Thursday, April 30, 2009
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
These four lines" he said "seem to me to give a clear warning to parents who, post separation, continue to fight the battles of the past, and show each other no respect."
Let us hope that more parents heed the warning.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
1. Judges and magistrates are wicked evil people who will do anything to thwart the wishes of parents.
2. Lawyers are biased in favour of mothers, a fact that they hide from their father clients.
3. CAFCASS officers are incompetent, and will conceal evidence from parties if it suits their ends.
4. Social workers are politically motivated people who will do everything in their power to ensure that children are taken away from their parents.
5. Expert witnesses neither know nor care what they are talking about.
There, the truth is out. Now can we please just carry on as normal?
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
What has happened on the ground? Well, not a lot, apparently. The Times does appear to have sent a reporter to every family court, and certainly Camilla Cavendish sat in on a hearing yesterday, but Lucy Reed at Pink Tape and other family lawyers have reported very little media interest in their activities.
As to the response of the media themselves, this seems to have continued to be almost exclusively negative. Take, for example, this article that appeared in The Guardian today (hat-tip to Jailhouselawyer). Complaining about the continued reporting restrictions, Afua Hirsch said: "At the moment, the presence of the media is only marginally better than pointless."
Doubtless I will be returning to this subject (as, I'm sure, will the campaigners who wish to fully open the family courts), but for the moment at least it seems that very little has changed. Certainly, as The Telegraph said today, yesterday was not "a red letter day in the history of the Family Courts."
Monday, April 27, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
My first example has been an all too frequent visitor to my desk, used by aggressive solicitors, often who specialise in general litigation rather than family law. They think that my client has done something he/she shouldn't have done, or has failed to do something they should have done. Accordingly, the letter comes to me threatening to take proceedings against my client and to seek an order that my client "be condemned in costs". Pardon? Condemned? Have these dinosaurs never heard of Resolution or the Family Law Protocol? They obviously want to scare my client into acquiescence, but they have a complete disregard for the long-term effect of such language upon my client and the prospects of reaching an amicable settlement. Please, people, language like this belongs to a (thankfully) bygone era.
In a comment to this post I was asked what I feel about the reform and my reply was: "Personally, I'm not convinced either that the courts should be opened up at the behest of the media, or that these reforms will make much difference. The proof, as ever, will be in the eating." Yes, it is probably true that public confidence in the family justice system is at a low, but this is only because of a sustained campaign by the media and others, such as fathers' rights groups. As someone who works within the system, I do not witness such cause for concern (although I do have some worries, such as delay in the system). That is not to say that we should be complacent - I'm sure that the system could be improved, and we should constantly be seeking ways of achieving this. However, my experience is of seeing dedicated, highly motivated professional people doing their best for those unfortunate enough to be caught up within the system, especially the children, and of good results being achieved in the vast majority of cases. Of course, there are people who the system has failed, but this would probably be the case with any system - not that we should give up the hope of finding a 'perfect' system.
As to whether or not the reform will make a difference, both the media and Resolution have already expressed substantial reservations, and I agree with many of those. The same severe limits upon what can be reported remain, which makes the purpose of the whole exercise somewhat dubious, and in any event, the media will not be the slightest bit interested in the vast majority of cases. It has also worryingly been suggested that the reforms may lead to more litigation - the very last thing we want, particularly in children cases. The ultimate rationale for the reform is of course that, with more media involvement, the public will be better informed and the system will be improved. I'm not at all sure that either of these aims will be achieved.
Whatever transpires, one thing is clear: the system is going to be under the microscope like never before, if only to see how the new rules work.
If you want to know the detail of the changes, you will find the Rules here and here, the Practice Directions here and here and the President's Guidance here.
Friday, April 24, 2009
FAMILY COURTS: NEW RULES WON’T CREATE OPEN, TRANSPARENT SYSTEM
New rules to open family courts to the media rushed in by the government represent a missed opportunity to allow thorough and effective public scrutiny, family lawyer’s group Resolution warned today, as it called for the establishment of a Family Courts’ Inspectorate.
From Monday accredited journalists will be allowed to attend divorce, custody and care proceedings, unless the court has specifically excluded them. But the new rules still will not allow journalists to report on what they hear in court and cases not considered newsworthy will be completely without public scrutiny.
“These changes simply tinker at the edges of the issue and have created a system which could well make matters worse when members of the public and press realise that details of cases cannot be made public,” said Andrew Greensmith, Resolution’s spokesperson on family court transparency.
“Greater openness and transparency has an important part to play in ensuring public confidence in the family court system, but simply allowing the media to sit in on cases is not enough. The new rules need to be extended to allow journalists to report what they see and hear in court, providing the identity of the families involved is protected.
“Resolution is calling on the government to set up a ‘Family Courts’ Inspectorate’, made up predominantly of lay people, which could act as an effective guardian of standards in the family courts. Otherwise the risk is that only those cases that are ‘newsworthy’ will be subject to any public scrutiny,” said Andrew Greensmith.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
I'm afraid that I have not always been particularly meticulous in my application of herbicide, and this may have encouraged the spammer. Accordingly, I will hereafter delete any comment that looks to me as if it may be spam. If you left the comment and it was not spam, let me know and I will reinstate it. I may also 'name and shame' regular perpetrators. I do not want to turn on comment moderation (I think commenters like to see their comments appear instantly), but I will do so if I have to.
OK, rant over.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
DIVORCE LAWS: FIT FOR A TUDOR KING BUT NOT FOR THE 21ST CENTURY?
500 years after Henry VIII became king, divorce laws in England and Wales still need radical reform, a group of family lawyers said today.
As England’s most notorious divorcee, Henry VIII radically altered the religious, political and social makeup of the country in order to divorce Catherine of Aragon. Half a millennium later, with divorce now a common and accepted part of modern Britain, things are a bit easier for couples wanting to divorce, but they nonetheless have to point the finger of blame, or accept the burden of blame in order to get a divorce – something that leading lawyers say is outdated and gets in the way of constructive solutions.
“Anyone not wanting to wait two years or more for a divorce has to prove ‘unreasonable behaviour’ or adultery on the part of their husband and wife. Although for some couples this is appropriate, for many it simply adds animosity and more heartache to an already distressing process,” said Nicholas Longford, Chair of Resolution which represents over 5500 family lawyers in England and Wales.
“We want to see a radical overhaul of the current system to allow couples who have come to the end of the road with their marriage to divorce amicably and harmoniously without being forced to blame the other spouse.”
Resolution is calling for a new system whereby couples not wanting to prove adultery or unreasonable behavior can divorce on the grounds of “irretrievable breakdown” of their marriage after six months.
Nicholas Longford concluded. “Whilst not quite like the hoops that Henry VIII had to jump through almost 500 years ago, the current system is nonetheless outdated and is convoluted for couples wanting an amicable divorce. We sincerely hope the government will act swiftly and decisively to bring divorce laws into the 21st century. ”
I have, however, enjoyed Twitter as a place of amusement. Highlights have included the surreal evening when @Charonqc invaded France, conversing with a gorilla and a pretend divorce for a pretend marriage. If you don't already tweet (and if you think your sanity can stand it), then have a go at Twitter. Just don't expect to get much work done.
Monday, April 20, 2009
A cynic may say that journalists would criticise the measures unless they completely opened up the family courts to the media. After all, there is hardly anyone more full of their own self-importance than a journalist (with the possible exception of a politician). Surely, as Berlin implies, the public's 'right to know' is more important than the interests of the children?
Of course, I'm not a cynic. Am I?
What prompted me to write this post, however, was not so much the rarity of nullity, but the wording of the decree itself, which I had forgotten. After certifying that the decree nisi was made absolute it states that: "...the said Petitioner was from that date and is free from all bond of marriage with the said Respondent." Good to see that we still have a place for archaic language in our family justice system.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Monday, April 13, 2009
- Due to time constraints, I will no longer be doing my weekly podcast summary of the week's family law news, The Week in Focus. I will, however, continue to do podcast interviews, and I may also do one-off podcasts dealing with issues of special interest. Of course, if you want to keep up with family law news on a weekly basis, you may subscribe to the Family Lore Focus Newsletter.
- On the subject of the Newsletter, that will now be going out on Mondays or, if the Monday is a Bank holiday, on the Tuesday. Hopefully, it will not now get lost in the avalanche of spam emails that so many of us have the pleasure of receiving over the weekend!
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Thursday, April 09, 2009
1. Easter Bunnies - Frisky and Fecund
Happily, most of the UK family law blogs that I reviewed last year continue to thrive, and produce regular and original content. Take the Marilyn Stowe Blog for example. Marilyn (with her guest bloggers) continues to write frequent high-quality posts on serious legal topics, such as the recent Paulin case, Mesher and Martin orders and Financial Dispute Resolution appointments. Add this blog to your feed, if you've not done so already.
Another equally active blog is Pink Tape, written by barrister Lucy Reed - at least, it is active again now that Lucy has returned to work following the birth of her son. With a sprinkling of humour, Lucy enlightens us with her inner thoughts on matters such as criticisms of the family justice system, what she might do if the legal aid reforms make it financially impossible to continue practising at the family law bar and whether or not a barrister has a duty to the child(ren) in a case.
Bloody Relations is perhaps not as fecund as it once was, but I will forgive author Jacqui Gilliatt, as she now spends much of her time writing and editing the Family Law Week blog. Between the two, her output is substantial (in both senses of the word), with the Family Law Week blog concentrating (not unsurprisingly) on legal news and Bloody Relations being reserved for more personal comment, such as this recent post on the effect of the proposed fee cuts in family cases.
Over at Judith's Divorce Blog, Judith Middleton continues to post in her own unique quirky style, both delighting and amusing. Take, for example, this post inspired by a simple trip to the supermarket, or this one, about a complete communication breakdown between solicitor and client. Somewhat less frivolous, the Benussi Blog continues to give discreet but useful advice to those going through divorce and matrimonial difficulties, such as this recent post upon the effects of the credit crunch, and this post advising upon how to stave off a divorce.
Divorce Survivor appears to remain, remarkably, the only Scottish family law blog (come on you Scottish family lawyers - haven't you heard of the internet?), where 'Fiona' continues to plough her lonely furrow. Not that she needs any support - her blog does a very good job of keeping us up to date with developments in family law and related issues, on both sides of the border.
What of newcomers? Well, there are two that I will mention in this section. Firstly, Divorce Manual, by Natasha Phillips. As the name implies, the blog does contain a manual, full of tips and advice for litigants in person. The Times newspaper no less describes the site as "packed with resources for families going through the Family Courts in the UK", and says that: "The advice is balanced and helpful and the site is unique; there is an actual manual you can access with information even lawyers don't offer about the process." Clearly getting the blogging bit between her teeth, Natasha has recently branched out into podcasting.
The other newcomer is something quite different. The Story of Mennard is written by an anonymous solicitor-turned-barrister and details, in a completely unique 'stream of consciousness' style, his experiences representing clients in family matters. The blog has only been going since February, but has already attracted 21 followers - clearly, another one to add to your feed.
2. Easter Eggs - Commercialised, but still nice
In this section, I will mention what I call 'commercial blogs', i.e. blogs that are strongly linked to the service that the blogger provides. A cynic might call them 'advertisement blogs', but there are no rules against such things in the blawgoshere and, for the most part, these blogs contain genuine content of interest to many.
Take, for example, the Ancillary Actuary, run by Bradshaw Dixon & Moore Ltd, who provide "actuarially-based professional services to solicitors and other legal advisors". They don't post often, but when they do they provide substantive expert comment in the difficult and oft-misunderstood (by divorce lawyers, anyway) area of pensions and divorce. An excellent example of this was the series of posts they did on why wives lose out, which can be found here, here and here.
Meanwhile, over at Divorce-Online, Mark Keenan has not one but two blogs. The first of these, chronologically at least, was Divorce: The Blog about...Divorce (what else?), which has been posting enlightening and amusing comment since last August. It has recently been joined by The Divorce-Online Blog, which now has the majority of the content, although Mark will be retaining Divorce : The Blog about…Divorce for more personal comment.
Other examples of the 'commercial blog' genre include Family-Lawfirm.co.uk, by online divorce firm Woolley & Co., and Family Law at Lawson West LLP by, unsurprisingly, Lawson-West LLP.
Finally, marginally staying out of the next section, is Family Law Matters, run by Jo Spain of Spain Williams LLP. Unfortunately, Jo has not exactly been posting prolifically of late (probably something to do with having real work to do), but I hope that she finds time to continue the blog.
3. In Need of Resurrection
The following blogs appear to be moribund (but I would love to be proved wrong):
- DivorceSolicitor - a sad loss, if Lynne Bastow has stopped posting.
- Laws of Love - it started, it stopped, it started and it stopped again.
- Child Lawyer - nothing since last July.
- Clarendon Chambers - R.I.P.
- Familybubble - a great idea, but perhaps too ambitious?
[On this occasion, modesty prevents me from including the blog you are presently reading in this review. Otherwise, if I have omitted any UK family law blogs, do please let me know. Once again, I hope that I have not offended anybody by my comments or omissions.]
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Law and More is an "independent career and lifestyle site aimed solely at the legal profession", including employment, entertainment and lifestyle sections.
Tuesday, April 07, 2009
On the face of it, this measure appears to be a significant victory for those, such as fathers' rights groups, who have been campaigning for years to open up the family courts, yet I doubt that many of the campaigners will be satisfied that the reform goes far enough. Indeed, the power of the court to restrict attendance could, in practice, mean that there is actually very little change after the 27th April - we shall have to see. On the other hand, senior family lawyers, including Mr Justice Hedley, have expressed their concerns at the unseemly haste with which the measure has been pushed through. Has the Justice Secretary skilfully found a solution that will satisfy none of the interested parties?
One thing is clear, as a blogger I will not be entitled to attend family courts. I, at least, am not dissatisfied with that.
Monday, April 06, 2009
Sunday, April 05, 2009
Obviously, the above video is no longer available, but I believe it was of this speech by the great Christopher Hitchens:
Saturday, April 04, 2009
The Week in Focus 4th April 2009
Stories/cases/posts referred to in this podcast:
Family courts in ‘unseemly gallop’ to open to press - Law Gazette
Jacqui Gilliatt, Barrister, on the problems arising out of the reduction of legal aid in family cases.
Cat and Mouse: The consultation over the future of family legal aid - Family Law Week
Myerson v Myerson  EWCA Civ 282
Lord Justice Thorpe warns lawyers not to apply to vary divorce settlements - Family Law Newswatch
Family Lore: Myerson: Not difficult
Benussi Blog: Why more divorcing couples are no longer settling out of court
Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce & Family Law Blog: The Downside of Practicing Family Law
Thursday, April 02, 2009
Before going into the detail of the judgment, however, a brief look at the facts. The husband is a fund manager, whose assets consisted of a very substantial share holding and various properties. On the 28th February 2008 a settlement was reached at a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing. Of the assets then valued at £25.8 million, it was agreed that the wife would receive £11 million (43%) and the husband would retain £14.5 million (57%). The order giving effect to the settlement was made on the 19th March 2008. A property worth £1.5 million was transferred to the wife, and she was to receive the balance of £9.5 million by way of a first instalment of £7 million due on the 3rd April 2008 and four further instalments of £625,000 on the 3rd April in each of the following four years. The £7 million instalment was paid, leaving the balance of £2.5 million outstanding.
Then the recession hit. The husband's shares plummeted in value from £2.99 each at the date of the settlement to just 27.5 pence each in March this year. The effect of this, according to the husband's counsel, was that if the settlement was implemented, the husband's assets would be minus £539,000 and the wife's plus nearly £11 million. The husband therefore appealed the order, asserting that forces within the global economy and the collapse in the share price had rendered the order "both unfair and unworkable", and contending that the events were sufficiently dramatic to fall within the principles set out in Barder.
To recap, the Barder principles were set out in that case by Lord Brandon:
"A court may properly exercise its discretion to grant leave to appeal out of time from an order for financial provision or property transfer made after a divorce on the ground of new events, provided that certain conditions are satisfied. The first condition is that new events have occurred since the making of the order which invalidates the basis, or fundamental assumption, upon which the order was made, so that, if leave to appeal out of time were to be given, the appeal would be certain, or very likely, to succeed. The second condition is that the new events should have occurred within a relatively short time of the order being made. While the length of time cannot be laid down precisely, I should regard it as extremely unlikely that it could be as much as a year, and that in most cases it will be no more than a few months. The third condition is that the application for leave to appeal out of time should be made reasonably promptly in the circumstances of the case."Since Barder, there have been more than a dozen reported cases in which the principles have been applied, but only in Cornick v Cornick (1994) 2 FLR 530 did the applicant rely upon a dramatic fluctuation in share prices (albeit then an upward fluctuation - how times change). In that case, it was clearly stated by Hale J that where: "An asset which was taken into account and correctly valued at the date of the hearing changes value within a relatively short time owing to natural processes of price fluctuation" ... "The court should not then manipulate the power to grant leave to appeal out of time to provide a disguised power of variation which Parliament has quite obviously and deliberately declined to enact". It was therefore clear that the husband's appeal should be dismissed. However Lord Justice Thorpe found four other reasons for refusing relief:
1. The settlement was agreed by the husband, with all his knowledge and experience.
2. The husband sought the repayment of all or part of the first instalment of the lump sum in exchange for transferring to the wife an unspecified number of his shares: "When a businessman takes a speculative position in compromising his wife's claims, why should the court subsequently relieve him of the consequences of his speculation by re-writing the bargain at his behest?"
3. He still has the opportunity to turn the business around (he has apparently been making statements to this effect to the press).
4. He has already made an application to vary the future instalments, both as to quantum and timing which, given that the outstanding instalments amount to £2.5 million, would give him "much more than token relief".
A spokesman for the husband has indicated that he intends to take his appeal to the House of Lords. Given all of the above, the prospects of such an appeal succeeding look very slim indeed.
It has been suggested by family lawyers that this decision will 'head off' the 'deluge' of similar applications by bankers and traders hit by the recession. We shall have to see.
And what do I think? Well, firstly the principle that capital orders should be final remains intact (save, of course, for the limited powers to vary under s. 31 MCA) and secondly, it appears to me that, at the time of the settlement, Mr Myerson got what then must have looked a pretty good deal. He retained more than 50% of the assets (when surely Mrs Myerson could have claimed entitlement to a full 50% - it was, after all, a long marriage), on a clean break basis. Presumably, he could have sold his shares immediately after the settlement, but instead he chose not to, continuing to speculate in the financial market. That market could have gone up, in which case he would now be 'sitting pretty' - would he have then gone back to his (ex) wife and offered her more? I think not. He took the risk of the market and lost - why should Mrs Myerson have to pay for that?
...and here is a video of an altogether different kind. Actress Keira Knightley features in a powerful film for Women's Aid's latest campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence. She is seen arriving home to be assaulted by her partner. The assault continues and as the camera pans back to show the whole film set the caption is: "Isn't it time someone called cut?"
UPDATE: Here is the movie, now on YouTube:
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
The prize of a virtual Moniak Mead x 12 is, as we speak, heading for Geeklawyer's not-so-humble abode - just don't put it on one of your home-made shelves, GL!
WARNING: Blawg Review #203 is probably not office safe. Well, not unless you work in that kind of office.
ARS sets out its aims thus:
- To promote extra excellence within the profession;
- To reassure the public that the profession continues to take meaningful steps to raise standards;
- To provide further bureaucracy, to keep solicitors busy in these hard times; and
- For the sake of the environment, to ensure that no space is wasted on solicitors' letterheads.