Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Separated at birth?

A certain facial likeness may not be the only thing that Law Society President Andrew Holroyd OBE shares with film director and actor Ron Howard. Just as Howard directs actors on the film set, Holroyd is using his presidency to direct and encourage lawyers back to the roots of what it means to be a lawyer, i.e. to uphold the rule of law. This is why he is so passionate about the work that the Society has been doing to support lawyers and human rights, not just in Pakistan and Zimbabwe, but also in this country, as clearly came out in his podcast with Charon QC this week, which I would recommend to all readers.

Hope and Disappointment

My happiness at seeing that Family Lore has enjoyed a record number of hits this month was somewhat tempered when I realised that a large number of people from all around the world found their way here due to an unhealthy interest in having 'relations' with our canine companions, no doubt due to the title to this post. Similarly, searchers for 'family sex blogs' and 'money sex' were no doubt disappointed.

What other unusual search terms have led visitors here this month? Well, quite a mixed bag. The person who was looking for 'dentists blogs' would have been out of luck, as would the person looking for a '999 transcript' (any transcript in particular?). On the other hand, at least whoever Googled 'in laws causing divorce' would have come to a relevant blog, even if they didn't find exactly what they were seeking, as would the searcher for 'divorced family queries posted 2007', even if I don't know what they were seeking.

Moving on, whilst the interweb may be a wonderful thing, I think sometimes people can be a little optimistic as to its capabilities. Whoever wanted the answer to the question 'how to defend yourself in court against a borderline personality disorder accusing you of domestic violence' was, with respect, asking a little too much of the technology, although I hope they found the answer somewhere, and preferably before the hearing date.

Next, someone who was possibly mixing me up with a certain fellow blogger searched for 'history of johnny charon the lawyer'. Perhaps it was just as well they came here, as I'm not sure the world is yet ready to know the murky history of 'charon the lawyer'.

Then you always get the odd surrealist searcher, looking for something, but I have no idea what. One such this month was 'nice work if you can get it chords' - from an unemployed musician perhaps?

Lastly, we have two related search strings, one of which I trust did find something helpful on Family Lore, the other of which may be beyond all help: the moving 'stories of despair and hope' and the poignant 'its the hope i cant stand'.

Monday, January 28, 2008

A difficult and perplexing case

Family Law Week has just published a report of a most interesting and difficult case decided by the High Court last year.

TJ v CV & Ors [2007] EWHC 1952 (Fam) involved an application by the biological father for contact and parental responsibility orders in respect of his son, who is now part of his sister’s same sex family. He claimed that he, his sister and her civil partner (to whom he donated sperm) had agreed that he would have regular contact with his son, and a role in major decision-making, whereas his sister and her partner maintained that he was merely to have an 'avuncular role'. Mr Justice Hedley made no order as to parental responsibility, fearing that it would "raise false hopes in [the father] leading to frustration and will fuel all the fears of [his sister and partner] leading to conflict". He did, however, make an order for contact four times a year, to recognise his special status as uncle and biological father, but without giving him full parental status, which "would threaten [the sister and her partner] and would not be consistent with their autonomy as a nuclear family".

Mr Justice Hedley concluded: "I confess that I have found this a difficult and perplexing case. It has required the court to tread unfamiliar ground and to make decisions based on what at this stage must be tentative views about the future needs of [the child]. Nevertheless, I am satisfied that the order of the court best serves these needs as they are presently ascertained and understood. The concept of family is both psychological and biological and in my judgment a court would be unwise not have regard to both aspects."

Personally, I think that Mr Justice Hedley got it about right. The father is not just an uncle, but nor is he a parent, in the sense of a person who will raise the child.

A Detested Rule

I received a letter this morning from Resolution, requesting examples of cases in which the child support '12 month rule' has caused difficulties, either in respect of settling cases, or where there have been problems because of a subsequent approach to the Child Support Agency.

For those who are not au fait with the arcane mysteries of the child support system, the 12 month rule is part of the peculiar interface between the old court-based system of child maintenance and the child support system. Contrary to popular belief, the child support system did not do away with the court-based system, just took jurisdiction away from it, in most cases. One instance in which the court can still make a child maintenance order is where the maintenance is agreed as part of a divorce settlement. However, after 12 months have elapsed from the date of the order, either party may then apply to the CSA for a child support assessment, which may obviously be for a different amount to the order, and the assessment will replace the order. As Resolution state, this 12 month rule has caused considerable difficulties, either in settling cases, or "where after a carefully negotiated agreement, one year later, one parent then takes matters to the CSA and 'all hell breaks loose'".

The Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill, reforming the child support system, has just entered into the House of Lords, who have requested anecdotal evidence from Resolution as to why they state that the 12 month rule does not work, hence the letter that Resolution has sent to members. I certainly don't like the rule, and have often feared for its consequences in my own cases, but I am presently struggling to think of an instance where it has actually caused a problem. Perhaps I have been lucky.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

All bloggers should know

So, you've been working all night on that killer blog post, endlessly amending and improving it. At last you're happy with your masterpiece. You finally click 'Publish', and the job's finished. Well, not quite. Wired Magazine takes up the story:

"Imperceptibly and all but instantaneously, your post slips into a vast and recursive network of software agents, where it is crawled, indexed, mined, scraped, republished, and propagated throughout the Web. Within minutes, if you've written about a timely and noteworthy topic, a small army of bots will get the word out to anyone remotely interested, from fellow bloggers to corporate marketers."

Wired has an infographic (above), giving full details of the process.

[Thanks to Boing Boing for the link to this story.]

Friday, January 25, 2008

Dixon v Marchant: a fair decision?

The judgment of the Court of Appeal in Dixon v Marchant, handed down yesterday, may, I think, lead to some debate, and not just amongst family lawyers. It dealt with the vexed question of remarriage shortly after the making of a consent order, and whether it constituted a "Barder event", invalidating the order.

The facts were as follows: On 4th February 1993 an order was made providing, inter alia, that the husband, Mr Dixon, pay his wife periodical payments at the rate of £15,000 per annum during their joint lives or until her remarriage or further order. In August 2005 Mr Dixon's solicitor wrote to the wife informing her that he was about to draw down his pension, that his income would be reduced accordingly and that he had grounds to make an application to vary the maintenance. He requested details of her financial position and asked specifically whether she was cohabiting. The wife's solicitors replied that she had no intention to cohabit and suggested that she would be happy to capitalise the maintenance. After some negotiation this was agreed and on the 25th April 2006 an order was made by consent requiring Mr Dixon to pay £125,000 on or before 1st May 2006. The application for the consent order was accompanied with the prescribed statement of information in which the wife declared that she had "no intention to marry or cohabit at present". She remarried on the 3rd November 2006 and when Mr Dixon discovered this, he applied to set aside the order, "as new events have occurred since the making of the consent order which invalidates the basis and fundamental assumption upon which the consent order was made". The application was refused, and Mr Dixon appealed.

Lord Justice Ward dismissed the appeal, finding that the wife had been honest in stating her intentions when the order was made, and that the basis of the consent order was "no more than the straightforward capitalisation of the wife's periodical payments to achieve the common desire for a clean break" - there was no fundamental assumption "that for an indefinite period to be measured in years rather than months or weeks, the wife would not remarry". He stated that the fact that Mr Dixon "had to take the chance of her remarriage was in accordance with accepted orthodoxy which has prevailed for more than 30 years" and that: "Payment of a lump sum carried risks for both parties – a risk for the husband that the wife would remarry so that he would have been better off paying her maintenance until that obligation ceased on her remarriage, and a risk for the wife that a lump sum crudely based, on the face of it, on a multiplicand of no more than seven years or so at £15,000 per annum might be exhausted during her life time". Lord Justice Lawrence Collins concurred, but Lord Justice Wall dissented: "In my judgment," he stated, "...it seems to me clear that the fundamental assumption behind the agreement, and critical to the making of the order, was the assumption that Mrs. Dixon would not remarry, in Lord Brandon's words [in Barder] "for an indefinite period, to be measured in years, rather than months"". He concluded: "my view remains that on an objective assessment, the proposition that Mrs. Dixon would not remarry within the Barder time-scale was the fundamental albeit tacit assumption upon which the order was made. I do not agree that "the risk of remarriage" within the Barder time-frame was one which Mr. Dixon "had to accept"".

The prospect of remarriage is a regularly recurring theme in ancillary relief cases. Whatever your views upon the decision in this case, it seems that intentions must be made clear in the order. As Lord Justice Ward said: "Though the agreement could have included whatever recitals were appropriate to spell out any common assumption about a moratorium on the wife's remarriage, there was nothing in this agreement which would have alerted the judge to the parties intending to give the husband any right to claw back any part of the lump sum if she should remarry soon after the payment had been made".

Cheap joke

I hear that the Legal Services Commission, in a drive to attract lawyers back to legal aid work, is to release an information film about the rewards of being a legal aid lawyer. It is to be called "Quantum of Solace".

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Justice?

Further to my post on Monday, if anyone is still in any doubt about whether adopting sharia law in this country is a good idea, consider the Saudi case of Fatima and Mansour al-Timani.

The couple were married after Mansour had obtained Fatima's father's permission to marry her, in accordance with Saudi tradition. They have since had two children. However, a few months after the wedding several of Fatima's relatives persuaded her father to give them power of attorney to apply for the marriage to be annulled on the grounds that she had married beneath her, thereby lowering the extended family's status. The marriage was subsequently annulled in absentia. The couple, aware that they could no longer live together under Saudi Arabia's strict segregation rules, fled from Riyadh to the western seaside city of Jeddah, where they hoped to live in anonymity. However, the police found them and they were imprisoned for living together illegally. An appeal by Mansour against the annulment was rejected by the court and the couple remain apart. Fatima is said now to be considering suicide.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Domestic Violence eConsultation

Following on from my first post today, the Home Affairs Committee has begun an 'eConsultation', an online forum as part of their inquiry into domestic violence, "to listen to the views of people who have first-hand experience of domestic violence". The forum, which will run until the 29th February, invites responses to four questions:
  • Do victims of domestic violence receive the support they need from public and voluntary sector organisations?
  • Are victims of “honour-based” violence helped enough by public and voluntary sector agencies?
  • Are there adequate support services for people who are forced into marriage against their will?
  • What single action would most improve the lives of victims and survivors of all forms of domestic violence?
Some of the posts make sobering reading.

Maybe not...

In a fit of excitement last night I woke my cat Muhammad to tell him my brilliant idea for drumming up new business.

"The trouble is," he said, yawning, "you don't have the body to appear in Playgirl."

"No." I agreed. "My body would put people off."

"Maybe you could have a body double. How about George Clooney?" Suggested Muhammad.

"Yes, that could work." I said. "But what would we call my advice column?"

"How about 'The Lawyer of Lust'?"

"Now you're talking." I said.

Muhammed paused for a moment, thoughtfully scratching his ear with a back paw. "So," he said, "how do we get you known to Playgirl? We have to do some outrageous advertising campaign."

"Ah." I said. "That could be a problem."

Muhammad's green eyes lit up. "I've got it." He said. "Advertise yourself on condom wrappers, with the slogan: 'Protect Your Assets With Johnny Bolch!'"

"Perfect!" I said. "Call the advertising agency!"

Muhammad sighed, and went back to sleep.

A good idea?

I read in the Guardian yesterday (via Current Awareness) that the Association of Chief Police Officers is recommending that perpetrators of domestic violence be placed on a domestic violence abuse register. Chief Constable Brian Moore, the Association's spokesman on domestic violence, told the Commons home affairs committee (which is carrying out an inquiry into domestic violence) that dozens of lives could be saved if the perpetrators were tracked in the same way as sex offenders.

I'm not sure about this, but I suppose it could be useful if, when a call from a victim comes in, the alleged perpetrator's name were checked against the register, to ensure a rapid and serious response if the name appears. On the other hand, shouldn't there always be such a response? How else the register might be useful is not clear to me. Moore speaks of having a "picture of those at risk", but what does he intend, that such people are warned about their partners?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Surviving, and the Meaning of Life

I'd like to recommend a new UK family law blog, Divorce Survivor. This one however is different, for two reasons. Firstly, it is not written by a lawyer. Its author, Fiona (who bears an uncanny resemblance to a character from a certain children's film), works in engineering but is a divorcee, hence the blog title. Secondly, Fiona believes that hers is the first Scottish blog relating to divorce and family law. It will certainly be good to get a Scottish perspective. Fiona says that she intends to post her arbitrary thoughts in the hope that they might be of interest. I'm sure they will.

And with that, I've realised that this is my 500th post on Family Lore, so I'm off to lay down in a darkened room, and contemplate the meaning of life...

Gratifying

Continuing my reading of this month's Family Law, I came across a most gratifying quote from Lord Justice Thorpe. In an article about statutory arbitration in ancillary relief (i.e. enabling the decision of the arbitrator to be binding), he discusses the efforts of lawyers in the development of alternatives to litigation, referring to the Resolution code of practice, mediation and collaborative law. He comments upon how few specialist practitioners nowadays have a "lust for fighting" cases, and concludes:

"There can be no doubt that the cases that fight bitterly are driven by one or both of the parties rather than by the lawyers who represent them."

I've been saying this for years, although I wouldn't put it quite so clearly - there are still a few dinosaur family lawyers out there who conduct their cases with unnecessary aggression, to the cost of their clients (his earlier comment acknowledges this). Still, it is extremely satisfying that one of the most senior family judges recognises that the blame for acrimonious and expensive family litigation usually lies squarely with the parties, rather than their lawyers. All we have to do now is make the public realise that this is the case.

Monday, January 21, 2008

No, we do NOT want sharia law

For the last couple of days I've been resisting the temptation to post about this article that appeared in the Telegraph on Saturday (since updated), but it seems that everywhere I look I am reminded of it - I even got an email from MBL Seminars this morning advertising, inter alia, a seminar entitled 'Islamic Family Law - The Practicalities'! So, now I can resist the temptation no longer.

I have posted previously about sharia law. As I said there: "Increased use of Sharia law is bound to give rise to calls for its decisions to be recognised by English law - something which is obviously wrong, but which may be increasingly difficult to resist, especially in these politically correct times." Well, it seems my little prediction is coming true. According to the article, the number of British Muslims using sharia courts is increasing, and now we are getting calls for sharia to be given legal authority.

I do not intend to go through the reasons why we should not adopt sharia law in this country, whether for divorce or anything else, as they should be self evident to any reasonable person. Even if it were accepted to be a perfectly fair system, which it patently is not, you obviously cannot have two different systems of law working alongside one another.

By way of example of the problems that could ensue, take the following scenario. A Muslim woman wants to divorce. She wants to use the English divorce system, as she knows that she will achieve a more favourable settlement. However, her Muslim husband has already instigated a divorce under sharia law (perhaps by text message). If sharia law has legal force then presumably she must submit to it, unless she renounces Islam. However, one of the particularly nasty features of the Islamic form of religious delusion is its treatment of apostates. As the article mentions, even in Britain 36 per cent of young Muslims believe that a Muslim who converted to another religion (or, presumably, simply renounces Islam) should be "punished by death". Would she risk her life just to obtain a better financial settlement?

A Desperate Measure

I think it is highly significant that Professor Patrick Parkinson, the architect of the Australian child support system, "is so alarmed at Britain’s plans to overhaul the Child Support Agency that he has flown to London to voice his concern", as reported by The Times on the 19th January. According to the report his concerns include the following:
  • That child maintenance in Britain will now be seen as voluntary, so that non-resident parents can decide whether or not they want to support their children.
  • That the parent with care will end up acquiescing to the first offer made by the non-resident parent, on the grounds that at least they will get it.
  • That £40 a week will soon be regarded as the only sensible amount of money non-resident parents should pay to parents with care on benefits, as anything more will go to the state.
These all seem to me valid points, and I certainly agree with this telling quote from Professor Parkinson: "Closing down one agency and starting up another to carry out similar functions is a desperate measure by any standards". Quite.

[Thanks to Family Law Week for pointing out this article.]

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Money, sex... and a dog

"IT IS the only divorce battle in history to feature the sex life of an American president, a philandering billionaire, a golden labrador named Beauregard and six pairs of vintage British asparagus tongs." How could I resist blogging about an article that starts like that?

Richard Mellon Scaife is an American billionaire and newspaper publisher, with an estimated fortune of $1.3 billion. Back in the 1990s he spent "tens of millions of dollars into investigations into Bill and Hillary Clinton’s Arkansas past in the hope of securing the then president’s impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky scandal", says this story in the Sunday Times today. Now he is himself embroiled in a highly public and, no doubt, highly embarrassing, sex scandal of his own.

It started when his wife discovered that the 75 year old Scaife was having an affair with a 43-year-old former prostitute. She issued divorce proceedings, and it was then that things started really getting out of hand. After an apparent clerical error by a member of the court staff, the divorce papers were posted on a court website and were gleefully picked up by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a rival of Scaife's own publication, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Scaife's lawyers filed court papers demanding that the Post-Gazette return the documents, but the Post-Gazette, responded by posting the documents on its website (with some personal, financial and third-party information removed), arguing that no court has the right to force a newspaper to surrender documents lawfully in its possession. With everything out in the open, the whole affair has enthralled Washington, providing "a jaw-dropping glimpse of sex among the super-rich", in the words of the Sunday Telegraph.

So what of the Beauregard the labrador? Well, he is naturally the subject of a custody battle - back in 2006 a fight apparently occurred between Scaife's wife and three of his servants when Mrs Scaife tried to seize the animal. After this, Scaife placed a sign on his lawn: “Wife and dog missing - reward for dog.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Clear Logic: L v L (Ancillary Relief)

I've been reading the report of L v L (Ancillary Relief) in this month's Family Law, and am impressed by its clear logic in applying the guidance provided by the Court of Appeal in Charman (see this post). Briefly, the facts in L v L were that the assets totalled £6.1 million, of which about £2m had been acquired by the husband prior to the marriage, or inherited by him, although a considerable proportion of that £2m had been used in the acquisition of the former matrimonial home. He had a substantial income and the wife had no earning capacity, due to childcare responsibilities.

Richard Anelay QC, sitting as a Deputy High Court Judge, applied the Charman principles as follows:

1. Determine the assets and financial positions of the parties.

2. Apply the equal sharing principle, unless there was good reason to the contrary.

3. Decide whether the result met the (generously interpreted) needs of the parties. If not, needs would dictate a greater share. If needs were less than the figure produced by (2), that would not lead to a reduction.

4. Here, the assets brought in by the husband were a good reason to depart from equality, but this was diluted by the fact that much of them had been used to purchase the former matrimonial home (which was always a matrimonial asset). It was therefore determined that £1m should go to the husband, leaving £5.1m to be shared equally.

5. The wife's needs were found to be £2.5m, and therefore the sum produced by the application of the sharing principle met her needs - if it did not, the needs principle would have prevailed.

Sometimes it all seems so simple!

[As yet no full report of L v L has been published. If I find one, I'll post a link here.]

Friday, January 18, 2008

A Flawed Genius

There's something extremely poignant about hearing of the passing of a childhood hero. I've just read that one of mine, chess legend Bobby Fischer, has died. Fischer's exploits at the chessboard, taking on and beating the mighty Soviets, inspired me to a life-long love of the game. I still vividly recall the excitement of following the 'Match of the Century', when he beat Spassky in Reykjavik in 1972, to take the World Championship. Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived, as Fischer then became a virtual recluse, only returning to the chessboard in 1992 for a meaningless rematch with Spassky. A flawed genius, R.I.P.

A legacy to ponder

There's a very nice piece in the Daily Mail today relating the story (which I did not know) of pioneering divorce campaigner Caroline Norton, who "was a moving force behind one of the most emancipating pieces of legislation in our history, the Marriage and Divorce Act, which became law 150 years ago this month". The piece goes on to relate the history of divorce laws in this country since then, and ponders what she would have thought of the "social landscape today, where divorce has become so commonplace". An interesting read.

The Realities of Marriage?

Reported in the Telegraph and elsewhere today, a survey commissioned by West End solicitors Seddons reveals an extremely disturbing picture of marriage in Britain today, if the findings are to be believed. The study, of 2,000 married couples, apparently revealed that 56 per cent were not completely happy in their relationship and more than half had considered divorcing their spouse, with 29 per cent indicating that they were only staying in a 'doomed marriage' to avoid the financial upheaval of divorce.

Resisting the temptation to just make a frivolous comment about this being a great opportunity for divorce lawyers, I'll simply ask the question: are things really this bad? If they are, then perhaps we all need to be educated about the realities of marriage.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

This is not the Oracle but...

Inspired by this excellent recent post by Nearly Legal, and in the same spirit of philanthropy, I thought I would do something I don't usually do, and answer some of the questions that have led people to Family Lore over the last couple of days. Naturally, my Disclaimer (see the sidebar) applies to what follows.

does the guilty party pay the costs in a divorce

If the divorce is based upon adultery or unreasonable behaviour, then the court will usually order the 'guilty party' to pay the other party's costs, unless there is already an agreement as to who will pay the costs.

appeal a divorce consent order

It is very unlikely that a court will review a consent order, whether by appeal, or having the order set aside. The most common reasons for such a review are fraud, material non-disclosure, or a new event since the making of the order which invalidates the basis upon which the order was made.

ca legal advice to women marrying rich man

Don't sign a prenuptial agreement!

gays own house who deducts

Who deducts what? If we are talking about the division of property at the end of a relationship, then the rules that apply depend upon whether the parties have entered into a civil partnership. If they have, then the rules are similar to those on divorce: the court can make whatever order it sees fit in all the circumstances. If they have not, then basic property rules apply - i.e. start with what the deeds say.

grandparents rights of contact; and
do grandparents have any legal rights

Yes. See this post.

mother moving within united kingdom and fathers contact; and
a residence order for my child has been granted. can i move elsewhere in the uk

I discussed these issues with a commenter to this post. As I stated there, the general principle is that parents are free to move anywhere within the United Kingdom. If a mother wants to take the children to another part of the UK and the father objects, then he has two options: to apply for a prohibited steps order to stop her taking them there, which will only be granted in exceptional circumstances, or to apply for a residence order, in which case the court will decide whether it is best for the children to remain with him in the same area, or to go with the mother. If the mother does move, the father will still have a right to contact with the children, although obviously the terms of the contact will probably have to be re-negotiated, or varied by the court.

when i divorce how much of my husbands pension will i receive

The answer, as always, is 'it depends', but the starting-point is equal division, so in a long marriage where the wife has no pension and the husband's pension has accrued entirely during the marriage, then the wife can expect to receive half.

can a cohabitee claim maintenance fees free move

Not sure about the 'free move' part of this, but the current position is that cohabitees cannot claim maintenance for themselves.

civil law on breach of a financial settlement retaining an ex spouses personal property

If the settlement has been incorporated into a financial/property order, then you should apply to the court to enforce the order. If no order has yet been made, then make sure it deals with personal property.

I'll finish off with a couple of more abstract questions:

unanswered questions about divorce

Aren't there always?

what is the good recent about take the divorce

What indeed?

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A step too far?

Following on perfectly from my last post, the Telegraph reports today that Baroness Royall has hinted that the Government may revive proposals to give fertility clinics the power to produce foetuses from cells other than eggs and sperm, which could create children with no biological father. I'm normally in favour of the use of scientific advances in this field, but I have to say that I have serious reservations about denying a child a biological father. Isn't it basic that a child should have a mother and a father, or am I just being old-fashioned?

[Thanks to Current Awareness for the link to the Telegraph story.]

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Question Everything

For the sake of balance after two contraception-themed posts, I thought I'd do a post about children.

In the Guardian today Jon Henley questions whether a pair of twins really got married by mistake, and had to have their marriage annulled, as revealed by Lord Alton in a House of Lords debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill last December. He mentioned the story to support his argument in favour of all children having the right to know the identity of their biological parents - see this post. Obviously, I assumed the story to be true when I wrote that post, but perhaps I shouldn't assume that just because a peer in the House of Lords says that a judge told him something it must be true. Certainly, it is quite a coincidence, and Henley points out that Lord Alton is a "vehemently anti-abortion Roman Catholic", and that he later admitted that he heard about the case from a judge who was "familiar with the case", rather than the judge who dealt with the case. So, have we all been taken in? I don't know the answer, or whether we will ever know, but I guess I've learnt a lesson - question everything.

Nothwithstanding the above, the point of my previous post still stands: I believe that all children have a right to know the identity of their biological parents, irrespective of the circumstances surrounding their conception/birth/early life.

So that's why the divorce rate is so high...

Tim Worstall of The Business thinks he has found the reason for the rising divorce rates in recent decades. "It's all to do with the pill and the way that women smell", he says. For the full explanation, see his article, here. Could he be on to something? Who nose?

Sorry.

Filling a Need

Here's another great idea for advertising your services as a divorce lawyer, this time from Romania. Apparently, Romanian lawyers are not allowed to advertise, so advertising agency Propaganda Bucharest has tried to circumvent this for a divorce lawyer client, with a little creative use of the business card concept. I'll let them take up the story:

"Since "advertising" was illegal, we focused on his business card. We put the contact information of our client on condoms and distributed them at the front desk of an out of town motel. We thus got the information to people who were most likely having an affair and could have been in need of both condoms and our client's services."

Genius.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Same old, same old

So, under-fire Work and Pensions Secretary Peter Hain has found time between scandals to appoint the first Commissioner of the shiny new Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, which will replace the failed Child Support Agency. Will it be a new man/woman, with radical new ideas to make the system work? No, it is none other than Stephen Geraghty, who has been the Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency since 2005. Really makes you confident that the new system will be better than the old.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

A tale of two theories

I've often wished that I did something really important, rather than being a lawyer. Don't get me wrong; the affairs of my clients are extremely important to them, and it is important to me that I do a good job for them. However, matters of law are of course of no consequence whatsoever in the grand scheme of things. Which brings me to a book I've just read. Quantum Theory Cannot Hurt You by Marcus Chown explains, in language understandable by (almost) anyone, two of the most important and least understood concepts in physics: quantum theory and the general theory of relativity.

"I think that I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics", the great physicist Richard Feynman famously said. I'm sure he was right, and I certainly don't claim now to understand it, but at least after reading this book I feel for the first time that I have a basic grasp of some of the abstruse concepts involved, aided by the many incredible facts Chown sprinkles through the book, such as that the entire human race would fit in the volume of a sugar cube.

The second half of the book deals with Einstein's theory of relativity. The concepts here are far more familiar to me, but again Chown describes them in an elegant and accessible way, once again illustrating them with simple but memorable analogies and facts, such as that you age faster at the top of a building than the bottom.

If you have an interest in these subjects (and, as they are central to everything in the universe, I think you should), then I thoroughly recommend this extremely readable book (even if it has a completely naff cover!).

Weekend Audio Review Podcast

I had the pleasure this morning of taking part in Charon QC's first Weekend Audio Review Podcast, along with Carl Gardner of Head of Legal, Justin Patten of Human Law, Geeklawyer and Peter Rouse of Advizory. The podcast can be found on Consilio, here.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

A woman of many talents

I never thought I would include a link to Playboy on this blog, but I guess you never know where serious legal reporting will take you...

Long-time readers of Family Lore may recall the wonderful advert of Chicago firm Fetman, Garland & Associates, with the subtle caption "Life's short. Get a divorce." Well, partner Corri Fetman has now found a new outlet for her (indisputable) talents. She now has a column in Playboy as the 'Lawyer of Love', answering legal questions for readers. Not only that, she has posed for some quite (ahem) interesting photos for the magazine, and she apparently featured as "Boss of the Month" in the February 2008 edition. Further, she has revealed that the shapely figure in the aforementioned advert was hers (the male figure was that of her personal trainer), and she is now appearing as a dominatrix on the firm's new advert, with the slogan: "Take Control. Get a Divorce.":


Who said family law was boring?

[I hasten to add that I do not normally read Playboy. I came across the above via this story, in the Earthtimes. Honest!]

Friday, January 11, 2008

Shafilea Ahmed: Unlawfully Killed

Another tragedy reported today by the BBC is that of 17-year-old Shafilea Ahmed, whose body was found on a Cumbrian riverbank in 2004 after she went missing in September 2003. At the inquest the coroner has ruled that she was unlawfully killed and said that he "believed the concept of an arranged marriage was "central" to the circumstances leading up to her death". I can't say whether the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007 would have saved her if it had been passed before her death, but the case is another clear demonstration of the need to protect individuals against the appalling concept of forced marriage.

Tragic

The BBC reports today the appalling case of a couple whose marriage had to be annulled after they discovered that they were twins, separated at birth and adopted by different families. I have always felt that every child has a basic right to know the identity of their biological parents, and hopefully this story will help to consign the rules of secrecy to the dustbin of history.

Four-Minute File

Charon QC was kind enough to mention Family Lore in today's Audio Newsbrief on Consilio. These newsbriefs are a new idea, designed to satiate lawyers' hunger for the latest legal news, in an easily digestible four-minute snack. As Charon says, the idea is still experimental, but it seems to me that it could be a useful way for busy lawyers to keep up to date. You can either listen online or download the file to your mp3 player and listen wherever and whenever you wish.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

RePUGnant?

Here's an American case that is of interest both to divorce lawyers and to bloggers. In Garrido v. Krasnansky the Vermont Family Court has ordered the husband, William Krasnansky, to stop posting items about his wife and their failed marriage on his blog, 'LookAtMyPug's Jurnull', as reported in The New York Times. As the report indicates, the case raises issues about both spousal harassment and free speech.

Unrepentant, Mr. Krasnansky has refused to take down his blog, calling it “a deliberate act of civil disobedience.” He calls the blog "A Work Of Fiction", but a law professor advises that this might not protect him in a defamation claim, "especially if the court found that readers were likely to perceive the postings as factual statements about a real person and if the statements were false". Subject to this, the issue is between Ms. Garrido's right to protection from harassment (obviously a common thing for a divorce court to deal with), and Mr. Krasnansky's constitutional right to free speech, which his lawyer argues that the order breaches. It is not at all clear which of these should prevail, although, as the report points out, Ms. Garrido is certainly on stronger ground with her claim that Mr. Krasnansky has put excerpts from her old journals on the blog.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Divorce is good for us

After all the bad press divorce has received recently by causing damage to the environment, some scientists are actually suggesting that it can be a good thing. This article in the Telegraph today reports that a group of mathematicians and biologists are proposing that when individuals in a population are choosy about their partners cooperativeness is rewarded and tends to increase, and divorce enables them to be choosy. As Professor John McNamara explains: "an individual's level of choosiness determines the level of cooperation demanded of its partner. If the current partner is not cooperative enough the individual stops interacting with this partner and seeks a better partner, even though finding a new partner incurs costs". Or, to put it another way: when an individual's cooperativeness is used by other individuals as a choice criterion, there can be competition to be more generous than others, a situation called 'competitive altruism'. Such a theory could help explain why humans tend to cooperate, in contravention of the 'selfishness' of natural selection.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Feed Pipe

Web 2.0 guru Nick Holmes of Binary Law has created a useful tool for busy people wanting to check out the latest on the UK family law blog scene. FamilyLawPipe aggregates feeds from all UK family law blogs, and displays summaries of recent posts, with links back to the originals. Very convenient, especially for those who don't want to set up their own feed reader.

Look before you leap

Libby Purves in the Times today has another take on 'D-Day', or 'Manic Monday', as she calls it. She recommends thinking twice before ringing a divorce lawyer, listing the reasons not to do it, or not yet, instead of grabbing the phone. "Don't be conned by lawyers*, or by celebrity mags full of airbrushed tales of how divorce “really made me grow”", she says, think of the downsides, such as the financial upheaval and the effect on any children. Good advice, I say, although my experience is that few clients instruct me to commence divorce proceedings without being absolutely sure that that is what they want. Where they are not sure, I make it clear that it is not of course my position as a lawyer to advise them to divorce (although in certain circumstances there may be legal advantages in doing so) and, if appropriate, I suggest that they consider going to Relate.

[*She specifically denounces the slogan "Winning the life you want" on the Insidedivorce.com website, a point I made in a post about last year's 'Divorce Day'.]

Monday, January 07, 2008

Dispatch from the Front

As we are constantly being reminded, today is D-Day, the day when more people commence divorce proceedings than any other, so I thought I'd take the opportunity between telephone calls to file a brief report on hostilities.

Well, I'm glad to say that I appear to have landed on Sword beach rather than Omaha. There has been some German resistance, but that was mopped up pretty quickly. Casualties have been light, and I am hopeful of making it off the beach alive.

Perhaps all my clients are busy spending their lottery winnings.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Made for Sharing

This could become something of considerable significance to family lawyers. Over the last few days I have been watching with interest as a new family law blog has been built. The Editorial will contain 'Hot Topics in UK Family Law', and specifically has a 'Hot Topics' page which is presently under construction but promises 'a feed of latest posts from around the blawgosphere'.

More importantly, however, the author (who has not, as yet, identified him/herself, save that he/she appears to be a fairly recently qualified solicitor) has a vision for the future of family law whereby family lawyers harness the power of Web 2.0 to share their knowledge. By adopting such a collaborative approach, he/she says, "we can ensure that clients never have to deal with ... badly trained, uninformed divorce lawyers". The author plans to start a website that will form the basis of this project, and the blog will ultimately form an editorial on that site. A fascinating idea, and I wish him/her every success.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The Thought-Cat

I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank post where my fingers move.

Through the flap comes a cat:
He glances at the screen

Then, looking up at me
He raises an eyebrow

"A tad pretentious don't you think?"
Says Muhammad

"You're right, of course"
I said

He began washing.
"It's just blog, not a work of art"
He said, as a paw
Rounded his ear

I nodded my head, sheepishly
Watching his pink tongue
Lick his paw again
"But still," I said

"The post is printed."


[With sincere apologies to Ted Hughes]

Friday, January 04, 2008

Not-so-tender trap

"The only ones that win are the solicitors". So says one of the headlines on divorce-solicitor-trap.co.uk, a website set up by divorcée Lucille Turner, who says she had such a bad experience with her divorce that she set up the site as part of a campaign to reform the law. She says the site was primarily created:
as a call to the thousands of women and men who approached a legal practitioner at the time of divorce, only to find themselves exploited instead of assisted; who found that their divorce solicitors, rather than defending their interests at a vulnerable time, profited from their situation to the fullest extent.
The site also offers advice upon how to get the best from your solicitor and, in an echo of the Child Support Agency, a 'Name and Shame' page for aggrieved clients to name their solicitor.

I'm not going to defend every member of my profession. I'm sure there are solicitors out there who expand the work to fill their billing targets. However, to return to the original quote, I believe that the biggest problem in escalating costs is the failure of parties to agree matters when advised. Of course, this may not be helped by poor advice or an adversarial approach by their solicitors. I do think that the law can be reformed to reduce litigation - see this recent post. Meanwhile, the best advice I can give is to instruct a solicitor who is a member of Resolution and should therefore conduct matters in a constructive and non-confrontational way. Resolution members should also advise clients of the availability of mediation.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Nocturnal fix

...and further to this post, I fear that my addiction to blogging may be more than 62%. I started writing the post below at about 3am this morning, after not being able to sleep. Why I should get out of bed in the middle of the night, read the Times law reports and write a blog post is beyond me. Not only that, but when I did return to bed I then thought of something to add to the post, got up again, fired up the laptop again, and amended the post.

Sad.

Crossley: Prenuptials enforceable?

Further to this post, there is a brief report on the Crossley case in the Times today. Interesting how the Court of Appeal agreed that it was quite acceptable for the lower court to completely short-circuit the ancillary relief procedure, in the light of the prenuptial agreement. I had not realised previously that this 'short-circuiting' had occurred after the husband issued a summons seeking an order for the wife to show cause why the claims should not be resolved by reference to the prenuptial agreement - something no doubt that parties seeking to 'enforce' prenuptial agreements will be doing in the future.

Clearly, the facts in Crossley seem to make it an appropriate case to uphold a prenuptial agreement, and I of course accept that the court is not 'bound' by the procedural rules. However, I remain concerned that the courts seem to be moving closer to making prenuptial agreements enforceable (note the headline to the report: "Court’s power to enforce prenuptial agreement") - something I feel should only be done by Parliament. All the while the courts treated prenuptials as a factor to be taken into account, that seemed to be within the scope of section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act ("all the circumstances of the case"), but now the courts seem to be going beyond that, and raising prenuptials to a status above that intended by Parliament. How can a court say that the prenuptial is the overriding factor, when it has not fully considered all of the other factors in the case, which it cannot do until there has been full disclosure?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Optimism

Thankfully, I've not been tagged by the latest blawg meme-virus, unlike both authors at reductio ad absurdum and Nearly Legal. Nevertheless, on this first day of the New Year I would still like to set out some things that I hope will happen in the area of family law:

1. Reform of the divorce law, to bring in a proper no fault divorce system. My thoughts on this were set out in this post.

2. Reform of the system for resolving private law children disputes regarding residence and contact, with a starting-point of equality between the parents. Under such a system there would be a rebuttable presumption that children should share their time equally with both parents.

3. That the child support system will be reformed so that it is fair and it actually works. (I realise that this is pretty unlikely.)

4. That clear statutory guidance is provided to determine financial/property settlements on divorce, possibly including a formula. This would provide far more certainty, and therefore dramatically increase the number of cases that are settled without having to go to court.

5. That the new rules on cohabitee property rights (see this post) are fair, reasonable, clear and workable.

6. (Another forlorn hope.) That the legal aid system will be reformed so that everyone will have equal access to the law, and legal aid lawyers will all earn a decent living.

One can only hope...