Plenty of family law-related news and comment in the papers this morning.
First up, we have Libby Purves (left) in The Times discussing the 'news' that more couples are entering into pre-nuptial agreements. I don't necessarily take exception to her basic point which seems to be that drawing up a pre-nup may just encourage couples to face up to some of the practical realities of marriage. However, there are a few things she says with which I do take exception. Firstly, she suggests that the courts have been ignoring pre-nups. Now, by 'ignore' she may have meant 'not followed', but the way it is written implies 'disregard'. The courts do not (or at least should not) disregard pre-nups - it has been the case for some time that pre-nups should be one of the circumstances that the courts should take into account when deciding a financial/property settlement. Secondly, she goes on to say that "the British divorce courts, sweet romantics, have enabled too much greed and injustice at every financial level". Really? I've not seen this, in some 25 years of practising - the courts are trying to create a fair settlement for both parties, obviously with particular regard to the welfare of any children. In any event, the courts are only applying the law as given to them by Parliament 40 years ago, so don't blame the messenger. Finally, Purves indicates that since 1969 we have had "no fault" divorce. She puts the words in inverted commas, but nevertheless this is just plain wrong and misleading. As I'm sure she well knows, we do not have a no-fault system, at least until the parties have been separated for two years.
Moving on, there are two other pieces in The Times, both relating to the issue of the opening up of the family courts. One article is by Sarah Harman, who argues that expert opinions in family courts should be open to objective scrutiny. I agree, subject to privacy safeguards, where required, although I'm not sure who will be doing the scrutinising - hopefully, not the media. In her concluding paragraph Harman states that: "There is still huge opposition throughout the legal and social work professions to more transparency in the family courts, most of which is due to self-interest." I find the self-interest allegation to be a cheap media swipe at all those caring and hard-working people who work in the family justice system, the vast majority of whom object to more transparency for genuine reasons relating to the welfare of the children, rather than out of self interest.
The other piece in The Times reports the concerns that the Family Justice Council have over the proposed opening up of the family courts, in particular the potential for “naming and shaming” of social workers. I agree that this is a very serious matter (social workers are under more than enough pressure as it is), and I share the concerns that the proposals may be being pushed through too quickly, without proper consideration for their consequences. I note, incidentally, that the ubiquitous Marilyn Stowe appears in this report too, making the point that the reporting of judgments in family proceedings should be sufficient to lift the secrecy of family courts.
Lastly, and on a lighter note, I am indebted once again to John Hirst of Jailhouselawyer's Blog for bringing my attention to this story, that appeared in the Telegraph this morning. Milton Mbhele (left), a 44 year-old South African, has married four brides simultaneously. I wish them all well, although if it goes wrong, I wouldn't like to be his divorce lawyer sorting out the mess...