Thursday, May 31, 2007

Mentioned in dispatches

Many thanks to Rupert White for mentioning Family Lore in his report on Law Blog 2007, in this week’s Gazette. The report provides a good overview of the goings-on at the conference, and the reasons for blogging. I particularly liked Rupert’s final paragraph, which mirrored the thoughts of many participants:
But in the end Law Blog 2007 also showed a perhaps unforeseen upside: it pulled in solicitors, librarians, IT people and barristers alike, making it more diverse than the average legal event. This in turn shows up a more prosaic, but perhaps more important reason for legal people to come together online: to talk to each other, to understand each other, and to be understood.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Myth of the 'Quickie Divorce'

"Quickie divorces have arrived in the UK". So begins an article in the TimesOnline yesterday, suggesting that there has been some change in the law or procedure to speed up the divorce process (although it does go on to say that the process "takes only 16 weeks"). There has been no such change.

The phrase 'quickie divorce' is one that I come across frequently. I often have to disappoint clients by telling them that (in English law at least) there is no such thing, save in exceptional circumstances. Even if the divorce is undefended and everything is agreed at the outset, there is no fixed time frame for the whole procedure, which depends upon how quickly the court can deal with it and includes a six week period between decree nisi and decree absolute (save, as I've said, in exceptional circumstances). Yes, it can be done in sixteen weeks but that is unusual, at least in my local courts.

The term 'quickie divorce' may have originated in the 1970s, when divorce procedure was made quicker. However, the perception seems to be that, at least where matters are agreed, or possibly after two years' separation, there is some different procedure that is quicker than the 'normal' procedure - there is not. The important things are that the divorce is undefended and that proper arrangements have been made for any children (both of which should ideally be dealt with before the proceedings are issued). If so, the divorce will normally be as quick as possible, although even then it may be advisable to delay applying for the decree absolute until financial/property matters have been resolved.

The article referred to above is actually about cheap online divorce services, despite its title "Quickie divorce: it worked for me". I don't want to comment upon any particular such service, but I would say that, as with all things, you get what you pay for. I'm sure it can work for those few cases that really are completely straightforward, but as with cut-price conveyancing, for a small fixed fee you cannot get a personal service that will deal with all of the unforeseen issues and queries that may arise. The other suggestion in the article is that you could go abroad for a very quick divorce. This is extremely dangerous advice, as you may find that such a divorce will not be recognised in this country.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Bad Vibrations

My client was giving me details of her husband's violence towards her, so that I could prepare an application for a domestic violence injunction. The incidents she had so far told me about were not particularly serious - enough for a non-molestation order, but not enough for what she really wanted, which was an ouster order, requiring her husband to leave the matrimonial home. We needed something more, and I told her so.

"Well, there was one incident," she said. "It happened in the bedroom."

"Oh yes?" I said, thinking we were getting somewhere. "What happened?"

"My husband threw something at me." She said.

"What did he throw?" I asked.

She hesitated.

"We need to tell the court what he threw." I told her.

She was still reluctant to tell me. I explained that the court would need to know what her husband had thrown, if it was to adjudge the seriousness of the incident.

She looked sheepish. "A vibrator." She said.

"Ah."

She decided not to use the incident, and settled for a non-molestation injunction.


[Note: I don't usually disclose details of cases I have dealt with, but this one occurred many years ago and both parties involved have hopefully long forgotten the details. I should also say that I'm not for one moment making light of domestic violence, which is an extremely serious issue. If you've been the victim of domestic violence, seek legal advice. There are also other sources of help, such as the excellent Women's Aid.]

Saturday, May 26, 2007

People Doing Stuff (Possibly)

And now something frivolous for the Bank Holiday weekend.

The uses found for the world wide web never cease to amaze, ranging from the brilliant to the banal. Here's a site I came across a while back on Boing Boing that definitely falls Tony milks... apparentlyinto the latter category, for people who really do have too much time on their hands. People Doing Stuff is a 'random image finder' that sends a name and a verb to Google Images and displays the results - theoretically of people of that name carrying out that activity, but often nothing of the sort.

This is posted under 'Totally off Topic', but perhaps it should be posted under a new category: 'Sad things to do on the Internet'.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Appeal to Reason

Mr Charman has lost his appeal, a decision that will come as no surprise to many.

Just to recap, Mrs Charman was awarded £48m of their £131m fortune by the High Court, the biggest divorce award in British legal history. The High Court justified its departure from equality of division by reason of Mr Charman's special financial contribution. Not satisfied with this, Mr Charman appealed, claiming that the award was "unfair and unreasonable", as he had played a far bigger role in amassing the fortune. In the Court of Appeal Sir Mark Potter did not agree, saying that: "Neither in its method nor in its result do we regard the judge's treatment of the husband's special contribution as vulnerable to appeal."

Needless to say, Mr Charman does not accept the words of the President of the Family Division, and has indicated that he intends to appeal again to the House of Lords. Oh well, more money for the lawyers and legal analysts, and more copy for the media...

Frenzy

Well, here we go again. The usual media frenzy as we await an appeal court's verdict on a big-money case. The judgment in Charman v Charman will be handed down by the Court of Appeal today. What relevance such a case has to people of 'ordinary' means remains to be seen, although of course it's only because of the huge figures involved that the popular press is interested.

More to follow later today...

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Name of the Rose

Belle de JUREHere's an interesting new blog, recommended by Nearly Legal. Belle de Jure (not to be confused with the blog Belle de Jour, which relates to soliciting of an entirely different kind) is by a "Legal Thinker" who is "looking for amusement and diversion". As I share her interest in (and no doubt admiration for) Stephen Hawking, Richard Dawkins (at whose site I have posted frequently, and about whom I have posted here before) and Stephen Fry, I'm particularly looking forward to more from this one.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Claimant and Respondent

CSA: Cr*p Service Assured Thanks to Family Law Week for the heads-up on a couple of on-going stories relating to the dreaded Child Support Agency.

The first concerns Denise Rowley, a mother of three who wants to sue the Department of Work and Pensions for "substantial compensation", claiming that she has suffered significant loss due to the negligence of the Child Support Agency in its handling of her claim for child support. In view of the importance of the case (which, if successful, could really open massive floodgates), Resolution has intervened, and details can be found here on their website. The very best of luck to Mrs Rowley - certainly, applicants to the agency should be recompensed for the considerable financial hardship many of them have suffered due to the inefficiency of the CSA.

The other story is that the Department for Work and Pensions has published its responses to the consultation on the Child Maintenance White Paper, 'A New System of Child Maintenance' and to the conclusions and recommendations of The Work and Pensions Select Committee report 'Child Support Reform'. Links to both responses can be found here. I have to say, I've not read them yet. I suppose I will, but to be perfectly honest it's difficult to get any enthusiasm when you have little confidence in the government implementing anything that will be significantly better than the debacle that has been the Child Support Agency.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Stack v Dowden: The Lowdown

Last Thursday evening I attended an excellent seminar, arranged by my Local Law Society, upon the property rights of unmarried couples in the light of the House of Lords' decision in Stack v Dowden. The seminar was given by Pankaj Pathak and Alex Munro, both of 2 Paper Buildings.

It was explained that Stack v Dowden has cleared up some uncertainties, for example that where the deeds are silent and there is no express declaration of trust, a conveyance to joint cohabitees indicates both a legal and beneficial joint tenancy* unless and until the contrary is proved, and that to depart from this starting-point the facts would have to be very unusual. It was therefore something of an irony that their lordships went on to find that the facts of this very case were very unusual, despite their not appearing to be that unusual. We will therefore have to wait for further guidance upon what exactly constitutes 'very unusual'.

So it seems the conclusion is: some questions answered, but at least one new one asked.

[*For the non lawyers, this means that if you purchase a property with your partner and it is not stated otherwise in the documentation, you will own the property in equal shares such that if either party were to die, the whole property would pass to the survivor.]

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Reflections on Lawblog 2007

I wanted to say something more about the highly enjoyable blog conference, Lawblog 2007, that I attended yesterday. I'll leave it to others to write a full report, but highlights (in no particular order) included:

  • The sexual tension between Geeklawyer and Ruthie.

  • Headshift consultancy's presentation, including the use of blogs for social networking.

  • Justin Patten on the benefits and pitfalls of blogging.

  • Ruthie on how blogging allows us to get our opinions across, particularly in the light of recent press 'restrictions' (she suggested since 1997) and dissatisfaction with the efforts of our professional bodies to represent us.

  • The sexual tension between Geeklawyer and Ruthie.

  • Jeremy Phillips on the illustrious history of IPKat, one of the oldest UK blawgs - I don't recall listening to a speaker in his socks before.

  • Charon QC talking about his wonderful 'Muttley Dastardly LLP' parody of the unfortunate (but unrepentent) efforts of Watson, Farley & Williams to run a 'Trainee Blog'.

  • Geeklawyer advising us to think before we post, remembering that even deleted posts can remain on the net for a very long time.

  • The expression of disappointment from some quarters that Ruthie did not appear in her pink leathers.

  • (Best of all) Meeting fellow bloggers.

  • And did I mention the sexual tension between Geeklawyer and Ruthie?

Many thanks to Geeklawyer, Ruthie and CPA for staging the event.

Not worth the gamble

With reference to my last but one post, I see that Mr Congdon and Mrs Todd have settled their case. It would have been nice to know the terms of settlement, but they will remain confidential, as the Times Online reported yesterday.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Not a paper bag in sight

Just got back from Law Blog 2007. Excellent day. Highlights included speeches from geeklawyer & Ruthie, Charon QC, Jeremy Phillips of IPKat, and Justin Patten of Human Law, and drinks in the pub afterwards (I couldn't stay for the curry).

Much fuller report to follow.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

High Court Lotto

It could be youWe all know that winning the National Lottery is no guarantee of happiness, and so it has proved for Desmond Congdon and his partner Maureen Todd. He won a jackpot of almost £3 million, the couple then signed a declaration that they were joint owners of the winning ticket, and became engaged.

But then things went wrong. Mr Congdon broke off the engagement and took most of the winnings with him, for what Mrs Todd claims was a worldwide gambling spree. She is now seeking a declaration that she is entitled to half the original assets.

As reported in the Telegraph, the hearing continues...

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Spot the difference

Ministry of TruthIt's been a week of high-profile news and events, ranging from the trite (some bloke announcing that he's moving from his present home in Downing Street) to the banal (the Eurovision Song Contest, that annual celebration of European mediocrity). Almost lost amongst all this excitement was the launching of the Ministry of Justice, sounding (as others have commented) like something out of George Orwell (I rather liked Ian Hislop's joke on Have I Got News For You that the Home Office had been split into the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Truth).

I suppose as a law blogger that I should make some comment about the new department responsible for our justice system, but to be quite honest I'm not sure there is much to say. I'm with the majority in a BBC poll (see on this page) who answered 'No' to the question: "Will splitting the Home Office make a difference?"

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Haines case: Contested orders can be set aside by trustee in bankruptcy

As reported in The Times and elsewhere today, a recent High Court decision could have huge implications for divorce settlements where there is the possibility of one spouse being made bankrupt. Previously, it was thought that it would be extremely difficult for a trustee in bankruptcy to have a divorce financial order set aside if it had been made in genuinely contested proceedings. However, Judge Pelling QC has ruled that such orders 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.

The Times states that "the decision is predicted to affect at least 20 per cent of the 120,000 people expected to file for bankruptcy this year", but its implications go even further than that, with the possibility of trustees seeking to set aside orders made within the last five years.

Expect this case to fill many column inches in forthcoming legal periodicals.

Paper bags at the ready

A.N.Other delegateI see next week's Blogging Conference has made the news pages of this week's Gazette. I shall be there. I'll be easy to spot - I'll be the only delegate without a paper bag over their head, to protect their anonymity.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Any publicity

Following my last post, it seems I'm going to have to cancel my all-expenses-paid fact-finding trip to Chicago (in my capacity as my firm's advertising manager), as the 'offending' advert has been removed by city officials, just one week after it was put up. According to the International Herald Tribune, the advert "drew scores of complaints from neighbors and other attorneys who said its content reflected poorly on their profession", but the reason given for its removal, somewhat embarrassingly for Fetman, Garland and Associates, the law firm concerned, was that it didn't have the necessary permit. Unrepentant, Corri Fetman has complained that the billboard was taken down without 'due process', but nevertheless maintains that it has been good for business, despite its short run. As the saying goes, any publicity is good publicity...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Life's short. Get a divorce.

Fetman, Garland & Associates' advertAs I've indicated before, we UK family lawyers certainly have a lot to learn about advertising from our American counterparts. However, with its caption "Life's short. Get a divorce.", Fetman, Garland & Associates' advert (above) has upset even some (usually more robust) American sensibilities. As one woman puts it, according to a Fox News report,: "It's offensive because the message is sex, and if you don't have what you want, you dump it". Quite.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Til death us do part

On a lighter note, it seems that the divorce case every family lawyer was waiting for will not now happen, as Rose the goat has died. If you are one of the few internet users that does not know the story, it involved a Sudanese man who was forced to 'marry' Rose after he was found having sex with her. The unfortunate goat has now passed away, after choking on a plastic bag. For the full gory details of the story, see this BBC News item.

Judge-made law

In the Telegraph today Joshua Rozenberg interviews Jeremy Posnansky, QC, "one of Britain's leading specialists in family cases", who has taken the unusual step of leaving the Bar after thirty-five years and joining a solicitors' firm, albeit no ordinary firm - the Queen's solicitors, Farrer & Co. Posnansky has some strong views upon the current state of the law on 'ancillary relief', i.e. financial/property settlements following divorce. He berates the unclear, confusing and sometimes contradictory guidance handed down by the courts in recent years, in high-value financial cases, which he describes as "chaotic". He hopes that the Court of Appeal will clarify matters when it gives i's judgment in the Charman case, but says that ultimately we need a new statute:
Our current law was enacted over 30 years ago. Social attitudes and lifestyles have changed hugely since then. We need a new set of principles formulated by Parliament, after consultation and a Law Commission report, instead of by judicial amendment.

Agreed, but is there the political will for this? I won't be holding my breath.