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Showing posts from October, 2007

A Halloween Horror Story

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[WARNING: Not for readers of a nervous disposition]

Once upon a time there were Legal Aid Contracts.

THE END


Divided by a common language

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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 op…

Ideas from America, #42

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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 prese…

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 woul…

A new perspective

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Jacqui Gilliatt has has found another family law blog. Child Lawyer is written by Sophia Cannon and is a "perspective of an English Child Law barrister, with an urban London practice, specialising with non-traditional families with reference to family, pregnancy and child law, including crimes committed against vulnerable adults, young people and children". As Jacqui points out, the blog started in May then went quiet until October, but what contents it has are interesting, particularly when describing the author's experiences as a TV lawyer. Let's hope for more from this one.

Traumatic

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Well, that was traumatic. As you will (hopefully) see, I've changed to a new template. Unfortunately, the process was not as straightforward as hoped, despite everything working in testing before I made the change. Anyway, here it is. The new template includes a menu that links to pages that I hope readers will find of use, and two columns in the sidebar, so you don't have to scroll so far down to find what you want. I expect I may be tinkering with things a little more over the coming days...

Parliament, not prejudice

Hat-tip to the Magistrate's Blog for pointing out this story in The Times today. 'Christian JP' Andrew McClintock resigned from the family panel in Sheffield after he was refused exemption from adoption hearings involving same-sex couples. He lost a claim for discrimination at an employment tribunal in March and is now appealing to the EAT. I agree entirely both with Adrian Lynch of the Department for Constitutional Affairs, who said that it was for Parliament to decide who could adopt children and that judges and magistrates could not decide which parts of the law they wished to apply, and with Keith Porteous Wood, of the National Secular Society, who said that: "We must not allow the law to be ‘religionised’".

[Update: Pink Tape has now posted on this story, and argues far more eloquently than I could why a Magistrate should not be allowed to decide what cases he deals with, including debunking the nonsense argument that McClintock's view was not a deep-seat…

Age does matter

As a sad footnote to this earlier post, it seems that a honeymoon with her 24 year old groom was too much for 82 year old Adelfa Volpes, who died of heart problems less than a month after the wedding.

I do, Robot

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Scottish scientist, businessman and chess International Master David Levy has been awarded a doctorate by Maastricht University for a thesis entitled "Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners". He wrote: "Trends in robotics and shifting attitudes on marriage are likely to result in sophisticated robots that will eventually be seen as suitable marriage partners".

Presumably, if you marry a robot then you will have to divorce it when the relationship ends, so even in this brave new world there will still be work for us divorce lawyers.

Who said romance is dead?

I never like to disappoint any reader coming to Family Lore, but sometimes it's just impossible to satisfy their requirements. Yesterday a (presumably) gentleman from Lahore was directed here by the ambitious search string: "Rich families in UK who wants groom". Sorry, but I am neither rich nor the right sex.

All the fun of the fair

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It may not be everybody's idea of a fun day out, but Austria is to host the world's first "divorce fair" in Vienna on the 27th to 28th October. Exhibitors will apparently include lawyers, mediators, estate agents, "life-crisis experts", private detective firms (that should be interesting) and DNA laboratories offering paternity tests(!). The organisers appear to have thought of everything, even reserving Saturday for men and Sunday for women, so couples can "avoid awkward encounters and retain a degree of anonymity".

The question is: where Austria leads, will England follow?

Blame the lawyers (again)

This article in The Independent today reports more government anti-lawyer propaganda, suggesting that legal aid divorce lawyers purposely keep quiet about mediation, as they will get paid more if the matter goes to court. No doubt the public will swallow it as usual, although they will be the first to complain when they can't find a legal aid solicitor in their area.

The article barely mentions the fact that before any legal aid certificate is granted the suitability of the matter for mediation has to be considered by a mediation agency (not the lawyers), and no mention is given to the fact that mediation is purely voluntary and most people simply do not want it. It is true that public money could probably be saved if more cases went to mediation, and I'm sure there are some lawyers who 'keep quiet', but to blame lawyers solely for the extra expense is nonsense.

Having seen the light some years ago, I don't do legal aid work, but I do suggest mediation to my clients…

Shocking

Dear BBC,

I am writing to register my utter shock and disgust that Top Gear presenters
smoked pipes in the studio during the course of the show that was aired last Sunday evening. The sight of people doing what they want to do will send out entirely the wrong message to the citizens of this country, and the fact that no one in the audience objected is no excuse - what right have mature adults to decide what is best for them? If we were all allowed to behave in this appalling fashion then the next thing you know we would have freedom of choice.

Needless to say, I am now cancelling my life-long subscription to the Radio Times.

Yours etc.,

D.O.Gooder-Busybody,
President,
Action to Reduce Smoking and Enjoyment (A.R.S.E.)

Business is business

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I attended a friend's wedding at the weekend. Naturally, like any good divorce lawyer I handed the bride and groom a copy of my business card.

Department for U-Turns

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In this recent post I suggested that tax changes were one reason why fewer couples have chosen to marry in the last ten years. The Labour Government has long made it clear that tax policies should not favour married couples as this would discriminate against cohabitating couples, single parents and their children. Until now. In what looks suspiciously like another example of Labour hijacking Tory policies, Andy Burnham, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, has hinted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that the Government is considering tax incentives for married couples. Burnham said that there is a “moral case” for promoting marriage through the tax system, which seems a strange thing for a Labour Minister to say.

Of course, whether any tax changes will have a bearing upon the number of couples choosing to marry remains to be seen.

A lot of hot air

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I see that the Law Society has jumped on the climate change bandwagon, launching the "Legal Sector Alliance" and adopting an "environmental management scheme". Quite what effect "switching to recycled paper for business use" and the use of ‘green’ energy by this profession will have upon the world's climate (which, incidentally, has always and will always change, irrespective of man's efforts), is not clear to me. Still, I was pleased to read this passage from the article in the Gazette, assuming that the word 'neutral' has been included in error:

"The launch comes just days after the Law Society Council agreed a pledge that will see Chancery Lane become carbon neutral by 2011."

Presumably the heat generated by this selfless act will be converted into 'green' energy.

Council housing and shared residence

Hat-tip to Nearly Legal for drawing attention to the case Holmes-Moorhouse v London Borough of Richmond-Upon-Thames [2007] EWCA Civ 970, which gives important guidance upon the issue of the provision of local authority housing in shared residence cases, something that is likely to become more frequent as shared residence becomes more common. Lord Justice Moses differentiated between those cases where a shared residence order was made after a contested hearing and those where it was made by consent:
where a shared residence order is opposed, the Court is bound, by virtue of s.1(3)(f) [of the Children Act] to have regard to the capability of the parents to accommodate the child. The local housing authority ought, therefore, in that circumstance, be given the opportunity to comment upon local conditions and the effect of a shared residence order on others in priority need and on its own allocation scheme. Accordingly, where those matters have been taken into account, as they ought to have…

Worshipping Mammon

... sticking with The Times, the report today is that Paul McCartney and Heather Mills "have agreed a package worth in the region of £50 million", but that they can't agree upon the scope of a confidentiality clause. Apparently, Ms Mills wants to be free to disclose details both of the marriage and the settlement (why?), whereas Sir Paul wants complete confidentiality.

What seems to be exciting The Times the most though (and I have seen this elsewhere, including in the legal media) is the possibility that this could be the biggest contested divorce settlement to date, beating the £48 million that Mrs Charman received. I have to say that I find the sight of lawyers and media salivating over the size of a divorce settlement particularly unedifying.

Leave your ego at the courtroom door

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Meanwhile, we all wait with baited breath for the outcome of the Financial Dispute Resolution Appointment ("FDR") today in the McCartney/Mills case. For those that don't know (which includes everyone who has only previously read about/heard the story in the sensationalist media), the objective of an FDR is for the parties to use their best endeavours to reach agreement, with the assistance of a District Judge. FDRs take place in most financial/property proceedings ancillary to divorce (unless, of course, a settlement has already been reached) and they have a very high success rate, preventing most cases from going to a final, contested, hearing.

I hope that an agreement can be reached, bringing the whole sorry McCartney/Mills divorce saga to a conclusion, although I note from this report, also in The Times today, that there are some who are concerned that the egos of the parties and their lawyers will get in the way.

Can the rest of us have our planet back?

In an episode of QI Stephen Fry mutters the words: "Will we never learn? Who knows. Religion. Shit it". Those same words came to me when I read this news story, a headline in The Times today. That the survival of the entire world could be at stake because of two man-made delusional belief systems is a sad indictment of the human race. I hope all Muslims and Christians do make peace with one another, but I very much doubt that it will happen. Meanwhile, I suggest they all listen to this excellent rant by Marcus Brigstocke:

A pleasant surprise

Many thanks to Prenuptial Agreements for including Family Lore in their list of the Top 30 Family Law Blogs. Prenuptial Agreements is an American site dedicated, as the name suggests, to the subject of prenuptial agreements which are, of course, usually upheld by the US courts. The position here is that prenups are not (currently) binding upon the courts, but are treated as one of the factors to be taken into account when the court decides upon financial/property issues on divorce - hence prenups are far less common in this country.

It's quite an honour to be included in a list of the top family law blogs - I'm now looking forward to reading the other recommended blogs, although some are already known to me.

Humiliating for who?

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Whilst checking out the new (and much improved) Families Need Fathers website I came across a news story that I don't think I've mentioned before: the suspension of the Child Support Agency's 'naming and shaming' policy. As I have stated previously, I felt that the policy was pointless (save for showing that the government was 'doing something'), and John Baker, the the Chair of FNF, went further: "For a body whose purpose is essentially to protect the child, it is hard to see how public humiliation of one of its parents could possibly be appropriate". Just a few weeks after the policy started, the CSA acknowledged its ineffectiveness and did a U-turn.

It seems that rather than humiliating parents who fail to pay child support, the policy has only succeeded in humiliating the government.

Pro Bono Publico

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I did another session for the Kent Law Clinic last night (see my previous posts here and here), advising four clients in two hours - reminded me of the bad old days when I used to do legal aid work, turning clients over as quickly as possible, in a desperate attempt to make a profit. Still, the clients all seemed satisfied with the advice that I gave them.

Having given two hours of my free time to help others I woke up this morning with a warm altruistic glow and found myself typing 'pro bono' into Google. My self-satisfaction soon evaporated when I read the following on Wikipedia: "Lawyers in the United States are recommended under American Bar Association (ABA) ethical rules to contribute at least fifty hours of pro bono service per year". Fifty hours? Now, I don't know how many American lawyers contribute their full quota, but giving up twenty five evenings like last night each year seems a bit excessive to me.
[The Kent Law Clinic website is under currently und…

A salutary lesson

I'm often asked by clients why we don't reciprocate when their husband/wife/partner fails to conduct proceedings reasonably, or even to comply with the requirements of the court - after all, they get away with it. My response is always that we should endeavour to conduct ourselves in a reasonable and proper fashion, even if they don't.

Well, a case reported briefly in The Times this week is a lesson in why the conduct of proceedings is important. Mr Klammers was appealing against the refusal of the English court to grant him a stay of the decree absolute, pending his appeal in the French Court of Appeal as to whether a French court had been correct in holding that the English court had been seised of the divorce proceedings first. In refusing his appeal the Court of Appeal (in England) emphasised the husband’s misconduct in not only failing to pursue the French appeal expeditiously but also in his "total disregard" of assurances given to the English court. But for…

Stronger than Fiction

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What should we teach our children as the truth? Facts, based upon science, or some fantasy, based upon delusion? This is increasingly the dilemma in more and more of our schools, as the nonsense of creationism and 'intelligent design' are promoted as truth, spurred on by a combination of pressure from religious groups and relativists who require us to respect the beliefs of others, even if they are utter rubbish.

Most of the pressure comes specifically from christian fundamentalists and, increasingly, muslims, and is applied either by organisations promoting this drivel or by parents who are deluded enough to believe in it. Their methods are either to set up schools dedicated to peddling their ideas or, worse still, to pressurise our education authorities to include them in the state school curriculum, as highlighted by this BBC report this week. We must fight against this insidious attack upon our childrens' education, and resist the calls of misguided relativists who valu…

Thanks for the meme-ory

Memes. Don't you love 'em? Charon QC has named Family Lore in a meme started by the Editor at Blawg Review, requiring all those who have been tagged to name what they consider to be the ten best blawgs. There is one major problem with this, which has been pointed out by Nick Holmes at Binary Law: either the same blawgs will be mentioned over and over, or we'll rapidly run out of blogs to name.

Still, in the spirit of these things my current ten favourite blawgs are (in no particular order, save alphabetical, and with apologies to the authors of the many other excellent blawgs that I read):

BabyBarista Binary Law bloody relations Charon QC DivorceSolicitor Geeklawyer's Blog Head of Legal Judith's Divorce Blog The Magistrate's Blog Nearly Legal

Why marry?

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The most striking statistic revealed by the Focus on Familiesreport published by the Office for National Statistics yesterday is the huge increase (nearly 65%) in 'cohabiting couple families' over the last ten years. This is considered important, as statistics also reveal that 'married couple families' are healthier and their children are higher achievers.

So why are more couples choosing to cohabit rather than marry? Here are some of my ideas:
The expense of getting married, especially when it costs so much more to buy a home.A perception that marriage is no longer 'forever', so why bother?A lack of respect for the 'institution' of marriage, especially as so many younger people witnessed the failure of their parents' marriage.A perception, especially amongst men, that they will lose out financially should the marriage fail.A perception that it makes little difference whether you get married, especially in the light of tax changes.

The grass is not always greener

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Marilyn Stowe of the Grahame Stowe Bateson (Private Client) Family Law Unit in Harrogate has written an article for the Telegraph about 'forum shopping', including some basic advice for the (potential) 'victims'. For those who have not heard of it before, forum shopping is issuing divorce proceedings in the country where you believe the divorce laws are most favourable to you. As Marilyn points out: "it is not unknown for emigration to be the first step of a carefully-planned strategy", whereby unscrupulous (usually) husbands arrange for the family to emigrate purely so that they can take advantage of that country's laws and obtain a more favourable divorce settlement.

Another family law blog

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I've just received an e-mail from the Senior Clerk at Clarendon Chambers informing me that their Family Law Team now run a blog. The blog comprises various articles and updates written by the team and is therefore logically called the Clarendon Chambers Family Law Team Update.

Reference

The following are sources of reference or information for family lawyers on the internet. Please note that I have no control over these external sites and cannot therefore accept any responsibility for their contents.

Statutes:
The UK Statute Law Database - contains (mostly) updated Statutes and Statutory Instruments.
Office of Public Sector Information - includes UK legislation since 1987.

Cases:
British and Irish Legal information Institute (BAILII) - British and Irish case law & legislation.
Family Law Week - judgments of family cases since 2005 (some pre-2005).
House of Lords judgments - delivered since 14 November 1996.

Courts:
HMCS - includes court locations, forms and advice.
Family Proceedings Rules
Civil Procedure Rules
Judiciary of England and Wales

News:
Family Law NewsWatch - news and articles in Jordans Family Law periodical.
Family Law Week - excellent site full of news, cases and articles for family lawyers.

Groups:
Resolution - if you're a family lawyer and not a member, why no…

Sources of Advice

As stated in my disclaimer, nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. The following are sources of advice on the internet, although my disclaimer still applies in so far as I have no control over these external sites and cannot therefore accept any responsibility for their contents.

General advice:
Citizens Advice Bureau Adviceguide - includes advice on a wide range of issues. See in particular their section on ending a marriage.
Compactlaw - commercial site that includes general advice regarding relationship breakdown.
Directgov - public service information.
CLS Direct Divorce and Separation advice leaflet.
Divorce Aid - free help, information and advice.
Armchair Advice - advice on all areas of separation and divorce.

Marriage Guidance:
Relate
Marriage Care - charity supporting marriage.

Advisers:
Resolution - organisation of family lawyers committed to resolving disputes in a non-confrontational way. Site includes fact sheets on various aspects of family law.
Family Law Accredit…

President calls for reform

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In an interview with The Times today Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division, states that the matrimonial property regime is "ripe for review by the Law Commission". This is pleasing - I (and many other family lawyers) have been calling for a review for some time. I note in particular that Sir Mark refers to European jurisdictions, where they have set rules on ownership of matrimonial property - hopefully, Sir Mark envisages that we have a similar set of rules, which should clarify matters significantly and make it far easier to advise.

My only gripe is that the calls for reform seem to be stemming from dissatisfaction with the decisions in the recent high money cases. Reform is needed across the board, not just for the super rich.