Friday, December 31, 2010

Old John's Almanac 2011

As usual, my predictions for 2010 were entirely accurate, so here are my predictions for 2011:

January - London law firm Pimp & Pimp commission a survey into the reasons for so many people getting divorced in January. The results show that the most common reason is: "Mind your own business."

February - Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly gives a speech promoting family mediation.

March - In a further cost-cutting measure, the Government abolishes legal aid for everything except MPs charged with fraudulently claiming expenses.

April - The royal marriage is delayed after Prince William forgets to sign the pre-nuptial agreement. Elsewhere, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly gives a speech promoting family mediation.

May - President of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall is lynched when, in a speech to fathers' rights group The Real Families Need Fathers 4 Justice, he suggests that sometimes fathers "can be their own worst enemies".

June - Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly gives a speech promoting family mediation, while a new survey shows that more law firms than ever are commissioning surveys to promote their businesses.

July - Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith comes up with his latest idea to stop couples separating: handcuffing them together. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly gives a speech promoting family mediation.

August - Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly doesn't give a speech promoting family mediation, as he's on holiday.

September - The first popular online petition is debated in Parliament and the House overwhelmingly votes for Jeremy Clarkson to be made PM. Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly gives a speech promoting family mediation.

October - Prime Minister Clarkson decrees that all wives should stay at home and 'make themselves pretty' for their husbands. The divorce rate suddenly soars...

November - A new survey shows that only 1% of the population give a damn about surveys. Meanwhile, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly gives a speech promoting family mediation.

December - Facebook is recognised in the New Year's honours list for its services to divorce lawyers, and Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly is recognised for his services to speeches promoting family mediation.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

News Brief: Shock treatment

The Telegraph reports the latest wheeze of Iain Duncan Smith in his on-going campaign to cure all of society's ills by making couples stay together:

"Parents who are on the brink of splitting up could be told to “walk through” the impact that divorce would have on their children under a radical plan being considered by ministers."

The idea, it seems, is to 'shock' couples into thinking again before separating. Apparently, IDS has been studying a similar scheme in Norway where:

"The policy has been credited with reversing Norway’s trend for rising divorce rates and halting the decline of marriage in the country over the past 15 years."

... which will be music to his ears. The only problem, as the Telegraph points out, is where the money is going to come from for such a state-sponsored education programme.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Divorce & Separation Moneymadeclear

This looks like a useful resource. Moneymadeclear, the financial information service from the Consumer Financial Education Body has a microsite dedicated to providing impartial financial information for those going through separation or divorce. The site contains all sorts of practical financial advice, ranging from costs, through maintenance to dividing property. It even includes a 'Divorce and Separation Calculator', which will help you to 'draw up a budget; work out what you have and what you owe; and look at how you might split what you have', although I've not tried it out.

[Thanks to Divorce Saloon for the heads-up on this.]

Internet perils

Two internet-related divorce stories in the news:

Firstly, the Telegraph (and others) reports that a husband in America who suspected his wife was having an affair faces up to five years in jail after reading her emails without her permission. As the Telegraph states: "With nearly half US divorce cases involving some form of privacy invasion such as the reading of text messages or social networking web pages, the case could have significant legal repercussions." Brings to mind Tchenguiz v Imerman...

On a slightly lighter note, a divorced woman in China has had her claim to a share of virtual assets she earned with her former husband in an online game refused by the court, as the 'assets' had no real monetary value. Perhaps the least surprising thing about this story is that the couple were granted a divorce after they each accused the other of neglecting housework...

Monday, December 27, 2010

Review of the Year 2010

Now that the horrors of Xmas are behind us, it's time for another seasonal tradition: the annual retrospective.

The year began with the announcement of the Family Justice Review, which will 'examine the effectiveness of the family justice system and the outcomes it delivers, and ... make recommendations for reform'. The Review Panel is due to publish its final set of proposals as an interim report, in the spring.

Meanwhile, worrying news for divorce lawyers: we were informed that the divorce rate had fallen to its lowest in 29 years.

To compliment that last item, February brought us the news that marriage rates were the lowest since they were first calculated in 1862.

There was no shortage of care applications, however, with a rise of 43% in 2009, this largely being the cause of Cafcass being in 'meltdown', according to a report by Napo.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the Court of Appeal in Agbaje v Akinnoye-Agbaje, a decision described as confirming London as the divorce capital of the world, although I doubt that the wife saw it that way.

Despite the best efforts of former Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Jack Straw, Sir Nicholas Wall was sworn in as the new President of the Family Division, replacing Sir Mark Potter.

Meanwhile, the election got under way, with the Conservative manifesto including 'a flagship pledge to give tax breaks of up to £150 a year to married couples to encourage stability'. I wonder what happened to that promise?

In May we got a new government, although it would take a few months to feel the full impact of the change. Michael Gove was appointed Education Secretary and immediately ditched Labour's re-branding of his department, so that the Department for Children, Schools and Families would once again be known as the Department for Education. Meanwhile, in his first official speech as Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg announced the Government's plans to scrap the controversial children's database ContactPoint.

The new government orders the Munro Review, an independent review of child protection and social work in England, and announces a 'fundamental look' at the legal aid system, more of which later.

The family law supplier base was ‘decimated’ by the ‘shock’ outcome of the Legal Services Commission’s tender for civil legal aid work, but far worse was to come...

The Court of Appeal ruled in Tchenguiz v Imerman that that the Hildebrand rules, which enabled a wife or husband to secretly obtain, copy and use each others' documents in divorce proceedings, have "no basis in law" and are unlawful, a decision described as a 'cheat's charter'.

In one of the most moving law reports of the year, Judge Clifford Bellamy, adopting the 'poignant descriptive words' of Munby J (as he then was) in Re D (Intractable Contact Dispute: Publicity), began his judgment in Warwickshire County Council v TE & Ors with the words: "On 21 July 2010 a wholly deserving father left my court in tears having been driven to abandon his battle to implement an order which I had made on 4th January 2010 that his son, S, now aged 12, should move to live with him."

The Law Society won its High Court challenge to the Legal Services Commission’s family tender process. It would turn out to be a hollow victory...

In a speech to Families Need Fathers Sir Nicholas Wall attacked parents who use their children as 'ammunition' in separations.

October finally saw family lawyers across the country hyperventilating over the case they had been waiting for for so long: Radmacher v Granatino, in which the Supreme Court decided that the Court of Appeal was correct to hold the husband to the pre-nuptial agreement made by the parties.

Meanwhile, in the 'bonfire of the quangos', the government announced that the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission and the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority were to be scrapped, along with the Legal Services Commission.

Elsewhere, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly was promoting family mediation (this would not be the last time), and Part One of the Munro Review was published.

The government published its Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, including abolishing legal aid for ancillary relief and private law children matters, save where there is domestic violence.

Meanwhile, in a speech to the annual conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children, Mr Justice Coleridge warned that people do not take family court decisions seriously enough and do not obey the court orders promptly and fully.

To end a pretty depressing year on a suitable note, Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly announced that 93 magistrates' courts and 49 county courts in England and Wales are to be closed, thereby further restricting access to justice.

I would like to say that things can only get better next year, but I'm not so certain...

Saturday, December 25, 2010

'Twas the court sitting before Christmas...

As I have reported before (see here for the most recent example), they have some great ideas for enforcing payment of child support on the other side of the pond. Here's one with a seasonal twist from Judge Daniel J. Bute of La Salle County, Illinois:

"The day before the courthouse closes for the Christmas holiday is known as “Deadbeat Dad Day” in La Salle County. Bute schedules his child-support compliance call right before Yuletide to give parents a tough choice: Pay your back child support or spend Christmas in the tank."

The article in the News Tribune explains why Judge Bute takes such a dim view of parents who fail to pay. It seems that he once had to pay child support himself: "Bute steadfastly made his payments no matter how broke he was. He once sold his cherished baseball card collection — including six valuable Carl Yastrzemski rookie cards — to avoid falling in arrears." Not many parents could say that...

Happy Isaac Newton Day!

Incredible how time flies. I thought it was last year that I commemorated the birth of Sir Isaac Newton, but it was as long ago as 2007. So, clearly it is about time we again celebrated the greatest person ever to be born on the 25th December. Happy Isaac Newton Day!

[For any clever dicks out there: Newton was born on the 25th December, not the 4th January - England didn't change over to the Gregorian calendar until long after his death.]

Friday, December 24, 2010

News Roundup: Of marriage, marriages and a marriage

On Tuesday the Equal Love campaign was to launch a legal challenge in the European Court of Human Rights to extend the rights of gay couples to full marriage, but later that same day we were told that the challenge had been postponed due to the lack of proper paperwork, a scenario that would be familiar to any lawyer. Today, however, comes news that may make the challenge academic, with the Telegraph telling us (in its religion section) that: "New laws giving full marriage rights to homosexual couples could be introduced under reforms being considered by the Coalition".

Meanwhile, the BBC reported on Tuesday that: "A ban on young foreign spouses entering the UK has been condemned as "arbitrary and disruptive" by the Court of Appeal." This refers, of course, to the Court of Appeal judgment in Quila & Anor v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2010] EWCA Civ 1482. The BBC explains:

"The home secretary banned non-European under-21s from living with British partners in the UK as a way of dealing with the problem of forced marriages.

Lord Justice Sedley, one of three judges to hear challenges from two young couples, said it was up to the home secretary to rewrite the rule.

But he said its impact on innocent lives made it "impossible to justify".

The government said it would seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court."

Lastly, the Daily Mail informed us at the weekend that Sir Nicholas Mostyn, who "became a judge in April after a career in family law in which he was nicknamed Mr Payout because of the huge sums he won for ex-wives" "is expected to pay Lady Mostyn ‘several million pounds’ as part of a divorce settlement", after leaving his wife for the widow of Mark Saunders. I take no pleasure in reporting this story, but I suppose the irony is inescapable.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Vengeance plastic surgery

According to this report in the Star Tribune, a large number of divorcees are treating themselves to a bit of plastic surgery, and the motivation isn't always just to make them feel better about themselves. Sometimes, it seems, that tummy tuck and breast augmentation are intended as a 'payback' for a cheating ex-spouse, hence such procedures becoming known as 'vengeance plastic surgery'.

Looks like another great business opportunity for the burgeoning divorce industry.

[Thanks to Divorce Saloon for bringing my attention to this story.]

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Christmas your arse

I know that I am hardly unique in liking Fairytale of New York, but what family lawyer can fail to like a song with wonderful lyrics like these:

You scumbag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it's our last

At the offices of Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors...

Number of divorces in Scotland falls to 30-year low - Scotsman

Russia 'leads the world in divorce' - Sify news

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review: Good Practice in Child Care Cases

Good Practice in Child Care Cases, 2nd Edition

£34.95 – Published by Law Society Publishing: November 2010

Good Practice in Child Care Cases was first published in 2004, and was intended to provide guidance for solicitors acting in public law Children Act proceedings, both in terms of the conduct of cases and the particular approach required. I suspect that in the intervening years many a copy has permanently accompanied such solicitors, both in the office and at court.

Of course, much has changed in the field of child care guidance since the first edition of Good Practice was published. In particular, the Public Law Outline (‘PLO’) was introduced in 2008 (and has already been updated), and the best practice guide was published by the Ministry of Justice's Care Proceedings Programme in 2009. In fact, there is now a plethora of good practice guidance, coming from numerous sources. It could be said that what is required is a ‘guide to the guidance’, and that is at least partially where the second edition of Good Practice comes in.

The book is made up of six chapters (or 'parts') comprising 73 pages, and fifteen appendices comprising 112 pages. The first two parts deal with general principles and common issues that need to be considered by all solicitors, irrespective of which party they are acting for. Parts 3 to 5 deal with particular matters when acting for the local authority, the child or the parents. The final part covers good practice in relation to other aspects of public law children cases, including secure accommodation and adoption.

The appendices comprise guidance relevant to solicitors acting in public law proceedings, including the PLO, the best practice guide and the Law Society’s Acting in the absence of a children’s guardian Practice Note, together with older material from the first edition. The final appendix is a list of useful contacts and websites (in addition to this, there are numerous links to online materials throughout the text of Parts 1 to 6).

Good Practice is certainly a guide to all of the good practice guidance out there (thereby fulfilling a useful function in itself), but it also contains much ‘good practice’ of its own. If I have to be critical, some of this is pretty obvious stuff (“the client should be encouraged if possible to bring to the first meeting all documentation in their possession”), but that is really just nit-picking. The book is also far more than just ‘good practice’, often including the law (or references to the law) behind the particular area of guidance.

To be honest, reviewing Good Practice is a fairly pointless endeavour. Simply having all of this information in one extremely handy volume makes the purchase (at a very reasonable price) obviously worthwhile even if (as is likely to be the case) the practitioner already has most of the information (certainly the appendices) elsewhere. But this is not just a textbook; it is also a readable guide, particularly for those new to the subject. Even for the more seasoned practitioner, it fulfils the stated role as a (very) useful aide mémoire.

Good Practice in Child Care Cases is available from the Law Society bookshop.

Happy Winter Solstice!

However you or your people choose to celebrate the winter solstice, I hope that it is a happy time, and that the New Year will be peaceful and prosperous. Thanks for reading Family Lore.

Monday, December 20, 2010

No Comment

I make no comment about this 1969 Lady Remington advert that I found on Boing Boing this morning.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Something for the Weekend

As someone who has dabbled with flying machines (both real and virtual), I am in awe of the skill of this Chinook pilot. When I first watched the video, I thought he/she was just landing in a narrow gully - pretty impressive, but not that special. Then I kept watching...

Paging Dr Freud - a Canadian judge ridicules parents' rage

Any family lawyer who has dealt with private law children disputes will have come across cases where the warring behaviour of the parents can be utterly exasperating. In the case of Bruni v Bruni Ontario Superior Court Judge Joseph Quinn vented his exasperation by turning to ridicule to describe the conduct of the parties. He explained: "the parties repeatedly have shown they are immune to reason. Consequently, in my decision, I have tried ridicule as a last resort."

His judgment began:

"Paging Dr. Freud. Paging Dr. Freud. This is yet another case that reveals the ineffectiveness of Family Court in a bitter custody/access dispute, where the parties require therapeutic intervention rather than legal attention. Here, a husband and wife have been marinating in a mutual hatred so intense as to surely amount to a personality disorder requiring treatment."

Other selected quotes:

"If only the wedding guests, who tinkled their wine glasses as encouragement for a traditional bussing of the bride and groom, could see the couple now. I am prepared to certify a class action for the return of all wedding gifts."

"The courtroom energy in a custody access dispute spikes quickly when there is evidence that one of the parents has a Hells Angels branch in her family tree. Certainly, my posture improved."


"It takes a special level of audacity to utter threats under the roof of the courthouse."

On one occasion while the daughter was having contact with the father the mother texted her to ask: "Is dickhead there?" Of this Judge Quinn said: "The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘dickhead’ as ‘a stupid person.’ That would not have been my first guess."

Referring to another occasion when the wife attempted to run over the husband Judge Quinn remarked: "This is always a tell-tale sign that a husband and wife are drifting apart".

The Judge did not omit himself from a little ridicule. He said that earlier in the proceedings he had 'foolishly' ordered a four-month adjournment so that the parties could attempt to settle their differences through mediation. Referring to this he said: "It is touching how a trial judge can retain his naivety even after 15 years on the bench".

All excellent stuff - I bet there are many other family court judges who wish they could give judgments like this, or could get away with doing so.

[My thanks to Jeanne Hannah for drawing this story to my attention.]

Friday, December 17, 2010


When I first saw this South Korean 'virtual girlfriend' app, I thought it was an incredibly sad thing to buy, but on reflection if it helps combat loneliness, then perhaps that's no bad thing. For £1.26 a day, the app will send you four video calls a day (out of a possible 100) from a model posing as your girlfriend, ranging from "Are you still sleeping? Time for breakfast!" to "Good night, sweet dreams". Just one thing, as Geekologie pointed out: remember to delete the app if you get a real girlfriend.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hardest Times

When I stopped practising I unplugged myself from the local legal gossip network. I briefly plugged myself back in yesterday, and it's as if I hadn't been away, with more stories of redundancies and firm closures. I suspect that these are not just hard times, but that they may be the hardest of times that the high street practitioner has ever had to endure. What is worse, there seems to be every reason for pessimism, with further challenges ahead such as the virtual abolition of legal aid for private family law work. Quite what things will look like in a few years' time I don't know, but it seems increasingly likely that the local provision of legal services will never be the same again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Unmerry Xmas

We all know that Xmas can be a terrible time, having to put up with your other half over the holiday period. When the horror of it is all over, you're going to be wanting a divorce. That's where we can help. Call us in January on 01234 666-666, and we'll not only get you that divorce fast, but also make sure your spouse is taken to the cleaners so that you can afford the life you deserve.

Venal & Grabbit. Happy New Year.

Fluff and ephemera

Last Friday David Cameron gave a speech to Relate in Leeds on families and relationships. With a subject like that, I thought that there might be something in the speech of interest to readers of Family Lore. Accordingly, I dutifully read the full speech, eagerly checking for any nugget that the news reporters had missed. I have to report that I found little or nothing to tickle your fancy. OK, he said he wanted to see marriage and civil partnership recognised in the tax system (but there was no concrete commitment to this) and he announced funding for Relate "and other organisations working hard to support families". Otherwise, most of the rest of the speech seemed to me to comprise precisely the sort of fluff and ephemera that he indicated early on that he would avoid.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something for the Weekend

I think 'El Camino del Rey' is Spanish for 'mountain walkway that only crazy people would use'. Whatever, if you don't already suffer from vertigo, then you will after watching this video:

For more details of this precipitous pathway, see this Wikipedia entry.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

An idiot at a wedding

I haven't a clue what this guy was trying to do, but it clearly didn't involve the use of any brain cells.

Re Jane

Re Jane (A Child) [2010] EWHC 3221 (Fam). I don't recall a case being named like this. Jane is a fictitious name given to the child by Mr Justice Holman.

Jane's mother "has been the subject of considerable exposure in the press and media, principally, but not exclusively, as a participant in a well known television programme". I do not know who Jane's mother is, although I suspect that those with their finger on the pulse of TV celebrity may have a good idea (any comments suggesting names will not be published).

At the time of the hearing in November, Jane was the subject of an interim care order and was living with short-term foster parents. The media had taken an interest in the case, and the Daily Mail had contacted the local authority and requested that it be allowed to publish material relating to the reasons for the local authority commencing care proceedings. The local authority were very concerned to protect Jane so far as they properly could "from the damaging effects of further media intrusion into her life and upbringing", and they accordingly applied for a reporting restriction order.

The court was concerned as to whether the applicant had taken all practicable steps to notify the respondent (i.e., the media), or that there were compelling reasons why the respondent should not be notified, pursuant to s.12(2)(a) and (b) of the Human Rights Act 1998. The local authority had only given notice to the Press Association CopyDirect service. The court found that those media organisations who subscribed to CopyDirect had been notified, but that those who had chosen not to subscribe, such as Guardian Newspapers Ltd or Telegraph Group Ltd, had not, and there were no compelling reasons why they had not. Accordingly, the court was forbidden to make any injunction which bound, or in any way purported to bind, any media organisation which does not subscribe to CopyDirect.

The court then considered the extent to which the material had, or was about to, become available to the public, or it was, or would be, in the public interest for the material to be published, pursuant to s.12(4) of the Human Rights Act. Mr Justice Holman found that a reporting restriction was required to protect the child, but made it clear that he was not restricting further or continuing publication in relation generally to the mother, or the further publication of any images of the child that were already in the public domain.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Avoid Xmas holiday disputes

Christmas will soon be upon us. As we all know, it's a great time for children, even if they're living with your ex. Of course, your children should be with you over the holiday season. So, don't try to agree your contact with them with your ex and be fobbed off with less than you're entitled to. Come to Venal & Grabbit. We'll take your ex to court and ensure that you get the contact you deserve. Just call 01234 666-666, and have your credit card handy.

Venal & Grabbit. You know it makes sense.

Ramblin' Man

Having nothing in particular to blog about this morning (at least nothing that merited its own post), I thought I would have a ramble about a few things that I considered posting about. This also provides me with a (slightly tenuous) excuse to show the above excellent video of an old favourite by the Allman Brothers.

Following on from my last post, it is interesting how American family lawyers (or at least some of them) don't seem to have (yet) embraced the non-confrontational approach to family law that is now prevalent over here. A commenter on that post referred me to a firm in Tulsa who call themselves 'Bulldog Divorce', a name I couldn't imagine any firm using over here. The firm says:

"Our name, Bulldog Divorce, reflects our approach: we will stand by your side and work diligently to reach a mutually agreeable settlement between you and your spouse. In the event your case must go before a judge, we will defend your rights aggressively."

To be honest, this doesn't bother me quite as much as the sprinkling of Bible quotes around their website, but that's another matter. Their stated approach is very similar to the Twitter bio of an American lawyer that I recently came across. He described himself as a: "divorce attorney who gives you personal attention and aggressive litigation". I wonder if these American lawyers simply eschew the 'modern' approach, or perhaps they are just more honest than some of their English counterparts?

Moving on, I did contemplate doing a post about the state of the family law blogosphere in this country, something that I have not done for a very long time (I think this was the last one). However, these days too many family lawyer blogs are of the nature: "here's a family law news story - if you have a similar problem, we can help" variety. Now, there's nothing wrong with using a blog to promote your business (thankfully, there are still few rules about what exactly a 'blog' is), but this type of blog just doesn't really float my duck. Don't get me wrong though, there are still a few UK family law blogs that do keep my mallard from drowning, all of which can be found in the sidebar to this blog.

To end this short ramble on something topical, The Telegraph reports today the stunning news that couples who don't marry are more likely to separate. This revelation comes from a study carried out by the right-wing think-tank the Centre for Social Justice and the Bristol Community Family Trust. They are convinced that much of the breakdown amongst unmarried parents is "utterly avoidable", and that the answer is for these miscreants to get married. Yep, that'll stop them breaking up. The story is also carried by that monument to liberalism and tolerance the Daily Mail, and I'll finish with a quote from one of their commenters:

"I think in order to legally have children you must pass a certain criteria.. You must be married, you must have been married for a certain duration, you must have evidence that you can support a child.

Anyone outside this criteria can either leave the country or have an abortion."


Sunday, December 05, 2010

The Pitbull

I can't say that I'm particularly interested in the divorce of Nicolas Sarkozy's brother and his wife Charlotte, but what I do love is the nickname of Charlotte's American divorce lawyer. 'Hard-hitting' attorney Robert Cohen is apparently also known as "The Pitbull". Now why can't we have divorce lawyers with nicknames like that over here? Damn non-confrontational lawyers, mediation, collaborative law and all that namby-pamby nonsense, let's have family lawyers with names like "The Shark", "The Python" or "The Man-Eater".

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Something for the Weekend

A golden oldie this week (look away if you are of a delicate disposition):

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Sting

Here's the latest child support collection idea from America, and it's a good one.

For months fathers in Louisiana who have neglected to pay their child support have been receiving letters apparently from the 'Louisiana Recovery Directive', inviting them to come and collect 'economic stimulus' payments. However, the real sender of the letters is the Saint Tammany Parish Sheriff's Department, and when the fathers show up they are greeted by two deputies with handcuffs, their car keys are confiscated and they are locked up "until they resolve" the debt.

According to this report, about 100 men have thus far been arrested in this 'sting operation' although, as Florida Divorce points out, the strategy may lose its effectiveness once word gets out...

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

V&G announce 'pleasingly ample' annual profit

Venal & Grabbit (V&G) made a 'pleasingly ample' annual profit last year, according to the firm’s accountants, up from 'highly satisfactory' the previous year.

The accountants said that while turnover for the period stood at 'mind your own business', the law firm’s operating profit stood at 'pleasingly ample' – indicating a profit margin of 75%.

The accountants said that the highest-paid partner took home 'a tidy little sum', sufficient for 3 foreign holidays, a second home, a new Merc and a mistress in the city.

Total staff costs (including salaries and pensions) were down, despite staff numbers increasing during the year.

A statement from the partners read: "We are extremely pleased that the firm's profits continue to be sufficient for the partners to live the lifestyle to which they have justifiably become accustomed. It is particularly satisfying that the profit margin remains gratifyingly good, due to a combination of keeping our fees reassuringly high and staff salaries sensibly low. We are expecting a further substantial increase in revenue this coming year, on the back of the ever-increasing business that the firm will be taking on, especially with fewer people getting legal aid."

Family LoreCast #27

This week Natasha and I discuss Mr Justice Coleridge's address to the ALC National Conference, the Euromillions lottery winner who is to pay his ex-wife £2 million, the straight couple who are to test civil partnership law, the case of H (A Child) and the case CMEC v Beesley.

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Celebrate REASON!

To coincide with the opening of the first door on the advent calendar today (mmm, chocolate...), I thought I would offer season's greetings, courtesy of American Atheists:

November Post of the Month

I have commented myself upon Mr Justice Coleridge's speech to the Association of Lawyers for Children, in which he called for a return to the golden era when courts were respected, parents did as they were ordered and children were seen but not heard. Whilst my comment was somewhat graphic (perhaps too graphic), Judith Middleton has set out some very practical suggestions for any nostalgia trip, including detention for parents who default on parenting information sessions and cod liver oil for parents whose children are just not quite well enough to have contact, but who miraculously recover once the hour for contact has passed.

These excellent ideas, and more, are contained in Judith's post ALL RISE, which wins my coveted Post of the Month Trophy for November.

(P.S. Sorry Judith, my engraver still can't fit the full name of your blog on the trophy.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

CMEC v Beesley: CMEC not a creditor capable of being bound by IVA

For the facts of this case and the High Court decision see this previous post. Briefly, the NRP had entered into an IVA under which his creditors would receive a total of 27p in the pound over a period of 5 years, in full and final settlement of his liabilities. 94% of his debts were represented by arrears of child maintenance. The High Court declared that CMEC was a creditor for the purposes of the IVA, but made an order pursuant to s.262 of the Insolvency Act 1986 revoking the IVA on the ground that it was unfairly prejudicial to the interests of the Commission. CMEC appealed.

In the Court of Appeal Lord Justice Etherton found (at paragraph 50) that the Judge had been wrong to conclude that the Commission was a creditor entitled to participate in, and that it was bound by, the IVA. He said (at paragraph 53) that it was "clear that the legislative policy is to exclude liability to pay child support from the consequences of bankruptcy". Arrears of child support are not a provable debt in bankruptcy, and: "The liability to pay child support, and any arrears of child support, are not released by discharge from bankruptcy". He found (at paragraph 54) that there was "no discernible reason for a different policy in the case of an IVA".

He went on (at paragraph 57):

"In my judgment, it is only possible to make sense of the provisions of IA Part VIII, against the statutory background of the insolvency regimes of bankruptcy and debt relief orders, the discernible policy of the state in relation to the support and welfare of children which I have mentioned, the purpose of an IVA and its function as a consensual agreement of creditors (bound by the decision of the requisite majority), if the creditors entitled to participate in the IVA, and who are bound by it, are restricted to creditors with the capacity to make compromises of debts and liabilities."

Accordingly, he concluded (at paragraph 63) that the Commission was not a creditor entitled to participate in the IVA, and was not capable of being bound by the IVA, because the Commission was not capable of compromising the NRP's liability in respect of arrears of child support.

The appeal was therefore allowed and the declaration in the Judge's order was replaced by a declaration that the Commission was not a creditor of the NRP capable of being bound by the NRP's IVA.

The full report of this case can be found on Bailii, here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Something for the Weekend

We shouldn't really be talking law at the weekend (OK, I know I do sometimes), so I thought I would start a new occasional series of weekend posts about something I've found interesting or amusing, that has nothing whatsoever to do with law. I will call the series Something for the Weekend, because I like smutty innuendo.

So, without further ado, here's a video that is “pointless, action-free and totally mesmerising”:

For more details about the video, including how it was shot, see here.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


This is apparently a plaque that hangs over a urinal at an unnamed jeweller's specialising in diamond engagement rings. As Boing Boing says, if it is genuine, it's 'a remarkable piece of retail psychology'... if it works.

Mr Justice Coleridge sings "If I could turn back time"

Family courts need to reassert their authority, says Mr Justice Coleridge

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Family LoreCast #26

This week Natasha and I discuss the Law Society's campaign to fight legal aid cuts, the Court of Appeal ordering the naming of a couple in big money ancillary relief proceedings and the introduction of domestic violence protection orders. Natasha also mentions the next meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law and the Court of Protection.

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

Dumping made easy

Having discovered yesterday why people break up, we now turn to how. Well, how some people break up, or more specifically how to effect a break up if you are not prepared, or don't know how, to do it yourself. The answer, according to this article in Time, is to get someone to do it for you, and it seems that there is no shortage of people willing to take on the task, for a small fee. Take, for example, iDUMP4U, "the website where we do all the dirty work for you!" They'll do a 'basic breakup' for $10, an engagement breakup for $25 and even a divorce breakup, for $50. For your money, they'll make the 'breakup call', record it, and even post it to YouTube if you wish. Nice.

Alternatively, how about the iPhone app Erase Ur X? This 'can be used to create a form e-mail sent from your iPhone that breaks the news to your soon-to-be-ex', after which the app deletes the now-ex's number from your phone. You can also save the message, along with any attached audio files and photos, 'for later use on other X's'. Brilliant!

Do I see a business opportunity for all of those soon-to-be-out-of-work legal aid lawyers?

Domestic violence protection orders revived

Well, it just goes to show how much I know. Only two days ago I speculated that domestic violence would be one of the few areas in the family justice system where there would be no change. Today, I find that Home Secretary Theresa May has decided to resurrect the previous government's plans for domestic violence protection orders (otherwise known as "go orders").

Under the plans, the police will have powers to prevent alleged abusers from having contact with the victim, or returning to the victim's home, for 48 hours. A court would then be able to extend the order for a period of up 28 days. The plans will undergo a year-long pilot scheme, starting next summer in the Greater Manchester, Wiltshire and West Mercia police areas.

According to the BBC, the proposed "go orders" could be used even if there was not enough evidence to charge a suspect. Obviously, this raises concerns for innocent alleged abusers, particularly as it may be difficult for them to return to their homes, once they have been ordered to leave. It may also lead to a spate of unfounded allegations by parties who just want to force their partners out of their homes (which could then have a knock-on effect upon other issues, such as arrangements for children, or who is to keep the home). Hopefully, the pilots will address these issues.

The Guardian tells us that 'May said that tackling violence against women was a priority for her personally and for the government', and the BBC article quotes British Crime Survey figures which suggest that more than one in four women in the UK will experience domestic abuse at some point in their life. Both seem to be forgetting that men are of course also victims of domestic violence. However, one wonders how often will the police use these powers against women?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Reasons to be single

Having discovered when people break up, here's another graphic showing why they break up. Not sure what is to be learned from this one, save that an awful lot of people in Turkey have had an affair. A bigger version of the graphic can be found here, and more information, including a list of reasons for breaking up given by people on Twitter, here.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The dismantling of the family justice system?

"the times they are a changing"

Hardly a day seems to pass without news of some change or proposed change either to, or affecting, family justice in this country. We are, of course, in the middle of the Family Justice Review, but some of these changes go far beyond the remit of the Review. It almost feels as if the family justice system is in the process of being dismantled, after so many years of little or no change, so I thought that I would summarise some of what is going on in the different areas of family law:

Divorce - The government is proposing that legal aid should no longer be available for divorce proceedings, which may obviously lead to some people simply not be able to afford to get divorced. As for the divorce process itself, Andrew Woolley has hinted that the government is considering not just no fault divorce, but "no court divorce", whereby the 'issuing party' simply registers for a divorce, and it comes through automatically a little later.

Private children law - Again, it is proposed that legal aid be abolished, save where there is domestic violence. Instead, there is to be a greater emphasis on mediation. The idea of a presumption of shared residence seems to be gaining ground, something that was discussed by Sir Nicholas Wall in his speech to shared parenting charity Families Need Fathers, in September. There have also been loud calls from some quarters for Cafcass to be abolished, although quite what will replace it, I'm not sure. The Family Justice Review is looking at the possibility of introducing more inquisitorial elements into the family justice system for both public and private law cases.

Ancillary relief - Once again, it is proposed that legal aid be abolished, save where there is domestic violence, with a greater emphasis on mediation. Pre-nuptial agreements may be made binding (although whether this is still required post-Radmacher is a moot point). There are also calls for the introduction of a community property regime, something mentioned by Sir Nicholas Mostyn at the first meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law.

Public law - As mentioned above, may include more 'inquisitorial elements'. Otherwise, we will have to wait until next year for the recommendations of the Munro review. Legal aid will be retained. The government has also recently indicated that the current high fees will be retained.

Domestic violence - Will keep legal aid, but otherwise no change?

Cohabitee disputes - Another area where there has been no mention of change (previous proposals seem to have been shelved indefinitely), which is slightly ironic given that many believe that there should be change.

Child support - The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission will become an executive agency of the Department for Work and Pensions. This of course just means that the same job will be done, but within the Department. Whether there will be any further changes, we shall have to wait and see.

I'm sure that there are things that I have missed - an indication of the amount of change in the pipeline - but hopefully the above gives a flavour of what may be to come. How many of these proposals will be implemented is not of course yet clear, but one thing certainly seems to be: the family justice system will never be the same again.

That Voodoo That You Do So Well

The new divorce section in the Huffington Post carries an article recommending some 'divorce novelties'. Most of them I've seen before, but how about the Ex Wife Voodoo Doll? It's covered with appropriate messages to the ex (such as "Hope you get bad acne"), and comes complete with pins. Looks like the perfect Xmas gift, and a snip at only £4.95.

Monday, November 22, 2010


I've posted previously about the American practice of publishing 'wanted' posters for parents who have failed to pay child support. The above is the latest example I have come across, from the Butler County Child Support Enforcement Agency. Whether or not you agree with the practice, their figures suggest a pretty good success record, considering that the poster features parents whose present whereabouts are unknown to the authorities. They claim that: "The agency has located 178 people and collected more than $1.75 million since the first poster was published in 1995." (I understand that there have been a total of 26 such posters.)

Worth considering on this side of the pond?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why buy a Lada when you can have a Bentley?

There are many law firms out there handling divorce cases, so why do so many people instruct us?

The reason is simple: we charge more than anyone else. That means that our partners can afford the little luxuries in life, which makes them such great people to deal with.

Look at it this way: why buy a second-hand Lada, when you can have a brand new Bentley? You want the best don't you? So don't go to those cheap high street lawyers who don't know what they're doing, come to us. After all, at this most distressing time you need to be thinking of yourself.

To use another metaphor, if you had an embarrassing disease, you wouldn't go to the local quack to get it sorted, sharing a waiting room with the hoi polloi. Of course not - you'd go straight to your Harley Street specialist.

At this most difficult time your life, you want to know that you have the best lawyers that a lot of money can buy – that is why so many people instruct Venal & Grabbit.

Venal & Grabbit. Reassuringly expensive.

[This post was sponsored by Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors.]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Family LoreCast #25

This week Natasha and I discuss the following family law news items: the government's proposed legal aid reforms; LB Richmond v B & W & B & CB, in which the High Court considered the use of hair testing as evidence of alcohol consumption; Hong Kong’s Supreme Court upholds principle of equal division on divorce; and the case of W (A Minor).

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

W (A Minor): Change of residence not due to mother's conduct

The case of W (A Minor) [2010] EWCA Civ 1280, reported today, graphically illustrates the problems faced by a court when dealing with difficult and uncooperative parties.

The facts: The case concerned a 3 year old child, "P" (I'm not sure why the initial is different from the case name). In November 2007 the father applied for contact. There then followed "a lamentable tale of wilful disobedience of court orders by the mother, and a disregard by her not only of the court but, more importantly, of P's interests". In addition to disobeying court orders, the mother made various unsubstantiated allegations against the father and failed to appear for court hearings.

By the time of the final hearing in October 2010 the judge was "satisfied that the spiral of the mother's actions shown over nearly three years is such that there is a real and formidable risk that P will, through at worst total deprivation and at best a disruption and negative distortion of her relationship with her father, be deprived of part of her central emotional needs and rights to have a warm and meaningful relationship with her father". The judge made a residence order in favour of the paternal grandmother.

The mother sought permission to appeal.

Held: It appears that the mother felt that the judge had changed P's residence as a means of punishing her for her failure to obey court orders. As Sir Nicholas Wall said (at paragraph 52): "this would plainly be an inappropriate exercise of discretion, and would form a legitimate basis for an appeal. The mother's conduct is about as bad as it is possible to get, but that is not necessarily a basis for removing P from her care. The judge had to decide that question on the basis of what was in P's interests."

He found, at paragraph 57: "In my judgment, the course which the judge took was one which was properly open to her on the evidence. In my view, the contrary is unarguable. The judge plainly did not move P as an act of frustration or irritation at the mother's contumelious conduct. She moved P because she took the view that P's welfare in the longer term required such a move."

Accordingly, the application was dismissed.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Extreme measures

You may not approve of your child's choice of spouse, but I think this Russian mother may have gone a little too far in her attempt to stop her daughter's nuptials:

Russian woman calls in fake bomb threat to prevent daughter's marriage

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A letter to Prince William

Prince William,
Clarence House,

16th November 2010

Dear William,

May we at Venal & Grabbit congratulate you on your forthcoming marriage. We are so thrilled by this news that we may even allow our staff 20 minutes off to watch the ceremony on TV.

Whilst writing, we felt that it would be prudent to advise you to enter into a pre-nuptial agreement. One cannot be too careful, especially when one stands to inherit such enormous wealth from one's grand-mama. If you agree, then we would be honoured to prepare an agreement for you, for a very reasonable fee.

Your faithful servants,

Venal & Grabbit.

What now for Sandra?

As I'm sure the reader is now aware, the Government has published its Proposals for the Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales, and they do not make good reading for anyone with an interest in access to family justice. In particular, it is proposed that there will be no legal aid for ancillary relief or private law children matters, save where there is domestic violence.

It seems that the Government has listened to the crass Daily Mail-esque Why should taxpayers' money be used for someone to get divorced just because they don't want to work at their marriage? brigade. That, unfortunately, is a cruel over-simplification. Most people do not want their marriages to fail, and they do not want to have to rely on the state for funding to sort out the mess when they do fail. It is just a position that they find themselves in - no one wants to go to the courts. To illustrate, I will give a not untypical example:

Sandra Clarke had been married for twenty-five years. She had three children, the youngest of which had just finished education. Throughout the marriage she stayed at home and brought up the children. As a result, she has no career, and just works part-time as a school dinner lady. Her husband Ken, on the other hand, runs a business that Sandra believes is doing very well, although she has no knowledge of the running of the business.

Sandra thought that life was good, but then came a bolt from the blue when Ken announced that he had formed a relationship with another woman, and that he wanted a divorce. From there, Ken began to get increasingly nasty: he refused to give Sandra any maintenance, he refused to go to mediation, and he refused to make full disclosure of his finances (Sandra was sure he was hiding substantial sums of money).

Then Sandra started getting threatening letters from Ken's solicitor. Sandra is at her wit's end; she doesn't know what to do, she can't afford a lawyer, and she is scared for her future.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Comments: Five simple rules

Once again, I find myself having to say something about commenting on this blog. I have some simple rules, that all commenters will see, but unfortunately some either don't read them or choose to ignore them, so I thought I would set them out in a post.

The rules are that the following comments will not be allowed:

(A) Comments that are not relevant to the subject of the post. It is unfortunately quite common that commenters wish to pursue their own agenda, irrespective of what the post is about. I had a remarkable example of this only yesterday, when I received an anonymous comment about the 'corrupt family courts' on my remembrance day post, which was not only irrelevant but extremely disrespectful.

(B) Comments that are (or are possibly) defamatory. I will be the judge of this, and if I have any doubt then I will err on the side of caution by removing/not publishing the comment.

(C) Comments that breach court reporting rules. You may not be concerned about committing a contempt of court, but I am.

(D) Comments that contain abusive or threatening language. Obviously. If you disagree with me, then do so in civil language.

(E) Comments that contain 'spam' advertisements. Again, if I have any doubt then I will err on the side of removing/not publishing the comment. Accordingly, if you are a commercial organisation and you have a genuine comment to make, then it would be best if you did not link back to your website - such links in the comment itself (as against the name of the commenter) will almost certainly result in removal/non-publication.

So, please just follow these simple rules, and we'll all get along.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

At the offices of Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors...

... Mr Venal is looking forward to the time when poor opponents will not be able to get representation:

Sweeping cuts to the legal aid budget which will greatly reduce the number of people entitled to assistance are to be unveiled within days.

[With thanks to Charon QC, from whom I got the idea.]

Crack whore seeks custody

An excellent video, showing that family lawyers on the other side of the pond have similar problems to their colleagues over here (language NSFW):

[Many thanks to Divorce Discourse for bringing this to my attention.]

Are some fathers their own worst enemies?

They certainly complain the loudest about the unfairness of the system, but are fathers, or at least some of them, simply their own worst enemies when it comes to arrangements for their children?

Every family lawyer has come across it: fathers who are aggressive, obnoxious and generally abusive towards not just their former partners, but everyone they come across whilst trying to resolve children disputes, including mediators, the court, Cafcass officers and sometimes even their lawyers. The reasons for such behaviour are not always clear. Sometimes it may relate just to their present situation - they may, for example, be reasonably aggrieved at being denied contact with their children for no good reason. On the other hand, it may be a long-term thing where they played a dominant (or dominating) role in the relationship, and they are now angry at losing that control.

Either way, such behaviour will obviously be counter-productive when it comes to achieving the outcomes they seek. They won't get the best out of their lawyers (and often won't listen to good advice), they lose the chance of a mediated settlement and they are likely to be unfavourably treated by the courts.

And then they go off and complain ad infinitum about how unfairly they have been treated by the system, when all they need to do to discover the source of their woes is to look in a mirror.