Monday, December 31, 2007

Old John's Almanac 2008

Having so successfully predicted the top family law news stories of 2007, here are my predictions for 2008:

January - The former office of Messrs. Brow, Beaten & Bankrupt of Little Sodbury, the last firm to offer a legal aid service, reopens as a McDonald's restaurant.

February - Heather Mills releases an instructional DVD, "How to keep calm during your divorce".

March - The Government announces that it has finalised its plans to reform the Child Support Agency. Apart from a different name (C-MEC), the new agency will be exactly the same as the CSA, but half the size.

April - McDonald's in Little Sodbury announces that it will now offer a free divorce with every burger.

May - Mr Justice Singer is reprimanded after he suggests that a black wife might prefer to receive maintenance in the form of bananas.

June - C-MEC announces that all of its records have been lost, when they are eaten by a clerk's dog.

July - The Legal Services Commission increase legal aid rates by 0.1%, in a last-ditch effort to entice solicitors back into legal aid. There are no takers.

August - The Office for National Statistics announces that the divorce rate has fallen again. The Department for Work and Pensions announces that the number of unemployed solicitors has increased again.

September - Fathers' rights group The Real Families Need Fathers 4 Justice executes its most audacious stunt to date, painting Gordon Brown's face red. However, after the PM's latest loss of records embarrassment (his Cliff Richard collection), no one notices.

October - C-MEC announces that, to reduce its workload, all arrears more than a week old will be remitted.

November - Climate change campaigners protest outside Parliament, calling for the abolition of divorce.

December - In the New Years' Honours, Bruce Hyman receives a knighthood for services to the legal profession.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

On the map at last

Thanks to Charon QC (or is it Charoron QC?), Family Lore now appears on the Blawg Review Guest Map.

Presently these sceptred isles are somewhat sparsely populated. Come on you UK blawgers - put yourselves on the map!

Friday, December 28, 2007

I Understand

I understand that disgraced barrister Bruce Hyman was seen attending a party just before Christmas, having been sentenced to 12 months in prison on the 19th September last.

I understand that the Judge indicated he was to serve 6 months before getting parole.

I understand that he has not paid the £3,000 compensation that he was ordered to pay.

I understand that he has friends in high places, including the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, who gave him a character reference.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Rejoice!

Today we celebrate the birthday of one of history's truly great men, a man who changed forever the way we view our universe. So, join with me and celebrate the birthday of...

...Sir Isaac Newton!

[With thanks to Richard Dawkins, the New Statesman, RichardDawkins.net and Head of Legal, in that order!]

Monday, December 24, 2007

Blair converts to Catholicism

Nutter.

***

Blair:
Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I took my country to war on a completely false premise.
Priest: Never mind my son, a couple of Hail Marys will sort that out.

Etc.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Unnecessary

Here's another piece of unnecessary suffering caused by religion. In India, Hinduism frowns on widows remarrying, with the result that "a woman can quickly lose her dignity, even her basic rights, when she loses her husband". Many find themselves destitute, relying on charity or even begging and many "are dumped by their relatives in religious towns". India has an astonishing 33 million widows, some of whom are very young. The Indian government has outlined plans to help them, but it seems to me that the best solution to the problem would be to outlaw this appalling religious discrimination, although I realise that such nonsense can be so deeply ingrained in the minds of those who know no better (encouraged by religious leaders with a vested interest in perpetuating it) that this is easier said than done.

Top 5 family law cases of 2007

Family Law NewsWatch have listed what they consider to be the five most important family law cases of 2007, as follows:

1. Charman v Charman
This one needs no introduction. The size of Mrs Charman's award was what caught the headlines, but it must be remembered that she only received 36.6% of the assets, primarily due to Mr Charman's "special contribution".

2. Stack v Dowden
Another one that should by now be well known to all family lawyers, although only a couple of weeks ago a client of mine was forced to go to a final hearing due to her opponent's adviser's lack of understanding of what Stack v Dowden decided. The case collapsed and my client's opponent was forced to concede, in humiliating fashion.

3. Hill v Haines
Or Haines v Hill & Another. A recent Court of Appeal decision that came as a great relief to all family lawyers. See this post.

4. North v North
Another sensible decision by the Court of Appeal. See this post.

5. Ella v Ella
I'm not sure that this one would make my top five. Mrs Ella failed in her appeal against an order that stayed ancillary relief proceedings in England, to allow them to continue in Israel as required by a pre-nuptial agreement, despite the parties having been largely resident in the UK during their marriage. Lord Justice Thorpe rejected the appeal, partly on the grounds that the pre-nuptial agreement was "undoubtedly a contract which in the Israeli jurisdiction is of considerable effect", irrespective of its relevance to an ancillary relief award in this jurisdiction.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Happy Winter Solstice

Happy winter solstice to all readers of Family Lore. I nearly didn't write this post for fear of being considered politically correct. Heaven forbid. Winter solstice was, of course, celebrated in Britain long before it was hijacked by Christianity, and relates to a real phenomenon rather than a myth - that is why I recommend it be celebrated, not so that other religions are not offended. So, light your bonfires, break out the sweet ale and start the feasting! Or, in my case, light a cigarette and open a bottle of lager...

Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Ancillary Actuary

Peter Moore, Managing Director of actuaries Bradshaw, Dixon & Moore has just informed me of his firm's new blog, The Ancillary Actuary. The blog "is intended to encourage an exchange of ideas and promote debate about the financial issues that arise in a relationship breakdown". It is still in its infancy, but already contains a useful series of posts on the complex (at least to us family lawyers!) subject of pension valuation.

Crossley: support for pre-nups

If ever there is to be a paradigm case in which the court will look to the pre-nuptial agreement as not simply one of the peripheral factors of the case, but as a factor of magnetic importance, it seems to me that this is just such a case.

So said Lord Justice Thorpe in the Court of Appeal yesterday, in the case of Crossley v Crossley. The case concerned the appeal by Mrs Crossley against a decision to short-circuit normal court procedures, which Mr Crossley had argued was appropriate because the marriage was short and childless, both parties had independent wealth and a prenuptial agreement had been signed. In upholding that decision, the Court of Appeal appears to have sent out a clear signal that in such cases the prenuptial agreement is likely to be the paramount factor, and there will be little opportunity to argue other issues.

Lord Justice Thorpe apparently also called for legislation to clarify the status of prenuptial agreements, although it bothers me that this decision may have already elevated their status beyond what current legislation provides. Is it not for Parliament rather than the courts to decide such fundamental issues? Of course, the situation is not helped when Parliament seems quite incapable of dealing with such potentially controversial moral matters as reform of the divorce system, leaving the courts to keep up with the ever-changing Zeitgeist.

[For update, see this post.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Single, seeks divorce

Here's a conundrum: Can a man who claims not to have married a woman seek a divorce from her? This is the problem facing the principal judge of the Gaya family court in India, in the matter of Rajesh Majhi versus Pramila. Majhi has presented a petition for divorce in which he claims that he hasn't married Pramila as per Hindu rituals. Now, I'm no expert on Hindu marriages, although I do remember many years ago acting for an Indian client in which the question arose as to whether his 'marriage' in a remote Indian village would be recognised under English law. The conclusion, I recall, was that it would not, with the result that there could be no divorce proceedings in this country. Accordingly, if Mr Majhi's 'marriage' is not recognised under Indian law, then surely the court cannot grant him a divorce. Of course, it is very odd that Majhi seeks a divorce and claims he is not married in the same petition. Surely, the logical thing to have done was to first seek a declaration from the court as to the validity of the marriage, and only then issue divorce proceedings if the court found that the marriage was valid?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Peddling Lies

I was horrified to read this article in last Sunday's Observer, which I found via RichardDawkins.net. I was already aware of the appalling 'Creation Museum' in Kentucky, USA, where you can see such nonsense as scenes depicting prehistoric children playing alongside dinosaurs, but I hoped we would never see the like in England. Well, it seems that the AH Trust have other ideas. They want to build a 'Christian Theme Park' and television studio in Lancashire that "will champion the book of Genesis and make a multi-media case that God created the world in seven days".

Look, if you don't believe in the theory of evolution that's fine, but to teach children to believe myths such as that the world was created 6000 years ago in seven (or even six) days is just plain wrong. To teach them to believe in any theory for which there is no evidence, such as creationism, is also wrong. Fine, tell them about these stories, even tell them that some people believe they are true, but don't tell them that they are true. Don't also tell them, as the AH Trust does on their website, that evolution is a 'falsehood', when it supported by such an enormous body of evidence. On the other hand, please do teach them to be critical when considering any theory - and that certainly includes the theory of evolution.

OK, rant over. To end this post on a lighter note, I was amused when I read that the AH Trust "believe that this unique project will influence an end to binge drinking" in our young people. Yes, I can really see our youth giving up drink to stay at home and watch a bit of Christian TV!

[For a superb report upon the Creation Museum, and the delights that may soon be available to Lancastrians, see here.]

Monday, December 17, 2007

The annual missive

Dear Friend,

Season's greetings! I thought you would like to know what has happened to me and my wonderful family over the past year, so I am enclosing this letter with all of my Christmas cards. It has been a difficult twelve months, but I like to think that we have come through it all as stronger people.

My lovely wife Ingrid and I parted in January, after she found out about my little indiscretion with my secretary at last year's Xmas party. She took it very well in the circumstances, although I had to buy myself a new set of clothes after I came home one day to find that she had taken a pair of scissors to my entire wardrobe. Naturally, I responded to the divorce proceedings by declaring myself bankrupt, to prevent her from getting my half of the house - a ploy that would have worked had it not been for a recent decision of the Court of Appeal.

Ingrid still lets me see the children occasionally. The twins Ronnie and Reggie got into a bit of bother with the police, but they now proudly boast of their Asbos to their friends. As for little Chantelle, she managed to get herself pregnant but she says that she will get the baby adopted without telling the father, and no one will be any the wiser.

Here's hoping next year will bring better news!

Best wishes to all,

Chris Mastedium and the family.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A seasonal joke

Well, I just had to keep this chain joke going, particularly as its subject is relevant to this blog (and I too enjoyed the black humour):
A man in Chicago calls his son in New York the day before Christmas and says, ‘I hate to ruin Christmas this year, but I have to tell you that your mother and I are divorcing; forty-five years of misery is enough.’

‘Pop, what are you talking about?’ the son screams. ‘We can’t stand the sight of each other any longer,’ the father says. ‘We’re sick of each other, and I’m sick of talking about this, so you call your sister in Atlanta and tell her.’

Frantic, the son calls his sister, who explodes on the phone. ‘Like hell they’re getting divorced,’ she shouts, ‘I’ll take care of this.’ She calls Chicago immediately, and screams at her father, ‘You are NOT getting divorced. Don’t do a single thing until I get there. I’m calling my brother back and we’ll both be there tomorrow. Until then, don’t do a thing, DO YOU HEAR ME?’ and hangs up.

The old man hangs up his phone and turns to his wife. ‘Okay,’ he says, ‘they’re coming for Christmas and paying their own way.’
Credit to that eminent oenophile, Charon QC.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Festive advice

There's been plenty of recent advice for separated parents upon how to ensure the festive season is as stress-free as possible for their children. For the benefit of readers of Family Lore, here are the links:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Wise public policy?

A recent case in America could illustrate what the future holds for low-income litigants in this country, if the exodus of legal aid lawyers continues. Mother of three Brenda King could not afford representation in a custody dispute. She couldn't find pro bono help and therefore had to represent herself. Unsurprisingly, she lost the case, and to rub salt into the wound she was ordered to pay $7,500 costs. She subsequently appealed to the state Supreme Court for a new trial, this time with a divorce lawyer at public expense. Her appeal was refused.

There are already legal aid 'deserts' in this country. They are growing bigger, and the Government is deaf to calls for more money to stop the exodus. How long before Mrs King's experience becomes typical over here? Interestingly, one of the Justices that ruled against her suggested that the Legislature may want to extend the constitutional right to an attorney to divorce cases when a party can't afford to hire a lawyer, as a matter of "wise public policy".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Why courts favour mothers

A recent visitor to Family Lore found their way here by googling the term "why do courts favour mothers when it comes to making residency orders?" Statistically, this is true, but there is no bias written into the law, as I have stated on more than one occasion previously. So why is it? Well, for the sake of an objective analysis I will assume that the courts are not simply biased (an assumption that I know some will find hard to accept), so here are my thoughts:

1. For obvious reasons, courts are likely to favour mothers where the child is very young, and when the child is a girl entering puberty. This can also mean that the mother will be granted residence of the other children, as courts do not generally like to separate siblings.

2. There are often practical reasons favouring mothers, the most common of which is work. The father is more likely to be working longer hours, and therefore in a worse position to look after the children.

3. (A controversial one.) Mothers may more often possess better parenting skills than fathers - certainly this is a common perception, which may or may not be true.

4. The ascertainable wishes of the child are, of course, an important factor, especially where the child is older. Do children favour mothers? I'm not aware of any statistics for this - perhaps a CAFCASS officer could provide an answer.

5. The risk of harm to the child is another factor, and I would suggest that this is more likely to go against the father than the mother, as there is probably a greater fear of harm by fathers than mothers.

6. Lastly, economic reasons mean fathers are more likely to leave the family home than mothers and therefore their having residence would involve a change of circumstances, giving fathers an extra hurdle to overcome if they are to get residence.

As usual, I am open to other suggestions.

Pay peanuts...

At its annual conference last month the Association of Lawyers for Children conducted a survey of delegates designed to ascertain the impact of the Government's current legal aid reforms on those members of the Association attending the Conference. The results make damning reading. Of the 101 responses, a third said that they were reducing publicly funded work, and 40% of firms had reduced or intended to reduce reliance on publicly funded work. Of the 17 people who had left or were leaving practice, 62% cited legal aid changes as their reason for leaving.

I found this story via Family Law NewsWatch. What I liked about their article was the accompanying picture, which I reproduce here (I hope they don't mind). Most apt.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A deep and abiding love

Here's a great idea for all those gadget geeks who value their Mp3 player/PDA/[insert gadget here] over and above all else. Up until now these poor souls have had to live a lonely existence, shunning marriage for fear of losing their most precious possessions should the relationship break down. Well, help is at hand. Sellers of all things 'gadgety' PIXmania.com have come up with the 'Gadget Prenuptial Contract', which will ensure that, whatever happens, the 'Gadget Lover' will keep their gadget.

[Geeklawyer: The fact that I was looking at your blog as I wrote this is purely coincidental. Honest.]

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My cat and I

I was talking with my cat last night. "Muhammad," I said, "what do you think of this 'missing canoeist' case?"

"Ah," he purred, "a very sad case. I'm sure the truth will soon come out, but I fear that he and his wife may be the most inept fraudsters since Bruce Hyman. To pose for a picture in the knowledge that it will appear on the internet requires breathtaking stupidity, just like sending a fraudulent email in view of a security camera."

"Yes, I suppose so," I said, "but why did he walk into a police station?"

"That's interesting," he said, and stopped to lick his paw. "I think he just got tired with the whole deception. He was fed up with pretending he was someone else."

"What, like Gordon Brown pretending he's the Prime Minister?"

Clearly amused, Muhammad began purring more loudly. "Sort of," he said, "but I don't think Gordon Brown has the sense to give himself up to the police."

"No, I think you're right." I replied.

Muhammad then became more thoughtful. "The people I feel sorry for are the children." He said. "It's so sad when parents put their own interests before their children."

"Yes," I said, "I often come across that in my work. Did you see that case in the Czech Republic where the court, fearing the mother was poisoning her daughter’s mind against the father, sent the child to a mental institution so that psychologists could work with her without the influence of the mother?"

"I did." Said Muhammad. "Madness - it's the parents who need help, not the child."

"Indeed," I said, "so what do you think will become of Mr and Mrs Darwin?"

"I don't know," said Muhammad, "I'm not a prophet."

Friday, December 07, 2007

Divine Witnesses

I love this story, reported by the BBC today. It concerns a dispute over the ownership of a plot of land in the Indian state of Jharkhand, upon which stand two temples. Temple priest Manmohan Pathak claims that the land belongs to him, but locals say that it belongs to the two Hindu gods, Ram and Hanuman. Naturally, the judge has summoned the two gods to appear before the court next Tuesday to help resolve the dispute, the gods having inexplicably failed to respond to notices sent to them previously.

I can't wait to see if they show up.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

How to save the planet

Further to this post, it seems that a divorce could be made 'greener'. For details (I suggest somewhat tongue in cheek) see here.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Mrs Haines wins appeal

Well, Mrs Haines has won her appeal. The Court of Appeal today overturned the earlier ruling in favour of the trustees in bankruptcy and ordered that she could keep the proceeds of the sale of the former matrimonial home. Interestingly, Lord Justice Rix said that it would be “unfortunate in the extreme” if a settlement approved in a divorce court could be undone for up to five years because the husband goes bankrupt - "that could even encourage such bankruptcy on the part of a disaffected husband”. Indeed it could.

The trustees are apparently intending to appeal to the House of Lords.

Update: The Court of Appeal judgment has now been published here, on Bailii (citation: Haines v Hill & Anor [2007] EWCA Civ 1284). In it, the Chancellor specifically agreed with the original order of District Judge Cooke, in that firstly, the husband did receive consideration, to the extent that the wife's claim had been extinguished or satisfied; and secondly that consideration could be valued in money or money's worth, and its value was not less than the value of the consideration provided by the husband. Accordingly, s.339(a) and (c) of the Insolvency Act 1986 were inapplicable, and the transaction could not therefore be set aside. Lord Justice Rix summarised (at paragraph 82):
Although a collusive agreement by a divorcing husband and wife to prefer the wife and children over creditors and thus dishonestly to transfer to her more than his estate can truly bear, if his debts were properly taken into account, and thus more than her ancillary relief claim could really and knowingly be worth, is no doubt susceptible to section 339 relief despite the existence of a court order in her favour ... : nevertheless, in the ordinary case, where there is no dishonest collusion, and where a court approves or determines the sum or property to be transferred, it would be entirely foreign to the concept of a "clean break" if the husband's creditors could thereafter seek to recover, in bankruptcy, the property transferred or its value.
I can hear the collective sigh of relief from divorce lawyers up and down the country. Now we must hope that the House of Lords doesn't reverse the decision...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

An exquisite irony

Readers may already be aware of the Mubarik/Mubarak case, in which the two children of a multimillionaire jeweller have been given legal aid of £30,750 to protect their interests under a family trust, as their mother is attempting to enforce a divorce award against their father, whose wealth is tied up in the trust. I have just read this report about the case in the Guardian yesterday.

That two children who were born with diamond encrusted spoons in their mouths should be granted legal aid is absurd enough (and a kick in the teeth for those thousands of deserving individuals who are refused legal aid every year), but to add insult to the taxpayer's injury the parents have managed to avoid paying any tax at all, despite being resident here for tax purposes and liable to English taxation, a situation which Mr Justice Holman describes as "exquisitely ironical". No doubt the media will have a field day with this one, and quite right too. If this sort of nonsensical anomaly is not eradicated from the legal aid system, then that system deserves all the ridicule it gets.

Monday, December 03, 2007

C-MEC: An 'imminent debacle'

Thanks once more to Family Law Week, this time for pointing out this recent press release from Resolution. In it, Kim Fellowes, Chair of Resolution's Child Support Committee states that the Government’s plans to reform the Child Support Agency are an 'accident waiting to happen'. She says that "despite consulting widely on its proposals, the Government is refusing to take on board the concerns raised by many different agencies. As a result, the Government’s plans look set to continue the pattern of failure that has dogged the CSA. Worse, they look set to create a new system that will be even more unfair and ineffective than the present one". She then goes on to particularise failings with the proposed new system.

I couldn't agree more. There is nothing whatsoever in the proposals as they stand that gives me any reason for optimism - quite the contrary. Unless the Government listens, C-MEC will be no more than another re-branding exercise, in the forlorn hope that the new agency will not be tarred with the same brush as the CSA.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Divorce causes global warming shock

Well, here's a new angle on divorce: it causes global warming. OK, that's not specifically stated in this story today in the Sunday Times, but that's the implication. The story reports the pretty obvious results of research that quantifies the effect on the environment of the extra households caused by couples splitting up.

The story begins by somewhat facetiously suggesting that couples may stay together for the sake of the environment rather than for the sake of the children, but I hope that environmental groups and 'family values' conservatives don't jump on the findings to blame couples for 'not trying hard enough'. There is already a school of thought that couples separate too easily, at the first sign of trouble, but the fact of the matter is that for many today marriage is no longer forever, and any attempt to coerce them to stay together is bound to cause hardship (I can't think that there is any such thing as a 'green divorce').

On the subject of global warming, I have to say that I am something of a sceptic, although perhaps I wouldn't be if politicians hadn't jumped so eagerly on the bandwagon. What irritates me in particular is the nonsense implication in many quarters that climate change is something new. The earth's temperature has always been subject to change, and always will be - we've got to learn to live with it. Having said that, I've no doubt that the human race is damaging the environment, but I'm not sure that it would be appropriate to blame separating couples.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Hill v Haines, Charman revisited

This afternoon I attended an excellent seminar organised by Kent Resolution and given by the Family Law Team at Hardwicke Building. The theme was 'Recent Developments in Ancillary Relief', but the seminar essentially concentrated on two recent cases.

First up was Richard Buswell, who discussed Hill v Haines, a case I have mentioned here before. Richard began by stating that he does not believe the case has changed the law. Instead, its importance is that it significantly increases awareness of the impact of bankruptcy on ancillary relief applications. To recap, the case decided that divorce financial orders made in contested proceedings can be set aside, so that the trustee can utilise assets that the court ordered to be transferred from the bankrupt spouse to the other spouse, to pay the bankrupt's debts. Richard envisages trustees in bankruptcy mentioning Hill v Haines to family lawyers and expecting them to instantly capitulate, so listed a set of 'tools' that we can use to 'fight back'. He pointed out that the case does not say that orders can be set aside where consideration in money or money's worth has passed between the parties. Accordingly, we should look for examples, such as money already received/spent, or assets 'ring-fenced' and kept by the transferring spouse, such as a business. It could then be recited to the order that, for example, 'the wife has relinquished her claim to the husband's business, worth £x'. Very useful. [Note that Hill v Haines recently went before the Court of Appeal, and we are awaiting the judgement.]

Richard was accompanied by Simon Buckhaven, who gave a fascinating talk about the Charman case, detailing the facts and summarising the pertinent points. Simon considers that Charman has considerably clarified the principles to be applied when deciding an ancillary relief case, following a string of muddled and contradictory decisions. In particular, he says, equality of division is no longer just a 'yardstick' or check, it is a principle of financial law, so that property should be shared equally unless there is good reason to depart from equality. Importantly, Charman applies not only to big money cases but to all cases so, for example, it made clear that where need is greater than what can be achieved by equal sharing, need prevails; where need is met by sharing, sharing prevails. Charman then went on to clarify such issues as special contributions, short marriages and other reasons for departure from equality. As Simon says: "It is a welcome decision", and clearly essential reading for all family lawyers (assuming you've not read it already!).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fight the Virus

In a decision that makes me despair for the human race, a Sudanese court has sentenced teacher Gillian Gibbons to 15 days in prison for "insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs" by allowing her class to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad'.

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I am reminded of a quote by Arthur C Clarke. When asked what is the greatest threat humanity faces he answered: "Organised religion polluting our minds as it pretends to deliver morality and spiritual salvation. It's spreading the most malevolent mind virus of all. I hope our race can one day outgrow this primitive notion". Amen to that.

Immaculate Concept

Following on from this post, may I recommend the perfect Christmas gift for anyone of a religious/gullible persuasion. A pair of Virgin Mary Holy Toast presses. As the blurb says, don't leave it to chance to receive your religious effigy, and in any event: "The problem with your everyday religious apparitions is that, well, for the fainthearted at least, they're a bit rubbish. Often it takes an almost suicidal leap of faith to see your chosen deity appear in your breakfast." The Holy Toast presses "will guarantee you a highly visible (even to the faithless), and perfect Virgin Mary every time".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gratuitous Lex

Just a quick post to say that I've updated my page on sources of free legal advice, including adding a number of new links and updating existing links.

A Definite Maybe

It can sometimes be a nightmare advising clients upon financial settlements on divorce. Parliament has just given us a very basic outline as to how settlements should be calculated, with the result that we rely upon case law for the specifics. We lawyers therefore scour the case law hoping to find clear guidance upon particular matters. Unfortunately, clear guidance is rarely to be found. Take for example the simple and common problem of how to approach inheritances - should they belong to the party who received them, or should they go into the matrimonial 'pot' for division?

I don't propose to go through the law on this point, but yesterday I read the case of Berkeley v Bulliqi [2007] EWCA Civ 1101 (thanks again to Family Law Week), hoping for some enlightenment. What I found, in the judgement of Lord Justice Hughes, was the following:
good reason to [depart from equality] may be found in the source of the family's money, if it was inherited or provided by one spouse from resources acquired independently of the marriage, and especially if before the marriage
Great, that's clear then: inherited money should belong to the recipient. However, I read on and find this:
in a particular case there may on the facts be a justification for an equal sharing, despite the fact that a significant part of the available wealth was derived from inheritance rather than from joint effort
In other words, we are back to 'maybe', or 'it depends'.

OK, I'm being a little facetious above (previous case law already indicated a 'maybe' answer), but I set it out to illustrate the problems faced when called upon to advise on financial settlements. I know it's a point I've made on more than one occasion previously, but surely it must be possible for parliament to give some clearer statutory guidance?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Let freedom ring

Charon QC today discusses the rights and wrongs of David Irving and Nick Griffin being invited to speak at the Oxford University Union. I agree with Charon that they should. So long as nothing they say constitutes a criminal offence, I don't care if they may be taking advantage of the right to free speech to propagate their extreme views (although I hope our intelligentsia will give them a hard time). I would far rather we have that right than not, and denying them the right erodes the right.

I am glad, for example, that I do not live in a country like Sudan, where the BBC reports today that a British school teacher has been arrested, absurdly accused of insulting Islam's Prophet, after she allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad'.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No right to know

Further to this post, the Court of Appeal has decided that the "ultimate veto" over who is told about the birth of a child lays with the mother. I do not agree with this decision. As I have already indicated, I believe both that the father has a right to know and, more importantly, that the child should have the chance to be brought up by one of her natural parents. I do not see that just because she bears the child, the mother should have the right to keep the birth a secret - this seems to send out an appalling message about the status of fathers, and reminds me of the anti-father article that appeared in The Times this week, and that was discussed so well by Pink Tape in this post.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Protect Yourself

So, with a staggering ineptitude that would make even an England goalkeeper proud, HM Revenue and Customs has lost the records of twenty-five million child benefit claimants. Since the vast majority of my clients and visitors to this blog will have minor children and will be worried about their details falling into the wrong hands, I thought it might be helpful to provide some links to useful information and advice that may help put minds at rest. The BBC has a page of general questions and answers about the matter here, and answers further queries here. The Telegraph gives advice on how to protect your finances here, as does Metro here. As to the possible long-term consequences (even if the data does not fall into the wrong hands), I recommend this article in The Times today.

In-Court Conciliation

The Ministry of Justice has published a report upon the longer-term outcomes of in-court conciliation in children matters. The findings of the report suggest that conciliation has a very high success rate, but that in the following two years the majority of parents had required further professional intervention, and 40% had been involved in further litigation.

I would say that these findings are in line with my own experience. There have been occasions when I have attended hearings in cases where the parties were so far apart that it seemed impossible that any agreement could be reached, only to find that the CAFCASS officer had brought them together. Of course, success rates can vary, depending upon a number of factors, not least the skills of the CAFCASS officers involved and the time they have available to each case. Typically each conciliation meeting is allowed about thirty minutes - to expect all matters to be resolved long-term in such a short time is obviously a little unrealistic, although an agreement reached in conciliation can be the catalyst for better relations between the parents.

I know it won't go down well with fathers' rights groups, but I agree with this conclusion to the report:
The family justice system has been subject to sustained criticism over the last few years. The findings in this study suggest that some recent criticisms, particularly from fathers groups, are misplaced. The courts do appear to be relatively effective at ensuring that contact occurs. Two years after the initial conciliation appointment significantly more children were having contact, and more contact, than they had been prior to coming to court.

[Hat-tip to Current Awareness for pointing out this story and, in turn, to Charon QC for pointing out Current Awareness!]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Breathtaking Risk

I have often complained (most recently only yesterday - I'm sure I'm not alone) about the irony that on the one hand the Government tells us (in Section 1 of the Children Act) that "in any proceedings in which any question with respect to the upbringing of a child arises, the court shall have regard to the general principle that any delay in determining the question is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child", and on the other hand, the Government fails to give sufficient resources to the courts or CAFCASS, with the result that children proceedings are subjected to huge delays. The subject of Government funding has been taken up by Alistair MacDonald, Co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, in his Opening Address to the Annual Conference of the Association:
...what can rightly be said about the reforms to family legal aid proposed by the Government and the wider chronic under-resourcing of the family justice system, what can rightly be said to be common ground amongst many eminent individuals and organisations whose opinions deservedly command respect, is that those reforms constitute an unprecedented threat to access to justice for vulnerable children and families in this jurisdiction.
On the legal aid reforms he said:
We have sought to make clear to the Ministry of Justice that the new Public Law Outline and the revised Children Act Guidance are designed to be implemented and operated by specialist legal practitioners; that those twin reforms can only be effective in reducing delay and improving outcomes for children if a sufficient and sustainable supplier base of such specialist legal practitioners is maintained. We have repeatedly highlighted that the Constitutional Affairs Committee has recognised, having heard evidence from all interested stakeholders from the senior judiciary to children's charities, that the proposed reforms to legal aid constitute a "breathtaking risk."
So, is Section 1 of the Children Act (which also of course states that "the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration") effectively no more than hot air, just another example of government spin? Is it really the case that the Government is more interested in hard economics than the welfare of children? The Government will, of course, continue to demand more efficiency, but MacDonald responds that "there is a level of chronic under-investment below which even the most efficient use of existing assets cannot mitigate the impact of that chronic under-investment". When that level is reached, the system will break down - a consequence MacDonald fears will surely happen if the Government continues on its present path.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Something Stinks


Now here's an interesting thing. The picture above is a screenshot (click for a full-sized image) of a blog I found today. Something is familiar about it - the post. Yes, it's exactly the same post I wrote earlier today (see below). But wait - what's this? - it says the post was written by 'TheGirl'. Funny, I don't remember giving my permission for someone to copy my post.

The blog is called 'Love Stinks' (www.lovestinks.info) and seems to comprise solely posts plagiarised verbatim from other blogs. There are a number of my posts, and also posts from DivorceSolicitor, all attributed to 'TheGirl'. Now, it's one thing copying other people's work, but but to copy it and take credit for it is in my view completely unacceptable.

If you're reading this post on 'Love Stinks', then perhaps you could leave a comment requesting the blog 'author' not to post other people's work without permission (save perhaps short extracts, with a suitable acknowledgement and link to the original), and certainly not to take credit for it.

[Edit: Well, the above post seems to have had the desired effect. 'Love Stinks' now appears to consist of posts comprising quotations and poetry. All very strange.]

Kent Law Clinic receives award

Congratulations to the University of Kent for being awarded a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for the work of the Kent Law Clinic. The Clinic is being honoured for ‘enriching the academic study of law through a casework service to the community’. As regular readers will know, I have done a few evening sessions for the clinic, and have been impressed by the enthusiasm of the students. For full details of the award, see this news story on the University's web site.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not stupid

Still on a religious theme, when I saw a woman on TV this week holding a pancake that supposedly had a picture of Jesus and Mary on it saying that "it's a miracle!", my thought was - how can anyone be so stupid? How wrong I was. She is now reported as selling it on eBay for $338. Now I'm off to make some pancakes myself...

Church and State

Appropriate for a Sunday, here are three divorce-related stories from around the world, all with a religious theme:

First up, we have a story from America. In Mineola, New York, a pastor's wife argued that her husband's church should be considered a marital asset in divorce proceedings, as he had used it as his "personal piggy bank". The court was sufficiently convinced to order him to open the church's books to a court-appointed forensic accountant. This is thought to be the first time anyone in New York state has tried to treat a religious institution as a marital asset - and I say why not?

Meanwhile, from Egypt we have this story about women divorcing their husbands for strange reasons, following the introduction of khol'a divorces in 2000 (before that apparently a woman had to present strong evidence against her husband, such as physical abuse or adultery, in order to divorce). The reasons for the divorces are pretty colourful, such as that one husband had bad breath and smelly feet, but my favourite is the one in which the wife sought a divorce because her husband worked as a sorcerer. All of this may sound very good news for Egyptian wives in unhappy marriages, but the downside is that they can only obtain a khol'a divorce if they renounce their financial rights. I'm sure many husbands in this country would be quite happy for their wives to divorce them for having smelly feet, if it meant no financial claim against them.

Lastly, the Guardian yesterday reported that there has been a huge increase in the Spanish divorce rate since the government introduced legislation in 2005 that made the process easier and faster. Unsurprisingly, this has alarmed religious organisations and conservative family groups, but it seems that much of the increase is due to couples who previously separated now getting divorced. Interestingly, the report says that a leading Spanish family lawyer sees the new law "as reflecting social changes in Spain, which has undergone a transition from a deeply Catholic, conservative country under the dictatorship of General Franco to having some of the most liberal social laws". Whatever, if our falling divorce rate means less work over here, I'm sure plenty of English divorce lawyers will happily swap for the sunnier climes of Spain.

Non mea culpa

Apologies to anyone who was unable to access Family Lore yesterday. Unfortunately my domain host's nameserver went down on Friday evening, and the problem was not resolved until last night. I was not alone...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Patience...

Just a quick post about the Hill v Haines case, which went before the Court of Appeal this week, and which I've mentioned previously. Family Lore has had a number of hits over the last couple of days from people presumably wanting to know the outcome of the appeal. Unfortunately, spouses, ex-spouses, divorce lawyers, creditors and trustees in bankruptcy must wait a little longer, as judgement was reserved.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Embarrassing

Oh dear, Mr Justice Singer no less was today ordered by the Court of Appeal to step down from a case for making what Lord Justice Ward called "thoroughly bad jokes". The case, El Farargy v El Farargy and Others, concerns financial proceedings on divorce and involves a Saudi sheik, Khalid Ben Abdullah Rashid Al Fawaz, who claims to own the former matrimonial home. Singer had apparently made a number of remarks to which the Sheik took exception, including that he could choose "to depart on his flying carpet" to escape paying costs, and that his evidence was "a bit gelatinous ... a bit like Turkish Delight". Lord Justice Ward described the case as "a singularly unsatisfactory, unfortunate and embarrassing matter".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ten Myths About Family Lawyers

I know this isn't going to go down well in some quarters, but I thought it about time I did my bit to improve the image of my profession, so here I 'debunk' ten myths about family lawyers. Yes, I know there are exceptions that prove each of these myths, but I believe that that is all they are - exceptions.

Myth #1. Family lawyers are only interested in their fees, rather than achieving a good result for their clients. Aside from the issue of professional pride, family lawyers are in business and much of their work comes from recommendations, so they have a vested interest in client satisfaction.

Myth #2. Family lawyers will follow their client's instructions no matter what. Good family lawyers will only follow their client's instructions up to a point. If it is obvious that to follow instructions would be against the client's interests, then the lawyer will refuse to act - see this recent post.

Myth #3. In children proceedings, family lawyers are biased towards mothers. Why should they be - they act for fathers as well?

Myth #4. In financial settlements, family lawyers aim to take the other party 'for every penny'. Most family lawyers are fully aware that this approach is unlikely to best serve their client's interests, and many subscribe to Resolution's Code of Practice, which requires them to conduct the matter in a constructive and non-confrontational way.

Myth #5. Family lawyers live off the misery of others. We provide a service at a time of great stress, and if it is a good service then that stress will be eased. Having said that, in a large number of our cases the parties are quite amicable - where they are not, the Resolution approach aims to reduce the misery.

Myth #6. Family lawyers are in cahoots with one another. This one is often raised when the lawyer for one party 'fraternises' with the lawyer for the other party at court. But why not? They often know each other, and just because their clients are 'daggers drawn', it does not mean that they must be too. And just because they are friendly, it does not mean that they are doing a deal behind their client's back either.

Myth #7. Family lawyers are resistant to any change in the law that will adversely affect their interests (i.e. do them out of work). On the contrary, family lawyers have supported changes that will do just that, such as encouraging mediation and supporting no-fault divorce.

Myth #8. Family lawyers encourage animosity, to draw-out matters and thereby increase their fees. See 4 above.

Myth #9. Family lawyers charge extortionate fees. Yes, some do, but for most their fees are based upon their experience and their expenses (see this post). Like any business, we have to be competitive, and if we overcharge, our clients will go elsewhere. We do not operate 'charging cartels' - in fact, lawyers rarely discuss their fees with one another. Further, if a client is unhappy with his/her lawyer's fees, they can always request the court to assess them.

Myth #10. Lastly, all family lawyers are rich. If only it were the case. True, some at the top of the profession earn very large sums of money, but isn't that true for most professions? On the other hand, the high-street family lawyer doing predominantly legal aid work will be struggling to make a living at all.

[I'm tempted to disable comments for this post, but I will not!]

Monday, November 12, 2007

All husbands should know

As any regular reader of Family Lore may have noticed, I take great interest in divorce-related ideas form America, where there seems to be an entire industry around the subject, quite separate from the legal process itself. My latest find is an idea that some may find a little controversial, especially this side of the pond.

Divorce PREP provides "secret divorce planning for men", the idea being that: "By arranging certain things early and understanding the reality of the divorce process, men may avoid a brutal divorce settlement that can financially cripple them for their entire life". For $179 Divorce PREP provides five CDs of advice upon preparing for a divorce, including how to hide the fact that you are preparing from your spouse. The advice is not just meant for those getting divorced either: "Even if you don’t get divorced or don’t want the divorce, you are better off knowing what to do if you are forced into it".

One of the things I liked most about Divorce PREP's web site is the image it uses in its logo, which shows a wife doing the washing up and the husband, tea-towel in hand, scratching his head as he looks at the drying up - the suggestion being that whilst it's OK for a wife to do the washing up, it certainly isn't OK for a husband to do the drying up. The image is named "dead zone guy".

I am often asked by clients, usually husbands, what they can do to protect themselves financially in the event of their spouse commencing divorce proceedings. The answer in most cases is "not a lot". You cannot, for example, transfer assets to a third party in order to defeat your spouse's claim against them, as the court has power to overturn the transfer (and the judge will also most likely take an extremely dim view of your actions). There are some practical steps that can be taken, but they are unlikely to have any great bearing upon the financial/property settlement, which in any event in most cases will be based upon equality, or the genuine needs of the parties and their children.

Last, but definitely not least, Divorce PREP offers an additional product: CheckMate, the "5 Minute Infidelity Test Kit", which you can use to find out if your wife is cheating, by testing her undergarments for semen stains. Nice. Something tells me that if it's reached this point, then the marriage is over, even if the tests are clear.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ceasing to act

I'm not going to speculate upon whether Heather Mills 'sacked' her lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, or they 'sacked' her, but this article in The Times this week includes a summary of the circumstances in which solicitors can decline to act for a client any further. It does happen, although one sometimes wonders whether it happens as often as it should, with firms continuing to act (and take fees) in circumstances when they should not. The circumstances when a solicitor must cease to act are set out in Rule 2.01 of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct, but the rule does not set out circumstances when a solicitor may refuse to act, save that he/she "must not cease acting for a client except for good reason and on reasonable notice".

Perhaps the most common scenario in family law work is where the solicitor is trying to conduct the matter in a constructive, non-confrontational way (in accordance with Resolution's Code of Practice), but the client wants a far more aggressive approach, despite being informed at the outset of the approach the solicitor will take. This can lead to increasing tensions and, ultimately, a loss of confidence by the client. The client may of course choose to instruct other solicitors, but if they do not, the solicitor may have to cease acting.

As Rule 2.01 states, the solicitor must give reasonable notice of his/her decision, although the guidance notes to the Rule accept that there "may be circumstances where it is reasonable to give no notice". The amount of notice depends upon the circumstances, for example: "it would normally be unreasonable to stop acting for a client immediately before a court hearing where it is impossible for the client to find alternative representation" - where it is, the solicitor "should attend and explain the circumstances to the court".

Friday, November 09, 2007

Never Surrender

Here's another great idea from America: Daddy Divorce Camp (love the name) "Offers a Weekend Retreat in Central Florida for Men Who are Divorced or Going Through a Divorce". The camp combines outdoor activities with lectures and workshops on such topics as divorce legal issues, dealing with anger and stress and the effects of divorce upon children, and culminates with “Learning to Fly - Never Surrender", an 'Interactive Ropes Course Challenge'. All this for a fee of $600.

David Burrows

David Burrows is not a name I had expected to come across whilst reading the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal reports in the Gazette, but the SDT has ordered him to pay a fine of £1,000 for retaining in office account monies sent to him by the Legal Services Commission for payment of disbursements and costs, contrary to rule 22(1) of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998. Burrows admitted the facts but, in typical Burrows fashion, challenged the vires of the rules, an argument that unsurprisingly was not accepted by the SDT. Was this a genuine mistake by Burrows, or did he deliberately breach the rules in order to raise the ultra vires argument?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A right to know

The Court of Appeal has this week reserved judgement on an appeal by a mother against a county court order that she should inform the father about their child. The baby is apparently the result of a one-night stand between two work colleagues and the father is said to have no idea about the birth of his child. The mother, who is aged twenty, wishes to put the baby up for adoption, but the local authority argued that they would like to approach the father to see if he is willing and able to take care of her.

I don't know the full facts of the case, but whilst the existence of the child may be an embarrassment for the father, who is said to be now back with his fiancée, it seems pretty clear to me that he has a right to know. More importantly, the child should have the chance to be brought up by one of her natural parents. I await with interest the Court of Appeal's decision.

Thanks to Family Law NewsWatch for their report of this case.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Meaningless

Another excellent post today on the Magistrate's Blog, contrasting the usual Government announcements about being tough on crime, with the reality. What I wanted to point out here, however, is the comment about the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme, a programme for convicted offenders which addresses the issues behind domestic violence. Bystander describes it as "First Class", but states that "the programmes are nearly all full, and there can be a wait of many months to get an offender on to one", by which time "it increasingly ceases to mean anything to the offender". Wonderful. How many victims will suffer further domestic violence because of lack of funding for such programmes?

Quote of the week

"I do understand right now in my state of mind that shooting at the judiciary is not a proper form of political redress"

- Darren Mack, who murdered his wife and then shot the judge who was handling his divorce, in Reno, Nevada.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A step in the right direction

I've touched previously upon the issue of child support and equal shared care arrangements, and the unfairness of one parent, usually the father, still being required to pay child support to the other parent even though the children spend half of their time with him. Now Carl Bridge has created an E-Petition addressing this issue:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove the child support liability in the new 'child maintenance and other payments bill' for 'non-resident parents' where equal shared care arrangements exist.

I initially hesitated to sign the petition as I did not think that it was necessarily fair that the 'wealthier' parent should have no child support liability just because there is an equal shared care arrangement. The details in the petition do suggest that parents be forced to enter into a private arrangement, but this would require them to agree a child support figure, which obviously they may be unable to do. Perhaps there should be a formula that takes into account the incomes of both parents and the time the children spend with each parent? However, I realise that it would be too much to ask the government to include such a reform in the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill 2006-07, so for now I think we should settle with the terms of the petition, which I recommend readers to sign.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Doomed to failure

It seems to me a straightforward enough decision, but Whig v Whig [2007] EWHC 1856 (Fam) deals with the much-feared situation of the husband making himself bankrupt just before the wife's ancillary relief (financial/property) claim is heard, apparently in order to defeat that claim. Here, he succeeded, simply because the court (on the wife's application to annul the bankruptcy) found that, on the date of the bankruptcy order, the husband was unable to pay his debts. Mr Justice Munby pointed out that even if he had annulled the bankruptcy order, it was probable that the husband's creditors would seek to have him made bankrupt again, and if this occurred then any order transferring the former matrimonial home to the wife "would be vulnerable to attack under section 339 of the Insolvency Act 1986 as a "transaction … at an undervalue"", so the wife's attempt to keep the property "was probably always doomed to failure".

Thanks once again to Family Law Week for this case report.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Get a life

Naturally, as a divorce lawyer I take an interest in any news related to divorce. Unfortunately, however, most divorce news comprises stories of various major or not so major celebrities' marriage breakdowns, usually lurid and acrimonious. Recently these have included McCartney/Mills, Carlos Santana, Britney Spears and Chantelle (whoever she is). Now, I know that I've mentioned some of these on Family Lore, but only in jest or to make a serious law-related point. If there is anything more tedious or tiresome than having to listen to fireworks every evening for a fortnight, it is the sordid details of a celebrity divorce. Who reads this stuff, and why don't they have anything better to do?

House of Common Sense

I wonder how many of our lords and masters read blawgs. I suspect not very many, as the common sense shown by blawgers is in stark contrast with most of the spoutings from Westminster. Here are just three examples of that common sense over the last couple of days:

At the end of a week in which the Daily Mail made the alarmist but ludicrous claim that ALL new jobs created in the economy had gone to foreigners, Victorian Maiden points out: "It seems to be taken as read that immigrants are a bad thing, especially the non-pinky-orange ones. Yet any proof of that proposition is strangely lacking". She concludes: "scummy politicians who seek personal advancement by promoting peoples’ fears, instead of showing those same people that their attitude is wrong, often selfish and often more mean-minded than they really are should be shunned by all". What, politicians refusing to jump on a populist bandwagon? That'll be the day.

Copious Rioja and cigarettes don't dull Charon QC's cutting edge (perhaps they sharpen it?) when he imagines a conversation between the Duke of Edinburgh and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia which explains a number of things, including the workings of our 'moral foreign policy', which steadfastly and consistently refuses to deal with leaders of countries which have a bad record on human rights. (Victorian Maiden also did an excellent piece about the visit of King Abdullah earlier in the week.) Had we had to suffer an election recently Charon may have stood - see the comments to this post - he would have got my vote.

Finally, The Magistrate's Blog counterpoints the resources that Her Majesty's Courts Service is prepared to plough into obtaining a Charter Mark with the fact that many courts now have to manage without an usher. He calls the Charter Mark a "tired gimmick" whose "principal function is to enhance the career progression of the managers involved and to add gloss to their CVs", whereas ushers "know more about real customer ... service than all the managers put together". Quite.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The 'silver divorce'

The Times today has an article examining the rise in divorce among the over-sixties age group. The article speculates that the reasons for the rise are longer lives, higher expectations and the strains of living together after retirement, but concentrates on the fallout of such divorces for the wider family - the children and the grandchildren.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Seasoned without love

Well, I've come across a few cases of extreme behaviour on marital breakdown in my time, but never one like this. Quite put me off eating curry...

How the other half live

In her interview on GMTV Heather Mills stated that she is "£1.5 million in debt in lawyers' fees". Now, I don't know her lawyers' hourly charging rates or how many hours they have spent on the matter, but a legal aid lawyer in London receives (I believe) £66 per hour for County Court work. On this basis a legal aid lawyer would have to work 22,727 hours to earn £1.5 million. If a reasonable number of annual billable hours for a divorce lawyer is 1200, it would therefore take a legal aid lawyer nearly 19 years to earn such a sum. Heather Mills instructed her lawyers about 18 months ago. Does this mean they are worth more than 12 times as much as a legal aid lawyer, some £800 per hour?

Now, I know there are a number of flaws to the above argument, but I think the basic point is still valid. The level of skill, knowledge and general competence required by a 'big-money case' lawyer is surely not twelve times that of a legal aid divorce lawyer, or anything like it. I am not for one moment saying that they should be paid at legal aid rates, or indeed that legal aid lawyers should be paid £800 per hour, but I think that high profile cases like the McCartney/Mills divorce add to the public perception of all divorce lawyers being 'fat cats', when the reality for most is quite different. The answer, of course, is that legal aid lawyers are worth considerably more than £66 per hour. As for Ms Mills' lawyers, I will leave it to the reader to decide whether they are worth their fees.

[Non-lawyer readers may have done the maths and be shocked to have calculated that, on the basis of the above figures, legal aid lawyers earn £79,000 per annum (assuming they do no private work). However, this does not take account of the lawyer's substantial overheads such as insurance, rent, equipment, wages for non fee earning staff etc. The amount that a legal aid lawyer actually receives will be a fraction of his/her fee income.]

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

A Halloween Horror Story

[WARNING: Not for readers of a nervous disposition]

Once upon a time there were Legal Aid Contracts.

THE END


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Divided by a common language

As I said I would, I've been looking at some of the family law blogs mentioned in the Top 30 at Prenuptial Agreements. Thus far, I've looked at five American blogs.

I'll begin by echoing a couple of comments by Sam Hasler on his Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog. Firstly, these blogs seem a little more serious than most English family law blogs - reflecting greater respect for the system perhaps? Secondly, and more importantly, it's surprising just how relevant much of the content is to our work over here, despite a completely different legal system. I'm including them in my list of family law blogs, and recommend a regular look by family lawyers on this side of the pond.

Sam Hasler practises (?practices) law in Anderson, Indiana, and his blog obviously reflects Indiana state law, but his horizons clearly don't stop at the state boundaries. A number of his posts mention English blogs, and I am grateful to him for several mentions of Family Lore. He is also open, as we should all be, to ideas across the world, including from here and Australia. What particularly impresses me, though, is the number of posts and the range of subjects that Sam energetically and enthusiastically covers. A definite recommendation.

Another recommendation is California Divorce and Family Law by Jeffrey Lalloway, mentioned below, which gathers together family law related articles from various sources. The style of this one is less formal than the others I have read, containing less law and more general advice, such as in this recent post about how to make divorce as painless as possible.

The top blog in the top 30 is the Divorce & Family Law Attorney Blog by Houston lawyer J. Shannon Cavers. This long-running blog contains a good mix of law and advice on a large number of topics, and is primarily aimed at members of the public. Nicely written and informative.

New York Divorce Report is written by Daniel E. Clement, who has been practising since 1986. Also similar to me, he has been blogging since early last year and the blog contains a mix of family law related stories not dissimilar to Family Lore, even a post on the (in)famous Wedding Ring Coffin that I covered myself (I hadn't read Daniel's post before writing mine, honest). Naturally, I heartily recommend this blog.

Last for now, but certainly not least, we have Divorce Law Journal by Diana L. Skaggs of Louisville, Kentucky. Leaving aside the colour/color scheme, I like this one a lot, and not just because Family Lore gets a mention. The blog is clearly aimed at lawyers rather than clients, containing detailed insights into recent developments, but nevertheless still has plenty to offer family lawyers outside the US.

Ideas from America, #42

Here are a couple of ideas from America, both aimed at helping people to 'move on' after divorce, both found on the excellent California Divorce and Family Law blog (more about which later).

First we have The Divorce Party Planner: How to Throw a Divorce or Breakup Party, a book by Christine Gallagher, the creator of the frighteningly-titled 'relationship site', RevengeLady.com. The book gives advice and ideas about how to hold such a party, although I suspect the more reserved will want to know why to hold such a party. The site explains: "The party is an opportunity to announce your new status in life. You are now single and available for new experiences and even new relationships. A whole new phase of life is just beginning. And that is something to celebrate!"

The other idea is Divorce Cards, a site that sells cards for (it seems only) divorced men that "tell whomever you need to tell where to reach you and does it with a sense of humor". At present there seem to be only three cards available, the best of which says on the front "My wife left with my house, my car, my money and my best friend...", and inside: "and I miss him". As the site says: "When you can finally laugh about your divorce, then it is time for Divorce Cards."

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Pause for Thought

This sad letter in the Guardian today reminded me of one of my cases that finished recently. I was acting for the mother in a long-running residence/contact dispute. The father, probably seeing that his residence application was likely to be unsuccessful, informed the CAFCASS officer that if he did not get sole residence then he would stop all direct contact with the children (a shared time arrangement was out of the question because of the distance between the parties). When the matter went before the court it became clear that the mother would get sole residence and the father unfortunately carried out his threat, despite the best efforts of the judge to persuade him otherwise.

My client was left with mixed feelings. Naturally, she was pleased that she had been given sole residence, and relieved that the matter was over (the court made a s.91(14) order preventing the father from making any further applications without leave), but she also had to explain to the children that they would not be seeing their father. How this will affect the children remains to be seen, but clearly the court did not agree with the father that it would be best for them if there were no further direct contact. Whether the father himself genuinely believed this, or whether he did what he did as a last-ditch attempt to persuade the court to grant him sole residence (and didn't want to lose face by changing his mind in court), only he knows.

As fathers' rights groups quite rightly remind us, fathers often lose contact with their children through no fault of their own, but the other side of the coin is those fathers who choose to stop contact, or who never attempt to have contact in the first place (I quite often have to advise mothers that the court cannot force the father to have contact). I hope that those fathers read the letter in the Guardian, and that it gives them pause for thought.

[Update: Dianne Benussi has written a post giving advice on what to do if your ex doesn't want to see the children.]