Friday, May 30, 2008

Tweeting (or not...)

I've allowed myself to be persuaded by Nick Holmes of Binary Law to set up an account on Twitter. Never having used a social networking service before, I've no idea what I'm doing, or whether it will be useful and/or interesting. Still, there's only one way to find out...

Update: Geeklawyer has made the brilliant suggestion that I post my Twitter ID so that people can follow me, so here it is: johnbolch (bet you couldn't have guessed that!). Just don't expect to find anything profound...

The Naked Truth

When you've been doing this kind of work for as long as I have, you think you've come across everything. Well, you would be wrong. I've never had a case where the wife wants a divorce because her husband hired a nude maid to clean the house while she was away. This was what apparently happened in Tampa, Florida last Friday. The wife, who does not wish to be named, was away caring for her mother and meanwhile her husband found the 'maid' on the Internet: "Authorities said the woman arrived at the home in a one-piece, light colored dress. She took off the dress and cleaned the house for $100-per-hour." The husband might have got away with it, but for the fact that when the wife returned she found that $40,000 worth of jewellery was missing from the house. Police say that model Kenna DiMartini (pictured) is a 'person of interest' in connection with the case.

One thing I can't fathom: the husband said that he left the 'maid' alone to clean the bedroom, where the jewellery was kept. Quite why a man should pay $100 an hour for a nude maid and then not watch her at work is beyond me.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

WANTED: Deadbeat or alive

'Naming and shaming' parents who failed to pay child support was an experiment that was tried by the Child Support Agency and quickly given up. Perhaps that was because it simply wasn't done with the same style and panache that they have in America, where it is still done, at least in Bradley County, Tennessee. There, the Sheriff's office website has a 'Deadbeats Hall of Shame', which comes complete with 'wanted' pictures, last known addresses and the amounts owed (unfortunately, no reward is offered). The office asks you to contact them "if you have information regarding these individuals". It works too - the Sheriff's Department says that they have captured their largest offender (who owes $46,730), and that he is the third 'Dead Beat Parent' captured since they began posting the 'Hall of Shame'. Let's hope the Government here doesn't get any ideas to resurrect the scheme...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paws for thought...

This will come as no surprise to my feline co-blogger Muhammad, but it seems that cats can do a better job than humans. As has been widely reported, including on the BBC and in The Times, the fortunes of a loss-making Japanese rail company have been turned around thanks to the efforts of a tortoiseshell and white cat named Tama. Tama sits by the entrance of Kishi station in western Japan, posing for photos for the tourists in a railway uniform cap. This has been so good for business that she has been promoted to station manager. It makes you wonder how many positions in this country would be better filled by one of our feline friends. I can think of quite a few, starting at the top...

CAFCASS: Delays and failure

The Times reports today on the Ofsted inspection of Cafcass operations in Kent, Surrey and Sussex (the title of the report erroneously refers to 'social workers', rather than 'Cafcass officers'). It doesn't make good reading. Ofsted "found a waiting list of 150 cases, delays of six months for some families, inadequate assessments of the impact of domestic violence in most cases and a failure to refer cases to local authorities where there were concerns for the child’s welfare." I can certainly attest to some of this, especially the delays. I don't, however, blame the officers involved. I agree with Harry Fletcher of the National Association of Probation Officers, who is quoted in the report as saying: “Cafcass was put together too hastily. It has been underfunded since the outset. There are not enough staff and there are too many cases, resulting in unacceptable delays.” I also note that the report pointedly mentions that the chief executive of Cafcass, Anthony Douglas, earns £147,000 a year.

Quite what such a damning report will do for the morale of overstretched Cafcass officers, one can only speculate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Blogging the time away

I've just seen on Family Law NewsWatch that most Crown and Combined courts across England and Wales now have Wi-Fi facilities in place. So, now you can while away that interminable waiting time by usefully spending it blogging. Access isn't free (you need to purchase vouchers or subscriptions from BT Openzone), but you can always charge that to the client! (Only joking - honest!)

Monday, May 26, 2008

What's love got to do with it?

The Telegraph today reports how "the prospect of widespread City job losses has seen a surge of bankers' trophy wives heading for the divorce courts" in order "to secure good divorce deals before their husbands lose their jobs". Quite right too - you've got to get your priorities right. This is, in fact, a story already picked up by Charon QC in the latest exciting episode of the soap opera for our times, West London Man. Don't miss it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Seven Ages of Family Law

"Hey, Muhammad, what do you think of this?"

Muhammad reluctantly looked up from his bowl of Whiskas steam cooked turkey and gravy casserole.

"I've had a great idea." I said.

Muhammad clearly had no difficulty containing his excitement. "Oh yes?" He said, swallowing the last chunk of turkey.

"I'm going to write a play!" I declared. "About life and family law."

I could have sworn I heard Muhammad sigh. Undeterred, I pressed on: "It will be called The Seven Ages of Family Law, with seven acts, each representing a family law statute. Seven acts, get it? Clever eh?"

Strangely, Muhammad remained unimpressed. Instead, he just sat there, washing his face with a paw. "Don't you think that's a clever idea?" I asked.

"For you, I suppose." Replied Muhammad, uncharitably. Obviously, he was jealous he hadn't thought of it himself. I didn't let him dim my enthusiasm.

"Act One takes place at a fertility clinic, representing the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill."

"That's not on the statute book yet." Pointed out Muhammad.

"It will be by the time the play is performed." I responded quickly. "Anyway, there's a demonstration going on outside the clinic, by a religious cult opposed to the Bill - er, I mean Act. I thought Tom Cruise could play the part of the cult leader."

Muhammad raised an eyebrow. "What's Act Two about?" He asked.

"Act Two is when Tom Cruise marries a princess, representing the Marriage Act. They sell the wedding photos to a magazine, but the princess's grandmother doesn't like being in the pictures."

"Good grief." Murmured Muhammad, making his way towards the cat flap. "Dare I ask what Act Three is about?"

"Their divorce, of course." I replied enthusiastically. "Representing the Matrimonial Causes Act. You'll like this. The princess, who only has one leg, turns out to be completely mad. During the court hearing she tips a jug of water over Tom Cruise's lawyer's head and afterwards she rants to the press and..."

I turned around to see Muhammad's tail slipping through the flap.

"Wait!" I called. "Don't you want to hear about Act Four?"

The tail was gone.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Guns n' Rovers

Totally off topic, but I just had to comment on this story on the BBC today. Max Motors, a car dealership in Missouri, is offering a free handgun with every vehicle sold. Said owner Mark Muller: "we're just damn glad to live in a free country where you can have a gun if you want to". Quite. The offer is working though - apparently sales have quadrupled. It seems that Mark came up with the promotion after taking offence at recent comments by Barack Obama: "He said all those people in the Midwest, you've got to have compassion for them because they're clinging to their guns and their Bibles. I found that quite offensive. We all go to church on Sunday and we all carry guns." Armed religious nutjobs? Now that is really scary.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Bad Judgement

I remember many years ago when I was an articled clerk being chastised for misspelling the word 'judgment/judgement', when referring to the decision of a court. I don't recall which way I spelt it, but remember afterwards looking it up in a dictionary, which confirmed that either spelling could be used. Since then, I have merrily alternated the spelling, as the whim took me. Until recently, that is, when I came across the 'Judgments' page on the Judiciary of England and Wales website, where they state:

"you may think we can't spell, but when we refer to a court judgment we have deliberately missed an “e” out. It is not entirely clear why, it's just the way it is spelt!"

Right, that explains it then.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adequacy is relative

Current Awareness has flagged up a link to a story in the Telegraph yesterday that might raise some eyebrows: "A divorcée has won the right to move abroad with her three children after judges ruled that the £610,000 she received in her divorce settlement from her wealthy husband would not be enough to buy an adequate home in London."

The mother wanted to take the children to her native Sweden, but the father objected, and the county court refused her permission to take them abroad. That order has now been overturned by the Court of Appeal, partly because the mother would be left with only about £600,000 to buy a home, and partly because not enough account had been taken of the children's wishes.

Six hundred thousand pounds not enough to buy a home? I hear you say. Well, the point is that the lifestyle that the family has enjoyed and can expect to enjoy is relevant. As Lord Justice Wilson stated in the Court of Appeal: "The father cannot accommodate the mother and the children adequately in London with a fund of only £610,000. To many that proposition will seem extraordinary. But adequacy is relative - both to the quality of accommodation which they have enjoyed and to that which they would enjoy in Sweden."

Still, having said that, I wouldn't mind six hundred grand to splash on a pad...


I rather liked this picture, which I found on a Creative Commons Search yesterday. I had intended to attach it to the previous post, but I think it deserves a post of its own. It is by Donna62, and is (I think) a real photo from her wedding, which she has 'dissolved', to symbolise her divorce. It is one of what she calls "a tongue in cheek series", each one more dissolved as the divorce goes through (this one is 50%). She says: "Why in the world did they ever decide to use the word "dissolution" instead of divorce? I keep thinking of the Wicked Witch of the West saying "I'm melting!" No, you're dissolving. Sugar dissolves in water." Typical I suppose of a lawyer, but I had never thought of that before.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Divorce 101

This is my 101st post on the subject of divorce, so I thought I would take the opportunity to give some basic advice to anyone contemplating taking that fateful step, or having it taken against them. So, here are my top ten tips for getting through the process as painlessly as possible:

1. If you wish to instruct a solicitor, choose one who is a member of Resolution. He/she should conduct the matter in a sensitive, constructive and cost-effective way, that is more likely to result in an agreement, rather than a court battle.

2. If you have children, try to agree arrangements for them with your spouse direct, including with whom they will live and what contact they will have with the other parent.

3. If you cannot agree matters, then consider going to mediation, where a trained mediator will try to help you and your spouse (if they agree to mediation) resolve all matters by agreement, including arrangements for any children and (if you wish) financial/property matters.

4. Try to agree the amount of child support that the parent with whom the children are not living should pay, bearing in mind the child support formula.

5. Try to avoid unnecessary animosity (and a possible court battle) by informing your spouse of the grounds for divorce, if possible, before issuing the divorce proceedings.

6. Similarly, think very hard before defending divorce proceedings issued against you by your spouse - it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to prevent the divorce, and all you are likely to achieve is to increase the costs.

7. When considering the financial/property settlement between yourself and your spouse, bear in mind that the starting point is equal division of assets, and that therefore this is the most likely outcome unless there are good reasons for one party to get more than half, for example that their needs are greater than the other party's needs.

8. Do not get bogged down in trivial matters, such as division of assets of little or no value - remember that the cost of arguing over such matters in court is likely to far exceed the value of the items concerned.

9. Don't forget pensions - they are often the second most valuable asset after the matrimonial home, and are also subject to the starting-point of equal division mentioned above.

10. The reasons for the breakdown of the marriage rarely have any effect upon the financial/property settlement, unless the conduct of your spouse has been exceptionally gross, so there is usually little point in arguing the issue of conduct in relation to financial/property matters.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Frightening Prospect

I have just had the pleasure of watching Dispatches, on Channel 4. The programme, "In God's Name", explored the growth and increasing influence of Christian fundamentalists in this country. Taking the word of the Bible literally, their clear aim is to convert the rest of society to their version of Christianity and intolerance ("homosexuality and abortion are issues leading this nation to hell"). Extremely scary stuff, and I had to keep reminding myself that this was Britain in 2008, not the US Bible-belt, and not 16th-century England.

These people are real nutjobs, but they need to be taken seriously, as they already wield considerable power, and they are seeking even greater power. One of the characters we followed is a member of the Carmel Christian Centre in Bristol, which sponsors a Government-endorsed faith school, where we saw a 'science' test which included such questions as "how many days did it take God to make the world?", and where the headmaster clearly did not believe that the Earth was more than a few thousand years old.

Scarier still, though, was former practising barrister Andrea Williams, who is the Public Policy Director of The Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, and who has gained access to the corridors of power, including Lord Tebbit, who she tried to persuade to table an amendment to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, and Conservative MP Nadine Dorries. Angela also believes that the Earth is only a few thousand years old (although when questioned about this she became lost for words, and asked for the camera to be turned off), and says that evidence always comes out in favour of a Biblical interpretation of life - a strange position for a barrister.

As the programme concluded, these fundamentalists are growing in number (estimated at 2 million in this country) and influence, and are determined to impose their views upon the rest of society. A frightening prospect.
* * *
I've since remembered a couple of amusing episodes from the programme. Firstly, one character stuck the word 'Jesus' on the ceiling above his bed, to 'remind him'. I can just imagine him waking up and thinking: "What's that guys name again? Ah yes - Jesus!" The other episode was when Ms Williams was organising demonstrators outside Parliament, and desperately trying to silence the complete head cases (despite the fact that she agreed with what they were saying), in an attempt to show the world that the protesters were really reasonable people.

All are Equal in The Eyes of God?

Thanks to Current Awareness for pointing out this story in the Daily Telegraph: "A registrar is taking her employer to a tribunal this week to determine whether she can refuse to officiate at homosexual “weddings” because of her religious beliefs." Any regular reader of Family Lore will not be surprised to learn that I am completely with the council on this one. No one should have the right to discriminate, particularly not someone in a public position such as a registrar, and using religion as an excuse to do so is no defence.

Facing up to reality

The Daily Mail today picks up on a remarkable story that I first saw over the weekend. A woman in Saudi Arabia wants a divorce from her husband because, after thirty years of marriage, he committed the heinous crime of trying to look at her face. Apparently, it is a tradition in some remote areas of the Gulf that women should remain veiled at all times, even from their husbands. It seems that, one night last month, the husband's curiosity finally got the better of him and he attempted to lift his wife's veil while she was asleep. Unfortunately, she woke up, and now she wants to divorce him. One wonders whether, if he had seen her face, it might be him wanting to divorce her.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I've Started So I'll Finish

I'm beginning to wish I hadn't started reporting this, but having started I suppose I should continue. Now calling herself the "YouTube superstar and warrior", Tricia Walsh-Smith has released a third video. It rambles a bit at first, before getting to the point: requesting donations towards her legal fees. Perhaps she's not as bonkers as we all thought. Any money left over after her fees are paid will go to her new foundation, "Women Warriors of the World United", apparently. The next court hearing is on the 19th May. Meanwhile, here's the video:

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Answers to Everything

In no particular order, here are the answers to some of the search terms that have found their way to Family Lore this month. As usual, my Disclaimer (see the sidebar) applies to what follows.

setting aside a decree nisi

A decree nisi can be set aside (or rescinded) in several different circumstances, for example on the application of the respondent to a two years' separation divorce where they were misled by the petitioner in giving their consent to the divorce, where the decree was issued in error, or where a reconciliation has been effected.

when can i use gross income in calculating child maintenance

Currently, the child support formula uses net income, but the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill proposes that gross income be used when the system is reformed - see this post.

husband in prison all of marriage can he get ancillary relief?

Crikey, all of the marriage? This would not bar him from claiming ancillary relief, but obviously may be relevant to the amount, if any, that he receives.

whats the purpose of family solicitors

I ask myself this question every day.

oracle of divorce

Aww shucks...

filling out divorce form

Any form in particular?

free legal advice for eviction by divorcing parents

I presume that your parents are divorcing and that as a result you will have to leave the (former) matrimonial home. If you are an adult, then I'm afraid that there is probably little that you can do about this, although Nearly Legal may be able to provide you with more information (sorry, NL).

have given birth since decree nisi

If more than 12 months have elapsed since the decree nisi and you apply for the decree absolute then you will need to give details of the birth of the child to the court, including whether or not the child is a child of the family.

lord justice ward vengeful

Is he? I wonder if he would agree?

why do men want trophy wife

Vanity. My advice: sign a prenup!

what happens if during my divorce proceedings i can't afford to pay my solicitor

Your solicitor will stop acting for you, unless you can reach an agreement over the payment of fees, for example out of any settlement that you will receive. You may also be eligible for legal aid.

ancillary relief, custody, maintenance, sad, lonely, no money

Oh dear. Thought of going to a counsellor?

[sic] law my 14 year old sister has been living with more for 4 months what is my legal rights 2008 uk

I assume that your 14-year-old sister is living with you, and that you are an adult. If so, you have no rights in respect of your sister, but you could apply to a court for a residence order.

divorce lawyer business music

No, my business is the law, but I do like music...

family proceedings rule 2.51d

This is the overriding objective of the ancillary relief rules, i.e. that they enable the court to deal with cases justly.

can i be forced to see my child

No - see this post.

uk divorce why name a co-respondent

There are only two reasons: to have them admit the alleged adultery, thereby providing proof, or to claim costs against them. However, it is usually advisable not to name them, as this can make matters unnecessarily more complicated.

A query from Greece:

family law in britain

What, all of it?

when did new cost rules come in to family law

3rd April 2006, if I remember correctly.

description of domestic violence scenario

Probably the best answer I can give to this is the Government's definition of domestic violence as: "Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between adults who are or have been intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality."

removal of goods from family home during divorce

A common problem. Apart from personal possessions, no items should be removed from the matrimonial home without the consent of the other spouse, or a court order.

mostly young people take cigarette who belong to hinduism family.

Really? Smoking must be rife amongst young Hindus.

rule of family law procedure,rules

Any particular one?

steps to white wash doors

I'm no expert, but I suggest using some white paint and a brush.

it's a girl,tab


what happens if a nrp doesnt turn up for a commital hearing

The court will probably issue a warrant for their arrest.

consent order after remarriage

No problem, so long as financial claims have already been made - remarriage only prevents financial claims being made, not the making of an order.

how to trim a 9' hedge

Use a hedge trimmer and a 9' ladder.

i got my decree nisi appointment with estate agents

Blimey, estate agents must be branching out.

From the Ivory Coast:

2008 uk settled high status family invites proposals

Sounds like one of those Nigerian email scams to me.

changes to will divorce nisi

Decree nisi has no effect upon wills, but decree absolute does. It is always advisable to make a new will when getting divorced.

new laws in family law in 2008 in uk

Can you be more specific? Bills currently going through Parliament include the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill 2006-07, the Children and Young Persons Bill 2007-08 and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill 2007-08.

the cause of human misery about charon

Oh, I wouldn't say Charon was a cause of human misery. Quite the opposite, in fact...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sunshine in, music out

Unrepentant after being severely criticised by Lord Justice Wall last week for his conduct while acting as a McKenzie Friend, Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming is pursuing his campaign to reform the family justice system by releasing a single Bring The Sunshine In, calling for more openness in the family courts. Warning: I've listened to a clip from the song, and Perry Como he ain't. Proceeds from the sale of the song (who exactly is going to buy it?) will go to the Angela Cannings Foundation.

[Thanks to Family Law NewsWatch for this story.]

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Re K (Shared Residence Order)

Shared residence is an issue that is becoming more and more important, and which can cause considerable confusion. I have therefore been waiting for a report of Re K (Shared Residence Order), the judgment of which was given on the 4th April. I have now seen a short report (citation: [2008] All ER (D) 55 (Apr)), and I think it is of interest, particularly regarding the relationship between shared residence and contact.

Briefly, the facts were that the child spent approximately 60% of his time with the mother and 40% with the father. The father applied for this to be increased to 50%, and sought a shared residence order. The district judge found that the slight benefit to the child of the increase in contact with his father was outweighed by the disruption to a regime that seemed to be working well, and therefore refused to increase the contact. He then went on to separately consider the issue of shared residence, and refused to make the order, after referring to the additional contact being 'required' to lead to a shared residence order. The father appealed unsuccessfully to a circuit judge, and then appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Court of Appeal found that the district judge should have heard both issues together, ruling first on the appropriate division of time, and then whether that division should be expressed in terms of a shared residence order or a contact order. The district judge's decision not to increase the contact was within his discretion, and therefore the contact would not be increased. However, he had erred in treating that issue and the question of a shared residence order as standing or falling together. A shared residence order was appropriate, and would therefore be made. The mother had argued that the father would use a shared residence order to interfere with her role in relation to the child, but no such 'malign intent' on the part of the father had been established.

Update: A full report of this case can now be found, here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Positive Parenting Network

Here's an interesting local service that I've just become aware of: Medway Positive Parenting Network is a 'local service directory for children and families' that 'enables parents, carers and professionals to access a wide range of support services and information for parents and families in the Medway area, 24 hours a day'. The site includes information on divorce and separation and details of many local agencies including CAB, Family Mediation Service, N.S.P.C.C. and Relate. An extremely valuable resource, although I'm not sure whether a similar service is available elsewhere.

Victims of the Market

I came across a story from America yesterday that suggests that the divorce rate could be dropping because of the slowdown (halting?) of the property market. I've not yet seen any direct evidence of this over here, but it is of course the case that in many divorces the matrimonial home has to be sold, and in a lot of those cases, the parties have no real option but to remain in the property until the sale takes place. This could be causing enormous hardship, especially where one of the parties is suffering physical or emotional abuse.

Update: Now I have come across evidence of this problem over here: "Clients having gone through the heartbreak of divorce and having reached a financial settlement find that they still cannot move on because failure to sell the house means they can't implement their divorce agreement" - see this article in The Times.

Monday, May 12, 2008

It ain't over till it's over

[rant mode on] I had intended not to mention the McCartney/Mills divorce again here, but I feel I have to post once more to correct numerous misleading reports that have been published regarding the pronouncement of the decree nisi today. Contrary to what they state (or indicate), the decree nisi does not finalise the divorce. The divorce will not be finalised until the court makes the decree absolute. [/rant mode off]

Sunday, May 11, 2008

No going back

It was a divorce lawyer's nightmare: 650 couples with 43,000 years' experience of marriage between them. They attended mass at the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral yesterday to celebrate the institution of marriage, but also to 'warn of the dangers of letting it go'. The event was organised by Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, a man whose personal experience of marriage is, of course, nil.

The Cardinal spoke of the effects of marriage breakdown on society and the importance therefore of couples staying together. Surely, however, the simple fact is that marriage is no longer viewed by many as 'for ever', so there is no point in exhorting couples to 'work at it'. I'm also not persuaded that changes in legislation are to blame for 'undermining family life', as the Church is suggesting - laws generally only react to what has already happened. Society itself has changed, and we need to learn to live with it, rather than try to turn back the clock.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

A visitor drops in

Last week's diary:

Tuesday: Back to work, grateful that the bank holiday weekend is over. A quiet day, although a secretary who works in our basement did think she heard an animal moving inside the blocked chimney in her room.

Wednesday: Appeared in the Magistrates' Court - a rare occurrence for me since I stopped doing legal aid work. Likely to occur more frequently though, with the County Court easing its list by transferring matters to the Magistrates' Court, as happened in this case. Got back from court and the secretary reported that she could still hear something moving in the chimney, so I helped to open it up. No sign of life inside.

Thursday: Had a presentation from a company that produces videos for clients to watch while waiting in reception - you know, like you get at post offices and banks. Will do wonders for business, apparently. We shall see whether the firm is convinced. Still no sign of life inside the chimney, although the secretary swears she can hear a bird in there.

Friday: Another quiet day. The secretary still hears sounds from the chimney, and a colleague opens it up. Nip outside for a fag at lunchtime. Hear someone trying to open a window. Look round to see who it is - a pigeon! A bit sooty, but none the worse for falling down a 50-foot chimney, and even for spending three days in a solicitors' office. Thankfully, now flown away, and hopefully won't be back to sue the firm for false imprisonment, or in this case, 'doing bird'.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Saunders shot five times

The inquest into the death of Mark Saunders was told this morning that he was shot at least five times, with more than one type of bullet.

Comparisons will inevitably be made with the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes in 2005, but there is of course one essential difference: de Menezes was unarmed. That said, let's hope the full facts surrounding the shooting come out this time.

The inquest was adjourned for four months.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

At the offices of Copland, Shostakovich and Bach

As a tribute to the late Miles Kington, The Independent has been reproducing some of his writing. With its relevance to the subject of this blog, this column, republished today, amused me.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mark Saunders

I've just heard that the man shot dead in the Chelsea siege last night was family law barrister Mark Saunders of Queen Elizabeth Building chambers (their website is currently unavailable). I'm not going to discuss the circumstances surrounding the incident here (see this story in The Telegraph), and I'm certainly not going to suggest that it was any more awful because the deceased was a barrister, but it is a tragedy not just for the family but also for the profession that such a promising career has been brought to an end in such an appalling way.

Listen to the child, but only when it suits

The Judiciary website has published a speech (PDF format) given by Sir Mark Potter in Israel on the rights of children to be heard. I wonder if this means that male children in that country will have a say on whether or not they are circumcised? After all, unnecessary circumcision would surely be classed as abuse if it were not shrouded by the 'legitimation' of religious delusion.

[Thanks again to Current Awareness for the link.]

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

When a clean break is not achievable

H v H [2008] EWHC 935 (Fam), reported today on Family Law Week, involved a family business, in which both parties had an interest, but which was run by the husband. Both parties sought a clean break, but Mr Justice Moylan, not willing to require the husband to sell the business, found that the non-business assets were insufficient to achieve a fair clean break. He therefore awarded the wife 67% of those assets, and ordered the husband to pay £60,000 per annum spousal maintenance.

This was a relatively 'big money' case, but I think it has application to many cases involving parties of more modest means. It is a common scenario that the family business, being the only or main source of the family's income, cannot be sold and must therefore remain the property of one of the parties. This can then leave insufficient other assets for there to be a clean break, desirable though this may be, and the other party may therefore have to rely upon periodical payments to 'make up the difference'. The amount of the capital and maintenance elements of the settlement will usually be based upon needs and sharing, as in H v H.

Of course, the maintenance may later be capitalised, upon a subsequent application by either party for a clean break, if circumstances then make a clean break possible.

Listen and Comprehend

Each year when I receive my copy of The Family Court Practice I read the Introduction, primarily to see what is new in this years' edition. The Introduction is written by the General Editor, His Honour Judge Anthony Cleary, and is notable this year for his comments on the need to reform s.25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act, following "broad hints" from the courts "that reform is long overdue, particularly since the overwhelming majority of ancillary relief disputes are commercially in a very different league to the "big money cases" and are still driven more by need than principles of equality". As a practitioner who does not deal with "big money cases" I could not agree more. As I have indicated here on a number of occasions, if the statutory guidance were clearer, then I'm sure that a far higher proportion of cases could be settled, thus saving precious resources.

I've also complained about the clear reluctance of Parliament to address this important issue, and His Honour goes one further by questioning whether Parliament is "currently the most suitable vehicle to investigate and reform" this or any other area of family law, in the light of the effects of the criminalisation of breach of non-molestation injunctions, where he says that "there remains a suspicion that this reform paid too much attention to newspaper headlines" and that "family practitioners and judges were ignored". "It is crucial", he says, "that law makers show a greater ability to listen and comprehend." Quite.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Saturday, May 03, 2008


Many thanks to Nick Holmes of Binary Law for his kind and flattering mention of Family Lore in the article he wrote for the April issue of the Legal Executive Journal.

The article included a couple of sample posts by myself and Nearly Legal. The Editor chose this post from Family Lore (and an extract from this excellent post by Nearly Legal), but amusingly he changed 'Muhammed' to 'M'. Chicken.

Down Memory Lane #4

"More reminiscences?" Giggled Muhammad, looking over my shoulder.

"As a matter of fact, yes." I replied, indignantly. " I thought I'd do a post about life before the word processor, when I first worked in a solicitors' office."

Muhammad laughed. "Do you think readers will be interested in the use of the quill pen?"

I ignored him. "The first office I worked in," I said, "had manual typewriters."

Muhammad yawned, wide pink. "Oh really?" He said, clearly bored with the subject.

I pressed on. "Yes," I said, "but they were getting electronic ones."

"With screens?"

"No, they came later. The first ones with screens could only display one line of text - so that the typist could check what they had typed, before printing it."

"Wow, high tech." Said Muhammad, sarcastically.

"Actually," I said, "that was the beginning of a revolution. Until then, all errors could only be seen when they were on the paper - correcting them meant either rubbing out the error, or covering it with correction fluid. Some documents, like wills, could not be corrected - they had to be completely re-typed."

"You mean, like when I'm having a wash, you handle me and I have to start all over again?"

"Exactly." I said, trying to mask my amusement at the comparison.

"That must have been bloody annoying." Said Muhammad with feeling, absently licking a paw.

"It was. Thankfully, those days are long gone."

Muhammad got up, stretched, and made his way towards the cat flap. "Yes, it was a long time ago." He said. "What's it like being old?"

My slipper hit the flap as it bounced shut.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Parenting workshops

I've just received an email from Kent Family Mediation, detailing a new service that they are launching for parents who live apart. From June they will be offering parenting workshops to 'inform and support' all such parents:

"The 3 hour workshops will provide an opportunity to discuss, amongst other things, what children are feeling and saying about separation and divorce in their lives; current research on the impact of separation and divorce on children; how to communicate effectively. The workshops will be a safe place to share and learn, focusing on ‘children first’."

Parents will be able to attend the workshops either jointly or separately. The first two workshops will take place in Sittingbourne, but others are planned for venues across Kent later in the year.

Two Public Scandals

Jacqui Gilliatt has already posted about Lord Justice Ward's comments the other day about the impotence of the courts to help fathers to see their children if 'vengeful mothers' stood in the way, both on her own blog and on the Family Law Week blog, but I can't let it be.

Lord Justice Ward called the situation a 'public scandal', and Jacqui Gilliatt indicates another: the Children & Adoption Act 2006 was passed nearly two years ago and would provide the courts with significant new powers in relation to contact orders, but there appears to have been no word from the Government for the last year as to when the relevant provisions will be implemented.

Would the Act have made any difference to the outcome of the case in which Lord Justice Ward was sitting? This seems unlikely to me. The Act includes various provisions, including enforcement orders (essentially requiring the parent in breach of the contact order to do community service), the power to order one parent to pay the other compensation for any financial loss caused by the breach, and the ability of the court to request a CAFCASS officer to monitor compliance with contact orders without the parents' consent, but would such powers have helped the court here? The problem, of course, as pointed out by Lord Justice Ward, is that in the end the welfare of the child is always paramount, and it would often be too distressing for a child to force them to have contact with a parent against whom their mind has been completely poisoned.

So, do I think that the Act is a waste of time? Certainly not. I'm sure that the additional tools that it will provide will assist the courts in many cases, and help to ensure that a considerably higher proportion of its orders are complied with. All of which, of course, is subject to the caveat that the Government actually implements it.

* * *

Update: The Ministry of Justice has now published a consultation paper seeking views on draft court rules and forms to support the implementation of the remaining provisions of the Act. Thanks, as so often, to Current Awareness for this.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

April Post of the Month

I thought I'd begin the new month with a celebration of the best of the old. My (entirely personal) award for the best blawgpost of April 2008 goes to Charon QC for "A trip to The Heron".

Please, don't ask me to explain exactly what the post is about - when one reads Finnigans Wake, one doesn't have a clue what it's about, but one knows that one is reading a work of genius.

As we speak, the prize of a virtual case of Barón de Barbón Oak-Aged Rioja 2004 is winging it's way across the internet to Charon QC.