Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Key Failings Concealed?

Following on from the report "Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce", which I mentioned in this post, Frances Gibb of The Times has written a piece on reactions to the report, particularly from fathers. Unsurprisingly, she says that fathers are 'furious' at the findings of the report, particularly that courts are not biased in favour of residential parents. Also unsurprisingly, given the recent stance of The Times towards the family justice system, Gibb sides with the fathers, saying that the conclusions to the report "conceal key failings with the present system that give credence to the pain and anger felt by parents who cannot amicably agree contact arrangements over their child or children". She gives three reasons: firstly that fathers resent having to go to court in the first place to obtain what they feel should be their right; secondly contact orders may be made, but that contact may be "derisory", and thirdly courts still remain effectively powerless to ensure contact orders are complied with. I'll deal with each of these in turn.

I don't particularly like talking in terms of a parent's right to contact, but rather in terms of the child's right to have a meaningful relationship with both parents. Having said that, I agree with Gibb that we need to get away from the culture of the residential parent being able to dictate terms to the other parent. Gibb mentions the proposal that there should be a legal presumption of equal contact - something that I have indicated my agreement with here on a number of occasions. Once such a presumption became common knowledge it could change that culture, and reduce the need for many fathers to have to go to court.

Is contact often "derisory"? I agree that equal time spent with both parents is a rarity, but this is often for practical reasons, such as job commitments and distance. Gibb mentions a father who only sees his daughter every other weekend and considers this to be derisory, but such a contact arrangement is not at all unusual with a school age child, as it ensures that the child spends one weekend in two with each parent, and it is often not practical for there to be any midweek contact.

As to the courts being powerless to enforce contact orders, this has long been recognised and, as Gibb mentions, the courts will be given further powers this autumn, when the new contact enforcement provisions of the Children and Adoption Act 2006 come into effect. I fully accept that those provisions will not be a panacea to cure all ills, as I've stated before, but they will at least put more tools at the disposal of the court, and I think we should see how well they work before passing judgement.

(As has Gibb, I have used the word 'father' in this post to mean 'non-residential parent'.)

[Thanks to Current Awareness for drawing my attention to this article.]

Monday, September 29, 2008

F4J: New directions

Thanks to Current Awareness for pointing out this article in The Independent, setting out the new direction(s) that Fathers 4 Justice are apparently going to take. It seems that these will include Family Line, a telephone helpline aimed at mothers and fathers, and a lobbying group called Fathers' Union, which will be 'less anarchic' than F4J, and 'will bring political pressure on the Government to change the family courts system'.

Meanwhile, it seems that the torch of anarchy will pass to New Fathers 4 Justice, which has already hit the headlines for a controversial protest against "lesbo dads". Nice to see that some things don't change.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Conspiracy Theory

"I think the cat next door's losing it." Said Muhammad, casually washing his paw.

"Really?"

"He thinks the entire veterinary system is biased against cats."

"He does? Why?" I asked.

"The vet gave him the chop, but not his brother Rover."

"That scruffy dog?"

"Yes."

"But that was up to their owners, not the vet."

Muhammad winced at the use of the word 'owners' - he prefers 'keepers'. "I know that, and you know that," he said, wagging his tail irritably, "but he's convinced the vet is to blame, and that all vets are the same."

"But half of a vet's patients are cats - why would they be biased against cats?"

"Search me. Logic seems to have nothing to do with it. He thinks vets don't care about cats, and just treat them for the money."

"Well, I'm sure there are a few bad vets, just as in any profession, but you can't tar them all with the same brush."

"No. Do you know what he plans to do next?" Asked Muhammad, scratching his ear.

"What?"

"Set up a cats' rights group - 'Cats 4 Justice'. He intends to dress up as Top Cat and hold protests from the top of that tree in his garden. Their slogan will be: "A cat is for conception, not just for life"."

"You're right. He is losing it."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Courts Not Biased Shock

The findings of the report "Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce" may not make happy reading for fathers' rights groups, although perhaps they should. The report was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice (formerly the Department for Constitutional Affairs) in 2006, to examine the outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce, and was carried out independently by the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy, of the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, at the University of Oxford.

The full report comprises some 262 pages, but a 9-page 'Briefing Note' can be found here. The main element in the research was a detailed analysis of court files in 308 cases with a contact application in 2004, drawn from eleven courts. The applicants were almost all (289; 77%) non-resident parents, typically fathers (265). Key findings of the report included the following:
  • Outcomes were typically agreed. It was rare for the court to have to make a final ruling.
  • Most cases ended with face to face contact.
  • Non-resident parents were largely successful in getting direct contact where there had been none and in getting the type of contact sought.
  • Non-resident parents were almost twice as likely to succeed in getting the type of contact they wanted as resident parents who initially opposed staying, unsupervised contact or any contact.
  • There was no evidence that non resident parents as a group are systematically unreasonably treated by the family courts. On the contrary, the courts start from the position that contact is generally in the interests of the child, they make great efforts to achieve this and in most instances they are successful.
All of which confirms my own experience. Of course, there are instances in which the court gets it wrong, but these are few and far between. I am not for one moment suggesting that we should be complacent, but I'm not sure that any alternative system will be much more successful than the current one.

[Thanks to the ever-vigilant Current Awareness for bringing this to my attention.]

Ancillary Relief Notes

A couple of things of note for family lawyers in the Gazette this week:

Firstly, an example of the application of Crossley, in the case of S v S (2008): Fam Div. I won't go into the details of this one, but suffice to say that the court found that an agreement reached between the parties prior to the wife issuing her application for ancillary relief was a factor of such 'magnetic importance' that it should dominate the discretionary process under MCA s.25. Accordingly, the court gave directions for the husband's notice to show cause why an order should not be made in the terms of the agreement to be determined at the next hearing. Something tells me that the issuing of such notices will become more frequent...

Secondly, there is an interesting article by District Judge Tromans on the subject of 'adding back', where one party to the marriage dissipates family assets. Tromans quotes Mr Justice Bennett in Norris v Norris: "A spouse can, of course, spend his or her money as he or she chooses, but it is only fair to add back in to that spouse's assets the amount by which he or she recklessly depletes the assets and thus potentially disadvantages the other spouse within ancillary relief proceedings". However, Lord Justice Wilson in the Court of Appeal added two limiting caveats: that there had to be clear evidence of 'wanton dissipation' and, importantly, that the sum re-attributed to a party must not be treated as available for meeting that party's needs. The upshot of this, of course, is that adding back can only really result in a fair settlement where there are sufficient remaining assets.

* * * * *

UPDATE: S v S is being reported as W v H [2008] EWHC 2038 (Fam).

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

A Cautionary Tale

It is well known that a trap for all family lawyers is to become personally involved in their client's case. Feelings often run high, and the lawyer can be caught up in their client's emotions. It is of course absolutely essential that this is avoided, and the lawyer is able to give objective advice to their client. With some clients this can lead to them thinking that you do not care about their case, and you may have to reassure them that you do of course care, and that you have a professional interest in the outcome of the matter. In extreme circumstances, you may even have to cease to act if the client continually instructs you to take action that you have advised them against, if they have not already ceased instructing you. If that is the case, then so be it - professional integrity is everything, and the temptation to bolster fee income by continuing to act must of course be avoided. The client has come to you for your advice, and for their sake that advice must be unbiased, even if it is not what the client wants to hear.

The case of D.I v. S.I. from America seems to provide a cautionary tale as to what can go wrong if the lawyer loses his/her impartiality. The mother was refused leave to relocate with the children, and responded by applying for the judge to be recused on the grounds of bias. Her application was supported by a 53-page affidavit prepared by her attorney, and described as a "diatribe" against the court for rejecting her bid to relocate. In it, she accused the judge of punishing her on account of her Catholic upbringing and political ideology, while going to great lengths to favour her husband, a partner in a law firm. In a separate affidavit, she compared the proceedings to "a gang rape[] ... by a bunch of lawyers all sanctioned by the State of New York". The wife's attorney defended himself by maintaining that his actions fell within the "duty of zealous representation". Needless to say, the judge was not impressed, and he refused the recusal motion, and imposed a $2,500 sanction against the wife's attorney.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Contradiction

The Lawyer reports today that the credit crisis has sparked a rush on divorce proceedings, appearing to fly in the face of other evidence that the crisis is actually forcing more couples to stay together because they cannot afford to divorce. So, who is right? Well, my view is that if there has been a rush it is only amongst wealthy couples, where one spouse is looking to secure the family assets. Amongst those of more modest means, I suspect the truth is that the crisis is preventing them from separating, because they can't sell the matrimonial home and/or can't afford to live separately.

Living Together consultation paper

I've mentioned previously Resolution's 'Living Together' campaign, as part of which a Private Member's Bill will be introduced in the Autumn to give rights to couples who live together. Resolution has now published a consultation paper setting out the main issues that they wish to address in the Bill, and their proposals for dealing with them. Alongside this, they have put together an online consultation survey which you can use to respond (by 13 October 2008) to the issues and questions raised in the consultation paper.

S v S: Nothing Remarkable

As mentioned by Current Awareness, The Times reports today that the Court of Appeal has upheld the decision in S v S [2008] EWHC 519 (Fam), under the headline: "Ex-wife wins new home and £50,000 a year maintenance - for her horses". On the face of it, this seems to be a quite remarkable decision. I would suggest, however, that there is nothing particularly remarkable about the way in which the case was decided.

Briefly, the facts were that this was an eleven year childless marriage, in which the wife kept horses, almost as a substitute for children. The husband was an investment banker and his future earnings were assessed to be at least £160,000 per annum net. The wife earned just £12,000 per annum net. Agreement had been reached that the liquid assets (just under £3 million) and pensions (£350,000) would be divided equally, which would provide each party (after rehousing themselves) with a Duxbury income-producing fund. The wife estimated that her income needs were some £80,000, but she sought to purchase an expensive house in Gloucestershire with enough land for her two horses, which would mean that there would be a shortfall between her income and needs of about £50,000. She therefore sought maintenance to make up this shortfall. The husband accepted that this was an appropriate case for spousal maintenance, but disputed that the wife needed to purchase such an expensive property, thereby reducing her Duxbury fund, and increasing the amount of maintenance she required. At first instance, District Judge Segal found that it was reasonable for the wife to purchase a property suitable for keeping horses, and accordingly awarded her maintenance of £50,000 per annum. The husband appealed.

In the High Court, Sir Mark Potter dismissed the appeal, essentially finding that the District Judge's decision was perfectly within his wide discretion: "This was an unusual case, the result of which depended upon the particular position of a wife whose talent with, and love for, horses had during the marriage been a prominent and accepted feature of the parties' lives. In my view it was peculiarly one for the "feel" of the District Judge in the particular circumstances". He did, however, add a warning to the wife, saying that she "should realise that it would be both foolish and ill-advised not to start planning for her future now on the basis that, if the level of the husband's income drops substantially, and she wishes to retain her horses, she will need to devise her own ways and means of doing so".

Now the Court of Appeal has also approved the District Judge's decision.

I would suggest that the mistake to make with a case like this is to look at it from the outside and apply your own standards to it. The case must be viewed upon its own particular facts and, as Sir Mark stated, horses had been a prominent feature in the lives of both of these parties. It was therefore perfectly within the District Judge's discretion to find that her horses played a significant part in the wife's needs, provided, of course, that the funds remained available for her to keep them. As to the suggestion in The Times report that the case might open the floodgates for similar claims, I think not. This was an unusual case, as Sir Mark also pointed out, and any spouse making a similar claim would have a difficult task establishing a similar position to the wife in this case.

Smashing Katie

I've posted a number of times before about the growing cottage industry surrounding divorce, particularly in America, offering services from parties to celebrate your divorce to coffins in which to inter your wedding ring. Well, now I've come across Smashing Katie, a website devoted to selling a whole range of products designed to get you over your divorce or relationship breakdown. As they say: "Now friends no longer need to search the web for that one perfect gift to give or thought to share with a friend in need". Good news indeed, and yes, they do sell wedding ring coffins!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Elbow: Grounds for Divorce

I've been meaning to post this video for a while, although I'm not sure it's still cool, having appeared on The Andrew Marr Show this morning! I confess I'm not certain I fully understand the lyrics, but the line: "Mondays is for drinking to the seldom seen kid" will, I'm sure, strike an evocative chord with many absent fathers, and I like the song anyway:

I Am Not a Voyeur

Looking through the news this morning I came across a story of sordid allegations in a celebrity divorce case. Such stories are, of course, commonplace in the media, especially the more sensationalist branches of that august profession. I was tempted to write a post about the story, but then realised that I just didn't want to know what Mr and Mrs X had been getting up to in their private lives - if it doesn't affect anyone else then it is their business, and their business alone.

The problem for divorce lawyers, however, is that we often do have to delve into the personal lives of our clients. Sometimes this is unavoidable, for example in many children disputes, but the primary reason is that we still have a fault-based divorce system. I've long since lost track of the number of times that I've had to apologise to clients who want to remain on good terms with their spouse that the only way they can get a divorce at this time is by alleging that the breakdown of the marriage was entirely due to the fault of their spouse. This is particularly sad when there are children involved - the law that should be protecting those children is actually jeopardising the good relationship between their parents. The whole idea of fault-based divorce is archaic and anachronistic - how often is a marriage breakdown entirely due to the fault of one party, and even if it is, does this really matter?

My complaint about fault-based divorce is, of course, nothing new. The last Conservative government tried to introduce a no-fault system with the Family Law Act 1996, but they made such a complete hash of it that the project was shelved indefinitely. Unfortunately, the whole idea is now considered such a political hot potato that it is unlikely that there will be the will for any government to revisit the idea in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the present system will continue to cause unnecessary misery for divorcing couples and their children, and force divorce lawyers to waste their clients' precious resources dealing with matters that are really irrelevant to the main issue of sorting out arrangements for the future.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Seven CGT Traps to Avoid

Further to my post a couple of days ago, I have now completed my free one hour CPD course with the CPD Channel. I chose 'Seven CGT Traps for Family Practitioners to Avoid', by barrister Helen Conway, of India Buildings Chambers in Liverpool, because it is always useful to remind oneself of the oft-forgotten pitfalls of Capital Gains Tax. The course comprises a video of about 25 minutes, which you can watch again, and a ten page set of notes, which you can print. Once completed, you prove you have done the course by answering a few straightforward multiple-choice questions, whereupon you are sent a certificate for your CPD file.

So, what did I think of the course? Well, as Conway herself states, a brief lecture will not cover enough to make you confident to deal with such a complex topic yourself, but that is not the point of the course. The point of the course is to enable the practitioner to identify those occasions when they should seek the expert help of an accountant, and in this I think it is very successful. Most of us should have already come across this stuff before, but a lot of it crops up so rarely that it is easy to forget. The course provides a clear introduction to the subject for the inexperienced, and a useful revision for the experienced. Well worth the usual price of £35, and an absolute bargain for free!

If you've not yet had your free CPD hour, go to Insitelaw for details of how to get it.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Seen to be done

In July I reported on a series of articles in The Times about our so-called secret family courts. Well, now the paper has been granted the rare privilege of witnessing family justice from the bench, alongside a High Court judge. Legal Editor Frances Gibb spent time at the Royal Courts watching Mr Justice Hedley dispense what he himself admitted was sometimes 'rough and ready' justice.

Gibb's article makes fascinating reading, as she follows the cases coming before the court on a "typical vacation day", from a father who had not seen his children for two years to child abduction cases, to an intractable contact/residence dispute. Most interesting, however, are some of the comments of Mr Justice Hedley. He candidly admits that he must have made mistakes over 16 years’ judging, but that when he has been troubled over a decision, it had not been over removing a child from its parents, rather over returning the child to where it might be at risk: "an injustice to the parent, however grave, is probably less grave than returning a child to an environment where it is at risk". He also admits that the non-residential parent can be the loser in contact disputes: "One thing I am not prepared to do is to make children pay the price of their parents’ conflict. So if there are persistent rows when the child is handed over and the whole thing is misery for the child, that’s a factor with me and the loser is likely to be the non-residential parent".

Gibb accepts that the justice she witnessed "seemed fair", and Mr Justice Hedley agrees that it would be in judges' own interests for justice to be done in public as much as possible, but he draws the line in cases that attract "supporters’ clubs from hostile families". I think he has a point there...

[I did look at The Times law section this morning, but missed this article, so thanks once again to the eagle eyes of Current Awareness for pointing it out.]

In re X and Y (Bundles): A warning

I've been meaning to comment upon the case of In re X and Y (Bundles) [2008] EWHC 2058 (Fam) that was reported last month. I've posted before about the delights of preparing court bundles, and now Mr Justice Munby has issued a stern warning to the profession about the possible consequences of failure to comply with the 2006 Practice Direction.

Clearly frustrated by the "continuing failure" of the profession to comply, Mr Justice Munby explains that: "the purpose of the Practice Direction is not to make the lives of the judges easier. On the contrary, it is simply a reflection of the increasing burdens being imposed upon judges at all levels in the family justice system who, faced with ever-increasing and almost intolerably overloaded lists, are required ... to undertake a workload, much of it in their own time, which even their comparatively recent judicial ancestors would have found astonishing". Without naming names, he cites two cases of non-compliance, one in which "experienced family solicitors whose notepaper is festooned with the logos of virtually every relevant family law professional body or association" had prepared a bundle that was "lamentably deficient", and the other in which the bundle (also deficient) had been delivered to the court at 10.20 on the morning of the hearing, resulting in the hearing having to be adjourned.

Mr Justice Munby then sets out the possible sanctions for failure to comply with the Practice Direction, including orders for costs against the party in default or against the defaulting lawyers, having the case put back to the end of the list or adjourned, or, in "particularly egregious cases, defaulters may find themselves publicly identified in judgments delivered in open court". He finishes with the warning:

"It would not, in my judgment, be fair or just to expose a practitioner to this last sanction without fair public warning having been given that the sanction is available and that it may be applied in appropriate cases. I have therefore not identified anyone involved in either of the cases to which I have referred. But the professions have now been warned. Next time a defaulter may not be so lucky."

Obviously, the profession would be well advised to heed the warning, although preparing a bundle is an onerous task, and expensive for the client. I recently spent a lot of time preparing a bundle for a final ancillary relief hearing, only to have the matter settle at the last minute. I wasn't amused.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Free CPD via Insitelaw

Just a quick post to point out to anyone who doesn't know already that Insitelaw has arranged for anyone to try the CPD Channel's series of online courses for free, giving you one CPD hour free. The CPD Channel has a good range of courses, including family law courses. Go to Insitelaw for details on how to get your free CPD hour - you have nothing to lose!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pain in Spain

I was not convinced that the latest divorce statistics were proof that the credit crunch was responsible for more unhappy couples electing to remain together as they could not afford to divorce, because the statistics pre-dated the present economic downturn. Well, the Guardian reports today that more recent statistics from Spain certainly do indicate this worrying trend. In the first quarter of this year the number of divorces in that country fell by a remarkable 20%, compared with the same period last year. Will the trend be repeated in this country? If so, what untold misery will it cause for couples and their children (and no, I'm not going to make a joke about misery for divorce lawyers too)?

Contrition

My Dearest Geeklawyer,

Please accept my humblest apologies for my unpardonable failure to attend LawBlog 2008 last night. Unfortunately, the exigencies of making a meagre crust in these most difficult of times (and having to fit five days' work into a three day week) meant that I was unable to extricate myself from my workplace until such a late hour that my attendance at your illustrious gathering was no longer viable. Further, my efforts to get my work done so that I could leave on time only served to exhaust my feeble body, resulting in my having to retire to my bedchamber at 9 pm.

I realise that none of the above serves to excuse the inexcusable, and I ask your forgiveness for my pathetic inadequacies.

Your most humble servant,

Etc., etc...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Bizarre, Bad and Ironic

Three contrasting stories in the news:

First, a story that has already been picked up by the ever excellent Divorce Survivor. Hot on the heels of the travails of fathers' rights group Fathers 4 Justice, comes the news that charity Families Need Fathers are in 'turmoil', following its London branch organiser admitting writing a letter to a judge containing “false and defamatory allegations”, in an attempt to undermine a father’s custody case. The letter was written on an FNF letterhead and incorrectly alleged that the court had been deceived by the father. Quite bizarre, given the fact the the group are supposed to be helping fathers, and working against injustices in the family courts system.

Also reported in The Times, the second story returns me to the subject of sharia law. The paper reveals today that the "government has quietly sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence". The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal, which runs the sharia courts, has apparently taken advantage of a provision in the Arbitration Act 1996, under which the courts are classified as arbitration tribunals, the rulings of which are binding in law, provided that both parties in the dispute agree to give it the power to rule on their case. How many reasons are there for this being a bad idea? Firstly, a tribunal basing its decisions upon a work of fiction that is open to wildly differing interpretations. Secondly, arbitration should be voluntary - I can envisage many, especially women (who are likely to do less well than under English law), being forced by family or community to submit to the 'jurisdiction' of these tribunals. Thirdly, we cannot effectively have two separate legal systems - the law of the land must always be paramount.

Finally, Relate is celebrating its seventieth birthday this month. For a brief history of the organisation, see this page on their website - I particularly liked the irony of the picture of former patron Princess Diana outside a Relate office.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bad Advice

Here's a solution to that perennial problem: your spouse snoring (who says I don't give advice on this blog?). The "snore room" is a small room off of the marital bedroom with a single bed in it, to which you can retire if your spouse's snoring becomes too much for you.

Now, as a divorce lawyer I can't condone this idea. My real advice is to stay put in the marital bed until you can't stand your spouse's snoring any longer, then call your divorce lawyer.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Vogue

Well, it seems that I am becoming fashionable. For some reason, I don't usually read Vogue magazine, but according to this story in the Yorkshire Post, a divorce lawyer is the magazine's 13th most useful fashion accessory this season. "The new best friend: a good divorce lawyer: cometh the credit crunch, cometh the great settlement", says the editorial. Quite. So, forget about those Gucci shoes, or Prada's latest attire, and give your divorce lawyer a call. You know it makes sense.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Silicon Footprint

There is an article on divorce by Frances Gibb in the Times Online today. She picks up on the recent statistics indicating that the divorce rate is falling again, and speculates that the reasons for this are the credit crunch and high-profile awards in divorce cases. She might have a point so far as the latter is concerned (husbands staying married because they are worried about how much the divorce will cost them, and unable to rely upon prenuptial agreements), but the credit crunch hit after the statistics were compiled (of course, it may be reflected in future statistics). Another, more plausible, reason that she mentions for the drop is simply that fewer people are getting married, a point made by one of the commenters to this blog.

All of the above may be interesting, but what caught my eye in the article was the reference to a piece of software that "could revolutionise the way couples deal with each other over contact and handing-over arrangements". The "Footprint Evidence Tracker" is shortly to be launched by Durham Legal Services, and will help people sort out their child maintenance/contact problems themselves, by logging all arrangements in a virtual "diary" on a central server, so that any compliance problems can be logged by either parent, thereby avoiding acrimonious exchanges between the parents. The log could then be used as evidence in any future court proceedings. A fascinating idea, and one that I will no doubt return to, once the service is up and running.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Overreaction, or legitimate force?

The Telegraph today reports that the family of Mark Saunders are to take legal action against the police, claiming that he should not have been killed because he was using a shotgun loaded with pellets for hunting game and posed no "imminent threat". The police counter that the fact that nine officers fired their weapons at Saunders demonstrates that there was a widespread fear that he was threatening lives. So, police overreaction, or legitimate force? Hopefully, we will find out.

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

Monday, September 08, 2008

F4J to carry on?

Over the weekend Divorce Survivor asked whether it was correct that fathers' rights group Fathers 4 Justice is to close. Well, I'm not sure, but things may have become a little clearer today. This article in the Sun confirms that founder Matt O'Connor is leaving, but this article in the Plymouth Evening Herald indicates that co-founder Jolly Stanesby has no intention of closing the group down.

As far as I can see, there is no confirmation as yet on the group's website as to what exactly is going on.

* * * * *

UPDATE: I now have it on good authority that F4J is closing down, in its present form - see the comments to this post.

* * * * *

FURTHER UPDATE: Thanks to the commenter who points out that "key members" of Fathers 4 Justice are starting a new organisation that will be called New Fathers 4 Justice.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

LawLink

At their invitation, I've just joined LawLink, and had this blog added to their directory. LawLink describes itself as "the first and largest social network exclusively for attorneys in the United States", with over 4,000 members. Recently, however, it opened its doors to lawyers in this country. It maintains a directory of (currently) over 300 law blogs, although as far as I can see there are presently only two UK blawgs in the directory.

So, what services does LawLink provide? Well, firstly (and obviously), it provides a means to network with other lawyers through your profile, law groups and a forum. It also allows you to upload and share legal documents, advertise for free, and keep up with legal news and blogs. At present, it is very US-centric, but I expect that this will change as more lawyers from around the world join.

Joining is simple, and it's 100% free. What have you got to lose?

Friday, September 05, 2008

LHC Rap

I know physicists are getting excited about the Large Hadron Collider, but a rap?



Will they find the Higgs boson? Hopefully, we'll find out soon.

Child Maintenance Options

Thanks to Divorce Survivor for pointing out that the Child Maintenance Options site is now up and running. Child Maintenance Options is a service "providing impartial information and support to help both parents make an informed choice about child maintenance". It is run by the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, and includes a maintenance calculator, a private agreement form, leaflets and guides, and a benefits table.

Vanessa Lloyd Platt: No further action

... and thanks to The Blog about...Divorce for the news that the police will be taking no further action against Vanessa Lloyd Platt, due to insufficient evidence. I mentioned this story previously, in this post.

New Divorce Blog

New UK family law blogs are quite a rarity, so I'm pleased to announce one today. Divorce: The Blog about...Divorce (what else?) contains "regular comment on divorce and family law related news from Divorce-Online, the uncontested divorce service". I wish them well.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

More strains on the system

Following on from my previous post, the Gazette reports today that a large increase in the number of applications for children to be separately represented in private law family cases is putting a strain on resources. The number of applications increased from 1,035 in 2005/06 to 1,269 in 2007/08, according to statistics from CAFCASS. Anthony Douglas, chief executive of CAFCASS, warned that: "Unless there’s a higher political priority put on the family justice system, over the next 25 years these children’s needs won’t be met as they should be." Interestingly, Christina Blacklaws, of Blacklaws Davis LLP and Law Society council member for child law, believes that one factor behind the rise in applications was that increasing numbers of parents are either unable to find a legal aid lawyer or were ineligible for public funding. Yet another example of the legal aid cutback chickens coming home to roost?

Justice at Risk

It looks like even more misery is in store for court users, according to a 'leaked' letter sent to all judges and magistrates last Friday by Lord Justice Leveson, the senior presiding judge for England and Wales. The letter warns that a £90m "black hole" in the budget of the courts service could result in court sittings being cancelled, trials delayed and magistrates even made redundant. The crisis has apparently been caused by a sharp fall in fee income for the courts, blamed on a reduction in cases brought by Revenue & Customs for unpaid taxes and fewer care proceedings being issued by local authorities, following the introduction of full-cost fees last May.

I'm sure experience varies across the country, but in some areas courts are already barely functioning, with lengthening waits for hearings and delays in the processing of paperwork, due to chronic staff shortages. If things are going to get even worse, then justice really will be at risk.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

All the blawgs... on one page

I've got to give this a mention. Charon QC has created a Pageflakes page for UK law blog feeds, including the three most recent posts on each blog. An epic task, this will enable us all to quickly keep up with what blawgers (and others) are saying. A compulsory addition to your bookmarks/favorites, I think.

Naked English Maids

Yes, I thought that headline would grab your attention, but it's not what you think. It's time for another quick question-and-answer session, this based on keyword activity over the last couple of days. As always, my disclaimer in the sidebar applies to what follows.

can a father be forced to see his children

No. See this post.

am i entitled to csa when claiming income support

Yes, but only up to a maximum of £10 a week of the child support, £20 from 27th October.

quickie divorce

There is no such thing - see this post.

am i liable to pay spousal maintenance to my ex

There is no quick answer to this, other than 'you could be'. Having said that, long-term spousal maintenance is quite rare, and usually only made where the receiving spouse will never be in a position to maintain themselves, for example due to age or disability.

how to stop csa liability order committed to prison

There is little that can be done to stop a liability order - the court must make the order if you are in arrears with payments of child support. As to stopping yourself from being committed to prison, I suggest making an offer to pay.

are prenuptial agreements legal in the uk?

No, in the sense that they are not enforceable. However, they are one of the factors that the court may take into account when deciding the financial/property settlement on divorce.

csa give up work

I presume you are considering giving up work to avoid child support liability. Why? They are your children too.

my son drives my car

Really? How interesting.

how to speed up decree absolute process

Normally, the petitioner must wait until six weeks have elapsed since the pronouncement of the decree nisi before applying for the decree absolute. It is, however, possible to ask the court to expedite the decree absolute in exceptional circumstances, for example where a child will be born to one of the parties before the six weeks have elapsed, and that party wishes to remarry before the birth.

residency order mum move house responsibility drop off

I think this is asking who should be responsible for dropping the children off for contact, if the parent with whom the children live moves away from the area. If so, there is no hard and fast rule, but if a long distance is involved the court might want the travelling to be shared by the parents, rather than all done by the non-residential parent.

bankruptcy and common law wife

I'm not entirely sure what the question is here, but the basic position is that property rules apply - i.e. the bankrupt's creditors can only recover against his assets, not the assets of his partner (or, indeed, wife). If one of those assets is the family home, then it depends upon who it belonged to - if in joint names, then the creditors can only go against the bankrupt's share in the property (which may, of course, force a sale). Note that there are rules against transferring assets to a partner to avoid them being used to pay creditors.

husband tea towel

What, you treat him like a tea towel, or you want to buy a tea towel for him? If the former, then that sounds like unreasonable behaviour. If the latter, then I'm afraid I can't assist.

Finally, someone who may have been seeking a very different kind of site:

naked english maids

Where?

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Blame it on the genes

Well, this could be yet more bad news for divorce lawyers. Scientists have discovered a "divorce gene", which is linked to an increased risk of relationship breakdown. The bad news, though, is that the "discovery raises the possibility that scientists could one day develop drugs to target the gene in an attempt to prevent marriages from falling apart". Oh brilliant, just what we need.

Monday, September 01, 2008

August Post of the Month

August is, of course, a quiet time in the legal world, with lawyers sipping their cocktails at far-flung locations around the globe, and the blogosphere is no exception. Some of us, however, have remained at the coal-face, and one such is the incomparable Charon QC, who has continued to entertain us with his glorious series, West London Man, "a modern Rake's progress following the social atrocities of a West London Man over the course of the English social season and beyond". Accordingly, this month's award goes not just to one post (but if I had to choose one it would be the hilarious Upwardly beautiful and officialdom), but to a whole series of posts, which expose the awful realities of upper middle class life today.

As we speak the prize of a virtual case of the best Rioja virtual money can buy is being loaded on to a virtual Thames barge, which will be delivering it to Charon QC's floating staterooms.