Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sun-day worship

Yesterday was our summer. My co-blogger, Muhammad, is a sun worshipper, like most of his species. He was therefore taking advantage of the weather to do some worshipping, and he was not amused when I interrupted him (note the wagging tail).

"What do you think of this?" I asked, pointing to the Guardian newspaper.

"What?" Replied Muhammad, irritably.

"Alistair Darling - he says that the economic times are the worst they've been in 60 years. When the Chancellor says that, it must be bad."

Muhammad was unimpressed. "I'm sure he's got some political reason for saying that. Don't worry about it."

"But I am worried. The Times says that the good times are ending even for top corporate lawyers."

"Yes, terrible when you have to take a cut from £2.4 million a year." Said Muhammad, sarcastically.

"And fewer people are getting divorced." I continued. "I don't know where the work is going to come from."

"You could always open a branch office in Nigeria, and you'd only need one client." Suggested Muhammad.

I gave Muhammad a quizzical look. "What are you talking about?" I asked.

"Haven't you heard? A man in Nigeria has been ordered to divorce 82 of his 86 wives."

"Really?" I replied excitedly. "When's the next plane over there?"

Muhammad sighed, rolled over, and resumed his sun worshipping.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Divorce rate falls again

The Office for National Statistics has today released the latest (2007) figures for divorces and civil partnership dissolution. Here are some of the findings, mostly relating to England and Wales:
  • The divorce rate fell for a third consecutive year, reaching its lowest level since 1981.
  • Rates for both men and women fell across most age groups, but increased for men and women aged 60 and over, and also for women aged between 45 and 49.
  • For the sixth consecutive year both men and women in their late twenties had the highest divorce rates.
  • The average duration of marriage for divorces granted in 2007 increased to 11.7 years.
  • One in five men and women divorcing in 2007 had a previous marriage ending in divorce.
  • 68 per cent of divorces were granted to wives and in 54 per cent of these cases the husband’s behaviour was the fact proven.
  • 51 per cent of couples divorcing in 2007 had at least one child aged under 16.
  • The average age at divorce for women increased to 41.2 years, and for men to 43.7 years.
Last year the news was similar, and I made a joke about unemployed divorce lawyers. This year, with the state of the profession, such a joke would ring a little hollow...

In re R (Family dispute: Evidence)

Thanks to Current Awareness for drawing my attention to this interesting report in The Times today, highlighting a key difference in the treatment of evidence between civil and family matters.

The case involved a father's residence application in which the mother raised serious allegations of domestic violence. At the fact-finding hearing the mother gave her evidence, after which a submission of no case to answer was made on behalf of the father, and accepted by the court. The mother's appeal was upheld by the Court of Appeal, which made clear that a no case to answer submission was not appropriate at a fact-finding hearing. The court’s duty to the child dictated that all of the evidence should be heard, including the father's evidence. Lord Justice Thorpe stated that: "The judge had risked derailing the whole future of the case based simply on his conclusion that the mother had lied." The obvious question is: would his conclusion have been any different if he had heard the father's evidence?

[Note that the Times report will only be available free for 21 days.]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Lawblog 2008

Oops. In all the excitement I forgot to mention that Lawblog 2008 has been arranged (by the one and (thankfully) only Geeklawyer) to take place at the Harp Public House, Chandos Place, London on Monday (yes, Monday) 15th September at 6pm. Bloggers and (I think) others interested are welcome - just let Geeklawyer know by staggering over to this post, and leaving a comment.

Statutory legacy increase

It's good to hear that the Government is proposing to increase the statutory legacy on intestacy to spouses and civil partners, for the first time since 1993. I suspect that the rules on intestacy are not well known to non-lawyers, so for readers who are not aware of them, here is a brief summary of how things currently work if your spouse or civil partner dies without making a will:
  • If they had children, you will only receive their entire estate if it is worth £125,000 or less.
  • If they had no children, you will only receive their entire estate if it is worth £200,000 or less.
  • In each case, if the estate is worth more than the stated figure, you will receive that figure, plus a 'life interest' in half of the rest of the estate - i.e. when you die, this will pass to the children, or whoever else is entitled.
Obviously, this can result in serious financial hardship for the surviving spouse/civil partner, particularly where the home in which they lived was owned solely by the deceased. The Government is therefore proposing to increase the figures to £250,000 and £450,000, from 1st February 2009. This should ease the hardship, but of course the best way to ensure that your spouse/civil partner is properly provided for after your death is to make a will.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

DO YOUR OWN DIVORCE!

If you want a divorce (or are involved in a divorce) but you are neither eligible for legal aid nor able to afford to instruct a solicitor, what do you do? You are left with little choice other than to represent yourself. I have therefore written an eBook to assist the increasing number of people who have to go through divorce proceedings without legal assistance. The book comprises 197 pages and includes the following:
  • A guide to divorce proceedings, including completing all the required forms.
  • A chapter on sorting out arrangements for children.
  • Details of child support maintenance.
  • A chapter on sorting out financial/property arrangements, whether by agreement or through the court.
  • Chapters on domestic violence, costs and mediation.
  • Specimen forms.
  • Useful addresses and websites.
  • A detailed glossary of legal terms.
  • Updated to December 2008.
Why do your own divorce?
To save money! Even if the divorce is completely straightforward, and there are no arrangements for children and finances to sort out, a solicitor will typically charge between £500 and £1000 to deal with the divorce for you, not including court fees. If there are arrangements for children or finances to sort out, then the solicitor's fees are likely to be many times that sum. Even if you cannot deal with everything yourself, dealing with one aspect (say, the divorce itself) without a solicitor will result in you making considerable savings in legal costs. Even if you are instructing a solicitor, this book will keep you better informed, and can save you money - buying the book and using it to find answers to common questions can cost less than a phone call to your solicitor.

"Readable, informative, clear and, most important - practical." - Charon QC.


[Note that the digital version of the book is no longer available. The book is now available in hard copy - see here for details.]

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Not a Panacea

I've mentioned the new contact enforcement provisions of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 previously, and urged the Government to get on and bring these provisions into effect. I've never considered, however, that they will be a panacea, only that they should help by giving courts more options when contact orders are not working. It seems that I am not alone in being less than optimistic. Research by the University of Cardiff Law School suggests that much of the profession has similar reservations.

Five students from the Law School conducted the research over the summer, supervised by Professor Gillian Douglas, Head of the Law School, and Dr Leanne Smith, an experienced researcher in family law. A questionnaire was sent out to various family law professionals, and 91 responses were analysed. Of those, 84% felt that the current range of available sanctions (fines and imprisonment) were inadequate. One would have expected, therefore, some enthusiasm for the new provisions. However, only 46% of respondents felt that the new sanctions (unpaid work and the payment of compensation for financial loss) would serve as adequate deterrents against breaching contact orders - the researchers speculate that this may be linked to their previous findings that sanctions are apparently rarely enforced. Instead, some 69% of respondents felt that an interim stage of mediation might be beneficial before resorting to sanctions, although some feared that this would just result in further delay.

In general, 60% of the respondents felt that the law does not strike the right balance between the interests of resident parents, non-resident parents and children, with non-resident parents often getting a 'raw deal' in proceedings. Others criticised the fact that resident parents could easily sabotage the process through, for example, causing delays, and several respondents were in favour of a presumption of shared residence.

The results of the project can be found here, in PDF format.

[Thanks to Family Law Week for bringing my attention to this story.]

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Paulin v Paulin: No U-Turns

OK, Bank Holiday weekend... time for some law. I've been meaning to look at the case of Paulin v Paulin [2008] EWCA Civ 900 in detail for some while, but other things have got in the way.

The Facts: The only "obvious asset" available to satisfy the wife’s financial claims was a sum of about £1,088,000, representing the proceeds of sale of a property that had been used briefly as a matrimonial home and then, following the husband’s departure, by the wife and children as a home. The property had been owned by an Isle of Man company which, by the time of the substantive hearing, was in liquidation because it was apparently unable to pay an alleged debt, in the sum of £1,243,000, for which the creditor had obtained judgment. The husband claimed that this was a genuine debt, that the only asset of the company was the proceeds of sale of the property and that that sum would therefore have to be used towards discharging the debt.

The wife applied to have the judgment against the company set aside, and this application was listed for hearing alongside her application for ancillary relief. The judge, Mr Richard Anelay QC, determined that the alleged debt was bogus and that "the husband had engineered it in order to eliminate from the reach of the family court an asset which might be applied towards discharge of his obligations towards the wife under matrimonial law". He therefore set aside the judgment. He also found that the company was the alter ego of the husband, and accordingly the proceeds of sale were, in principle, "available for the discharge of the husband’s obligations to the wife in terms of ancillary relief".

However, in 2006, with the wife's ancillary relief application well under way, the husband had made himself bankrupt. The wife applied for annulment of the bankruptcy, and that application was also transferred for hearing alongside her application for ancillary relief. It is, of course, established law that an order for bankruptcy ought not to have been made if, at the time when it was made, the person adjudged bankrupt was able to pay his debts as and when they fell due, and this was the wife's contention. The judge initially indicated in a written judgment on 18th March 2008 that he intended to dismiss the wife's application, as he found that, as at the date of the bankruptcy, the husband had not been able to pay his debts as they fell due. However, after discussions in court and afterwards, a further hearing was fixed at which the judge reversed his previous decision, and, in an Amended Judgment, ruled that the bankruptcy order should be annulled. He therefore awarded the wife the entire proceeds of sale, in respect of her costs and by way of a lump sum payment. The husband applied for permission to appeal, claiming that the judge was wrong to annul the bankruptcy order.

The Decision: In the Court of Appeal Lord Justice Wilson found that: "the judge fell into error in concluding that he could, following delivery of the judgment on 18 March 2008, make a volte-face so vast and so central as that which he made in the Amended Judgment" and that: "the obverse reasoning in the judge’s earlier judgment seems to me, almost as a matter of logic, to afford to the husband arguable grounds for contending that the reasoning in his later judgment is flawed". He therefore granted the husband permission to appeal.

Commentary: As Lord Justice Wilson stated, speciously making themselves bankrupt is "a tactic now not uncommonly employed by some devious husbands intent upon obstructing the claims of their wives following divorce". However, if the judge has already clearly indicated that he found that the husband was not able to pay his debts when they fell due, then it is very strange that he should have made a complete about-turn without hearing any fresh evidence. He was apparently persuaded that he had power to reverse his earlier judgment by reference to the decision in Re: T (Contact: Alienation: Permission to Appeal) [2003] 1 FLR 531, but this didn't hold much water with Lord Justice Wilson who, amusingly, had been the trial judge in that case, and whose reasons the Court of Appeal had held to be deficient.

The Carrot

The Telegraph today leads with the story that the Tories have promised tax breaks for married couples. Shadow chancellor George Osborne is quoted as saying: "Of course everyone is entitled to choose how to live their lives, and some marriages do fail, but we know that in general marriage is an institution that contributes to building a stronger society." Exact details of the tax breaks are apparently still being drawn up, but it is expected to involve the Married Couples Tax Allowance being reinstated in some form - I heard mention on BBC News this morning that it might mean an extra £20 a week for married couples.

Of course, none of this comes as any surprise, but will it make any difference? Will people really marry or stay together for the sake of £20 a week, or whatever the figure is? I have my doubts. It seems to me that there are far more important reasons to marry than a small financial benefit. If we accept the assumption that marriage is good for society, then I think we need to look far harder at the reasons why fewer people are getting married and more marriages are failing.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

He Missed Again

As any regular reader will be aware, I don't usually comment on celebrity divorces (OK, OK, I know I've made exceptions to this...), so I've not paid much attention to the Phil Collins divorce. However, Andrew Barton, an Associate at Stephens and Scown in Exeter has pointed it out to me today, and I think it is noteworthy, for the size of the settlement. Collins paid his Swiss ex-wife Orianne Cevey a reported £25 million, which would make it the biggest UK celebrity divorce settlement, beating the sum Sir Paul McCartney paid to Heather Mills, and adding to the £17 million Collins apparently paid to his second wife.

The case has again sparked debate about London being the divorce capital of the world and about pre-nuptial agreements, and why Collins didn't sign one. Perhaps he will next time...

Reverse Psychology

Despite his denials, Charon QC is clearly a family law expert, and a source of excellent advice for those going through divorce. Take, for example, this story, that he gleaned today from the pages of The Sun, of all places. It contains a simple idea, guaranteed to make you feel better after your marriage breakdown: play your wedding video - in reverse! That way, you will see your spouse "take off the ring, leave the church, get into the car and disappear". Brilliant.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

TV divorce expert arrested

TV divorce expert Vanessa Lloyd Platt, founder of Lloyd Platt & Company, has been arrested on suspicion of attempting to pervert the course of justice, following allegations that she falsely claimed that her estranged husband tried to poison her. She denied the allegations and was bailed until next month.

In January 2001 Ms Lloyd Platt published her book Secrets Of Relationship Success. She has apparently been divorced twice.

My thanks to John Hirst of Jailhouselawyer's Blog for drawing my attention to this story. We wait with interest to see how it develops.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The Truth

I've just watched the last part of The Genius of Charles Darwin, on Channel 4.

At one point in the programme Richard Dawkins interviewed one Nick Cowan, who is apparently a chemistry teacher at a well respected grammar school. Mr Cowan admitted to Dawkins that he believes that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old. I'm sorry, but this man should not be teaching science to our children. You may as well have an English teacher who believes Shakespeare's works don't exist, or a mathematics teacher who does not believe in multiplication.

Even more scary was when Dawkins interviewed a group of science teachers at a London school. They were all running scared from telling their children that evolution is the truth, for fear of upsetting religious sensibilities in our multicultural society. As Dawkins pointed out, this is not a matter of allowing children to choose between different truths - there is only one truth, supported by massive evidence. It's not that we should not allow debate, it's that there is no debate: would any reasonable person debate, for example, that the Earth is not round? Evolution is proven to the same extent that it is proven that the Earth is round. So, let's cast this relativistic nonsense to one side, and tell our children how it is - then they can decide whether or not to believe the truth.

Misconception and Misconceived?

A couple of stories that I picked up today via Current Awareness:

First, the BBC reports that the Ministry of Justice has launched a campaign to stress to cohabiting partners that they do not have the same rights as married couples if they separate or one of them dies: "According to a survey into social attitudes, 50.7% of people think that couples who have lived together for a while have the same rights as married or civil partners and that a 'common law marriage' has recognised legal status. They also wrongly believe that by having a child together they acquire legal rights." I'm going to make the obvious point: instead of pointing this out, why don't the Government get on with acting on the Law Commission’s proposals for the introduction of legal protection for cohabitees, as I've mentioned previously?

Secondly, the Independent reports that Justice Minister Bridget Prentice has announced the publication of a study evaluating some of the measures in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, and that the study indicates that reforms to protect people from domestic violence brought in by the Act have failed to increase criminal convictions against perpetrators of domestic violence. The results of the study come as no surprise - see my previous post on this subject, and the comments to it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Dirty Duchess

I wasn't old enough (just) to hear of this great story the first time around. Argyll v Argyll, "the divorce that shocked Scotland", took place fifty years ago and involved the Duke of Argyll, who took four years to obtain a divorce from his "infamous nymphomaniac third wife and Duchess of Argyll". In the course of the proceedings, the Duke listed 88 men with whom he claimed she had affairs, including Hollywood stars, three members of the Royal Family and two Government ministers. "Pictures of her having sex while wearing nothing except her trademark triple strand of pearls were produced in court along with her lurid diaries." Brilliant stuff - makes some of today's celebrity divorces seem pretty tame.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Musical Interlude

Just rediscovered this - not listened to it for a while. Enjoy.

Holy Traffic Jam

I see that a protester dressed as Batman and believed to be from fathers' rights group Fathers 4 Justice is on a gantry on the M25 near Heathrow, bringing traffic to a halt. His banner reads: "Don't turn a blind eye to secret family courts". He says that he intends to remain there all day. He's certainly achieving publicity for his cause, but I doubt that he's making many friends among motorists, many of whom are trying to get to the airport to go on holiday.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tragic

Well, this would be a highly amusing story if it weren't so tragic. James Muir-Little, a partner and Head of Family Law at Canterbury solicitors Furley Page has resigned his post as a deputy district judge after apparently being involved in a sordid sex scandal. According to the Telegraph report, Muir-Little cheated on his wife when he met Joanne Hall on an internet website for swingers. They then "exchanged naked pictures and sexual fantasies by email before twice meeting for sex at hotels". All good tabloid newspaper material, but then tragedy struck. When Hall's husband found out about the affair he killed their three-year-old daughter in revenge. He was found guilty of murder in November 2006 and is now serving a life sentence.

Meanwhile, the Office for Judicial Complaints commenced disciplinary proceedings against Muir-Little, but his resignation has ended the investigation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Consider

This post has nothing to do with law, but it has everything to do with family. Today I attended the funeral of a former work colleague and close friend of the family. She was also a wife, a mother, a sister, an aunt and a godmother. Her untimely passing has left a bereaved husband and daughter, and a hole in many lives.

The funeral was not, however, entirely a sad affair. The numbers at the service were testament to a life well lived, and it was good to join so many old friends and colleagues in celebrating it. A friend may be gone, but she will not be forgotten.

In the end, though, it is to the family that my thoughts go: consider what they have lost before pursuing your petty squabbles.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sometimes clients can be a pain in the arse

As the old saying goes, this job would be perfect if you didn't have the clients. Unfortunately, clients pay the bills, so we have to suffer them. But there are certain things that we do not have to put up with...

Take for example the clients who turn up without an appointment and expect to see you. Oh yes, we'll drop everything we're doing and see you immediately - doesn't matter if what we were doing was something urgent for another client. You wouldn't do this with a doctor, so don't do it with us. Similarly, the clients who make an appointment and then fail to turn up. No warning, no apology, nada. How difficult is it to pick up the phone and say "I'm not coming"?

Then you get the clients who expect you to do the impossible: "I've instructed you to achieve the outcome I want, I'm paying good money, so I expect to get it". No, sorry, it doesn't work like that. True, a good lawyer is more likely to achieve the outcome you want, but no one can achieve the impossible. Of course, some still refuse to accept this when you tell them. Take, for example, the client I had years ago who wanted custody of his children. When I explained to him that there was no chance that the court would grant him custody, he asked if I could give a backhander to the judge. Err, no, it doesn't work like that.

And then there are the officious clients, who treat you more like the enemy than their friend. They set such strict limits on what you can and can't do for them, so that you're afraid to do anything at all, and you spend all of your time protecting yourself from them, rather than protecting their interests. I even remember one client, a police officer, who was so mistrustful of my firm that he paid all our bills in cash and kept a record of all the banknote numbers. Why? Other clients are mistrustful of you because you are 'part of the system', and in league with the other party's lawyer. No - just because we represent you doesn't mean that we can't still be civil with our colleagues.

I guess what I'm saying is this: if you instruct a lawyer to represent you, trust them, treat them well and you're more likely to get the best out of them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Milton v Milton: Time to pay lump sum

The recent case of Milton v Milton [2008] EWCA Civ 926 gives useful guidance upon the issue of how long should be allowed for payment of a lump sum.

The Facts:
On the 6th December 2007 District Judge Brasse made a clean break order requiring Mrs Milton to pay Mr Milton a lump sum of £60,000 within 36 months. Mr Milton appealed, on the grounds that he should have received £75,000, that 36 months was too long a period, particularly since there was no provision for interest, and that the lump sum should have been secured.

The Decision: In the Court of Appeal Lord Justice Thorpe quickly dismissed two of the three grounds for appeal:

"Quite clearly there is nothing in the quantum point; the judge perfectly well explains why he chose £60,000 rather than £75,000. There is nothing in the security point since Mr Milton did not apply for security below; therefore as a matter of principle it is not for us to impose it."

On the third point of the time allowed for payment of the lump sum, he found in Mr Milton's favour:

"I am not persuaded that such a long delay can be said to fall within even the generous ambit of the discretion. The variation to be made to introduce fairness ... could be achieved in one of two ways: either we can shorten the period for payment or, alternatively, we could leave the exceptional length but impose an interest provision ... The simplest solution, and in my judgment the better solution, is to abbreviate the period within which this debt should be discharged, and I would take simply the anniversary of the judgment below, namely 6 December 2008."

He felt that this "seems to me to be a perfectly achievable target [Mrs Milton needed to obtain a mortgage to raise the lump sum] and one that should be achieved in the interests of overall fairness". He also pointed out that if "unforeseen future circumstances arise" then Mrs Milton could apply to the court for an extension.

Commentary: This must be correct. To deny the recipient his/her lump sum for any longer than a year must surely be unfair, unless there are exceptional circumstances. Note also the point on security - if you want security, then you should apply for it.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cafcass vows to improve

After a third damning report by Ofsted, Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas has responded by promising that "at the very least" private law would be graded as "adequate" in any future inspection. He said that Cafcass would address the failings through 'a significant increase in spending on training and a new national practice and performance assessment system', which will be launched this autumn. Under the system, 'practitioners' work will be graded according to standards currently being agreed between Ofsted and Cafcass, with individually tailored training programmes put in place to correct deficits'.

The latest Ofsted report, on the South Yorkshire region, found similar failings to the two previous reports, including significant delays in allocating and completing private law cases (I can attest to this) and unsatisfactory assessment of domestic violence. Perhaps most damningly, Ofsted found that 16 of 25 private law court reports were inadequate, with 11 'lacking a focus on the child and their welfare'.

[Thanks to Family Law Week for drawing my attention to this story.]

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Podcast: Child Support

This podcast provides a brief introduction to that vexed topic, child support:

Child Support: An Introduction.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Continuing Professional Development

Muhammad likes to sit on the fence watching birds. The other day I asked him why he does it - he's not going to catch any birds up there.

"Just window shopping." He replied.

"But aren't you just warning the birds that you're here?" I asked.

"Yes, but they're too stupid to remember. Next time I hide under the bushes, they'll forget this is my garden."

"When you go for a bird, what are your actual chances of catching one?" I asked.

"Oh, about the same as the chance of a non-resident parent avoiding paying child support." Responded Muhammad.

"That good? Don't you feel guilty catching birds?"

"Certainly not. Survival of the fittest and all that."

"But you don't eat them!"

"True, but one has to keep one's skills honed."

"Sort of like a cat version of CPD?"

"Er... yes, I suppose so."

"You have to kill 16 birds a year to retain your hunting licence," I joked.

"Yes," said Muhammad, "I've got another ten to catch before the end of October."

"Better get off that fence then." I replied.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Is the CSA getting its act together?

The Child Support Agency has reported that "more children than ever before are benefiting from child maintenance". Their latest Quarterly Summary of Statistics show that 768,000 children are now benefiting from maintenance payments - an increase of 207,000 since March 2005, before the Agency's Operational Improvement Plan was launched in February 2006. The Agency collected or arranged over £1.05 billion nationally in a 12 month period, including £137.6m arrears - both of these figures are records. Other figures:
  • The percentage of parents paying child maintenance is up to 68%, putting the Agency on track to meet its 69% target by March 2009, which it claims "will make it comparable to the best performing child support agencies around the world".
  • The volume of uncleared 'current scheme' applications is at the lowest level since August 2003, at 91,300.
  • 81% of new applications received in March 2008 were cleared within 12 weeks, up on the target standard of 68%.
  • The Agency answered 99% of telephone calls available to answer, with an average waiting time of 18 seconds, up from 84% answered with a waiting time of 1 minute 40 seconds in March 2005.
All of this sounds like great news, and indeed it is, so long as your case isn't one of the 32% where the other parent isn't paying, or one of the 91,000 uncleared applications, or one of the 19% that has taken more than 12 weeks to deal with. I hear what the Agency says about being comparable to the best performing child support agencies around the world, but a target of getting little more than two thirds of parents to pay doesn't seem that ambitious to me. That leaves a huge number of children suffering from economic hardship.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Embarrassing

OK, some quick advice: if you separate, take all the pictures with you, or delete them.

[Thanks again lo-fi!]

Fortune and Happiness

I like to keep topical, but what possible connection can there be between family law and the Olympic Games? Well, I've found one. It seems that so many Chinese couples want to get married on the 8th August, when the Olympics start, that Chinese marriage registry authorities will not have the manpower to deal with divorce applications. Divorce procedures will therefore be suspended on that day. Apparently, "eight is the most auspicious number among Chinese people, who believe it brings fortune and happiness, and the opening day of the Olympic Games gives the date added significance". You mean, divorce doesn't bring fortune and happiness?

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Podcast: Ancillary Relief

This podcast gives a brief introduction to a complex subject: ancillary relief, or the financial/property settlement on divorce:

Ancillary Relief: An Introduction.

Genius.

As any good lawyer knows, evidence is everything. Last night, on The Genius of Charles Darwin Professor Richard Dawkins presented the evidence for evolution, and it is overwhelming: the lifeforms we observe, the fossil record and, above all, DNA. In the face of such evidence I don't understand how any person of reason, let alone a lawyer, could fail to accept that evolution is a fact, yet some still deny the obvious, clinging to their holy books as if they were life rafts, without which they would drown. Evolution tells us a far more beautiful and compelling story than any holy book, so do the human race a favour, cast those books aside and watch this series. If you missed last night's programme, you can watch it here, for seven days.

Pensions and Divorce Handbook

Today I received from Resolution a copy of Pensions and Divorce - The Role of the Financial Advisor. I've not yet given it more than a cursory glance, but the covering letter says that the handbook has been produced by SIFA, with the support of Resolution, and is intended to help "financial advisers and family lawyers to understand each others respective roles in handling pension sharing on divorce". Anything that helps in this tricky area has my support too. Copies can be obtained from SIFA at a cost of £25 per handbook, via this page on their website.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Sleepless in London

"Divorced male lawyers, aged 55, who live in London are the UK's worst sleepers and as a result are suffering problems", so says this report in the Telegraph today. Apparently, they "get an average of four hours sleep each night, which seriously affects their day-to-day lives". So, now the truth is out.

This fact was gleaned from the results of a UK-wide survey on behalf of Silentnight, which asked 2,000 adults to reveal what disturbs their sleep at night. Quite how many of those 2000 were divorced male lawyers aged 55 and living in London, I'm not sure.

[Thanks to lo-fi librarian for the link to this story.]

Re A (A Child: Joint Residence/Parental Responsibility)

Further to this post, I've been looking more closely at the case Re A (A Child: Joint Residence/Parental Responsibility) [2008] EWCA Civ 867.

The Facts: The child H was born when the mother was cohabiting with Mr A, and for the first two years of H's life, until the parties relationship broke down in July 2004, he was brought up by them together on the assumption that Mr A was his biological father. Following the breakdown of the relationship, Mr A brought proceedings for parental responsibility, residence and contact, and in the course of those proceedings it emerged that Mr A was not the father of H. It also emerged that the mother wished to leave the area in which both parties lived close by, and move some distance away to the South Coast, with the result that Mr A's role in H's life would be marginalised.

After lengthy proceedings, on 11 January 2008 District Judge Adam, sitting as a Recorder, made a joint residence order (thereby giving Mr A parental responsibility), but also allowed the mother to move away from the area. The order gave Mr A generous holiday contact with H and also provided that the mother was prohibited from introducing H to his biological father (who had played no significant part in the proceedings) for a period of two years, save by order of the court or with the agreement of the parties. The mother appealed against the order on the grounds, inter alia, that the Recorder had inappropriately linked the question of the mother and H's relocation to the acquisition by Mr A of parental responsibility, that he had made a shared residence order where such order was wrong in principle and inappropriate in the circumstances of the case, and that he had given disproportionate weight to the wishes and ambitions of Mr A to the detriment and undermining of her position as biological parent.

The Decision: The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. In his leading judgment, the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, stated that it was clear that the Recorder's reason for making a joint residence order was not for the purpose of recognising equal, or near equal, sharing of residential time between the parties (he intended that the mother should remain the primary carer), but rather he made the order for the purpose of conferring upon A the parental responsibility which went with it, and which the Recorder considered was merited by Mr A, whose role he did not wish to see marginalised or diminished. Sir Mark then went on to review the law on shared residence and found it clear that: "the making of a residence order is a legitimate means by which to confer parental responsibility on an individual who would otherwise not be able to apply for a free-standing parental responsibility order, as in the case of someone who is not the natural parent". He also did "not consider that the Recorder inappropriately linked the question of relocation with the acquisition of parental responsibility in this case. Whilst legally they were separate issues, they were in fact linked in the sense that the mother's desire to relocate to the South Coast was, as the Judge found, not simply a wish to move out of the same area as Mr A, but a move intended to consolidate her control over H in a manner which, combined with the distance involved in the move, raised real and justified fear of marginalisation on the part of Mr A". As to undermining of the position of the mother as biological parent he said: "I do not consider that the Recorder said or did anything to undermine the mother's position as biological parent, albeit he made findings which were not in accordance with her wishes. The Recorder (and for that matter Mr A) plainly recognised her status, not only as a fact but as a feature which entitled her to be the primary carer of H".

Commentary: The case offers useful guidance on the subjects of shared residence and parental responsibility, confirming that making a shared residence order is a perfectly legitimate way of giving parental responsibility to a non-parent, and also of preventing the relocation of the child from marginalising Mr A in his role as the father figure in the child's life.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

How to use the internet

After the shennanigans of Tricia Walsh-Smith, it's good to see the internet being used to help solve a serious family problem. After her seven-year-old daughter was snatched by her father during a supervised visit to the US, Sandra Boss made an internet video appeal for the child's safe return. Happily, the father has now been arrested, and Ms Boss is to be reunited with her daughter.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Podcast: Parental Responsibility

For this podcast, I'm doing a brief introduction to that much misunderstood concept, parental responsibility.

Parental Responsibility podcast

Friday, August 01, 2008

Acronym faux pas

I liked this story, by BabyBarista today. Amuses my juvenile mind.

July Post of the Month

Well, it's been a bumper month for blog posts. Within hours of the start of July, Geeklawyer posted his iconoclastic Blawg Review #166, and throughout the month Charon QC has continued his wonderful (and scarily realistic) West London Man series, but I thought that, for the first time, I would give the coveted award to a family law blog. Jacqui Gilliatt at Bloody Relations hadn't posted since May, and I feared that her blog had fallen by the wayside like so many others, but she assures us she is back, and to prove it she has posted Gone, gone gone gone. Under the label 'positivity', the post lists some of the heroes that she has come across in her work, and should act as a clarion call for beleaguered members of the family justice system everywhere. Excellent stuff.

So, what prize should Jacqui receive? Well, at the end of a long day in court dealing with a public law matter, I'm sure a little alcohol wouldn't go amiss. In case Charon won this month I took the precaution of getting in a virtual case of Rioja, so that is now winging its way through the cloud to Jacqui G.