circumstances, and which requires considerable time, effort and expense to complete. It is true that before applying to the court for a financial/property settlement we are all supposed to follow a 'Pre Application Protocol', the aim of which is to ensure that "disclosure and negotiation take place in appropriate cases", and that the Protocol recommends the Form E as a guide to the format of disclosure. However, nowhere in the Protocol does it require one party to disclose matters that the other party is already fully aware of, and the Protocol does specifically state that disclosure and negotiation should be dealt with cost effectively. Don't get me wrong, I do suggest voluntary exchange of financial statements in appropriate cases; all I wish is that other divorce lawyers would stop and consider what is actually required before firing-off their demand for them, and not automatically assume my client has something to hide if I dare to suggest that they are not necessary.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Gentlemen (and women) prefer rottweilers

ASB LawMentioned in this month's Family Law, local (to me) firm ASB Law have carried out a nationwide internet survey asking the public what it thinks of divorce. The survey had some 2,466 respondents split evenly between the sexes, drawn from all age groups and asset categories, and representing all domestic circumstances (married, single, divorced, separated, living/not living with partner).

The findings of the survey are interesting. Some 80% of all respondents thought that assets should be split 50-50 or that settlements should recognise the contribution of a stay-at-home parent, although 33% also thought that short marriages should result in small payouts. A huge 90% thought that poor conduct should either definitely be taken into consideration or possibly, depending on the circumstances (suggesting that current law is out of touch with most people's views) and 25% considered pre-nuptial agreements to be a waste of time because they are currently not enforceable in UK divorce proceedings. On the value of marriage 67% of all respondents agreed with the statement that ‘marriage reinforces your commitment’, although only 30% of those aged between 16-24 said they believed in the value of marriage. More worryingly, when asked which of 10 well-known figures would they want to be their divorce lawyer, the clear winner, with more than a quarter of the vote, was Sir Alan Sugar! As ASB say, when it comes to choosing a divorce lawyer "it appears that the UK public (both sexes and all ages) favours overwhelmingly the rottweiler/Grand Inquisitor approach". So much for the principles of Resolution and the Family Law Protocol...

Full results of the survey can be found on the ASB Law website, here.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A bundle of fun

Delivering the bundleNearly Legal recently posted about the joys of preparing trial bundles, a joy that I have also been experiencing this week. In my case the bundle is required for a one-hour Financial Dispute Resolution appointment. I don't recall ever having to prepare a bundle for an FDR before, but it seems that courts are making directions for bundles to be prepared more and more frequently. As anyone who has done it will know, preparing a bundle involves a lot of time for the fee earner and support staff and an enormous amount of photocopying, hence substantial expense for the client. Is it really necessary for bundles to be prepared so often? After all, most of the bundle comprises the court pleadings, which are in everyone's possession anyway.

I note that the new Practice Direction on court bundles in family proceedings will not apply to County Court cases listed for one hour or less. Hopefully, District Judges will follow this, and only order bundles for longer hearings.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Don't name and shame

Guardian UnlimitedBack to the serious stuff. The Guardian included a story yesterday about one of the proposed changes to the new Family Procedure Rules. This proposal would discourage or even ban the naming of co-respondents in adultery divorce petitions. I did not mention this in my previous post about the Rules because my experience is that co-respondents are very rarely named anyway (since petitioners have no longer been obliged to name them, where their identity was known) - I certainly usually try to dissuade my clients from naming them (as recommended by the Protocol), even where the client is eager to do so. However, I note with interest (and some alarm) the quote in the Guardian article from Andrew Greensmith, chairman of Resolution, that "there are some courts where judges are reluctant to accept evidence of adultery without a third party being named". This has immediately changed my view on the proposal from indifference to full support. Naming co-respondents almost always makes the divorce more complicated and increases animosity. If some courts insist upon it, then the Rules need to be changed to stop this, although I'm not sure whether there should be a complete ban, as some commentators have apparently suggested.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Security Al-ert

Charon QCNothing to do with the subject of this blog, but I think even family lawyers like a good joke (they could certainly use one from time to time!). This one appeared on Charon QC a couple of days ago and is not the first time I've laughed at a joke published by Charon - another topical one, for example, appeared recently in this post.

I have an affinity for Charon QC. Not only is he a fellow pariah who dares to still smoke cigarettes in 2006 Britain, but he also likes a glass (or two) of wine. In his case it is Rioja, but in mine I am happy with a glass of cheap Hock. Which reminds me of a joke that I heard on Terry Wogan (yes, I do listen to him) last week, which goes something like this: a man goes into a restaurant and orders fish and a bottle of Hock. The waiter looks puzzled at the latter request. The man says "you know, Hock - as in 'hic, haec hoc'". "Very well", says the waiter, and leaves. Ten minutes later he returns with the fish, but no wine. "Where's my Hock?" asks the man, "don't you remember me ordering it?" "Yes, sir", says the waiter, "but then you declined it." [For classics scholars.]

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Enthusiasm Unbounded

University of KentI attended my second session of the Kent Law Clinic the other evening. For details of the Clinic, see my previous post. What I wanted to comment upon here was the infectious enthusiasm of the students for their subject. On each occasion I have met them they all seem genuinely interested in the law and the opportunity it provides to help others. I don't know whether this is something that's instilled in them by the Kent Law School, but if it's typical of today's law students then I can only say that the future of the profession is in good hands.

Mind you, (and I can't resist saying this) whether they will still have the same level of enthusiasm after spending twenty years in the profession is another matter...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Proposed new Family Procedure Rules

Department for Constitutional AffairsOn the 30th August the Department for Constitutional Affairs published "A new procedural code for family proceedings", a consultation paper on the policy behind the proposed new Family Procedure Rules. The new Rules intend to achieve four 'key objectives': "modernisation of language, harmonisation with the Civil Procedure Rules, a single unified code of practice and alignment in all levels of court", and the paper seeks views upon how these objectives can be realised.

The paper includes some pretty fundamental changes to family procedure. For example, the proposed changes in terminology, which will (inter alia) see 'Decree Nisi' becoming 'Conditional Order' and 'Decree Absolute' becoming 'Final Order'. Respondents to divorces will no longer be able to file a freestanding petition, but instead will be given 21 days to make a cross application in the same proceedings. Applications for a financial/property settlement will no longer be included in the divorce petition (or 'application', as it will be called), so that petitioners (or 'applicants') will have to make a separate application for a financial order to ensure that they do not lose their right to apply after remarriage.

If you wish to give your views the paper includes a 43-question questionnaire and a section for you to give details about yourself. Responses must be sent by the 1st December.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

New Look

As the observant returning visitor may have noticed, things have changed around here. I have given the blog a new look, which I think is an improvement over the old one, and also added some new features. In particular, all posts now have one or more labels attached to them, depending on the subject of the post. These subject categories are listed on the right, where you can find all posts on a particular subject.

I hope you find the new-look blog better and more useful.