Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A close shave

A salutary reminder from James Gross as to why lawyers hire experts to value assets.

Mel B marriage breakdown shock?

It seems that in less scrupulous areas of the media than Family Lore there is increasingly frenzied speculation as to whether the marriage of someone called 'Mel B'is over (apparently, 'Mel B' was a member of a well-known all-ladies singing combo a few years back). Of course, Family Lore would not descend to reporting such tasteless tittle-tattle...

Monday, August 30, 2010

Supporting business

Not heard of this one before: a former partner in an ailing cake making business has admitted taking deductions from an employee's wages and using them to prop up the business, rather than passing them on to the Child Support Agency. Unsurprisingly: (1) the scam was noticed (although not for three years); and (2) the business has since closed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

When lawyers fall out

Long-term readers of Family Lore will no doubt remember the 'YouTube divorce' and the delightful Ms. Walsh-Smith (how could you forget her, much as you may wish to?). Who did her beleaguered husband turn to to contain the damage but one of New York's top divorce firms Sheresky Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan, LLP? Well, now it seems that Messrs. Sheresky Aronson Mayefsky & Sloan are involved in a divorce of their own, according to this report in The New York Times.

Apparently, 82-year-old Mr. Sheresky left the firm 'in a huff' last month, claiming that his former partners had reneged on an agreement to take care of him financially 'in the twilight of his career'. Mr. Aronson and Mr. Mayefsky denied that such an agreement existed, and dissolved the partnership, forming a new one with Pamela Sloan. Mr. Sheresky has now filed a $26 million lawsuit in the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, alleging breach of contract and fraud "stemming from the defendants collective and purposeful disloyalty and greed aimed at forcing Mr Sheresky from the law firm he founded and stripping him of the economic security and income to which he is entitled".

It all used to be so different. With delicious irony, the NYT tells us of a video made in honour of Mr Sheresky's 80th birthday, in which his wife asks Mr Aronson what he thinks is the secret of the three men staying together for so long. "We love each other," Mr. Aronson replied, "it goes beyond our professional relationship — the way relatives would love each other." No doubt these nauseating words are now coming back to haunt Mr Aronson.

It seems that there is no love lost now, and this particular divorce promises to be every bit as messy as any that the firm has handled. Mr. Mayefsky and Mr. Aronson dismiss Mr Sheresky's claims "as so much fantasy".

And what does Ms. Walsh-Smith think of all of this? She called the situation "poetic justice," and added: "I wish them a horrible divorce, and I hope they shed as many tears as I have." Nice to see she's got over it...

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Plunging 'over the edge into an abyss of lunacy': The Week in View

I don't know whether this will be a regular feature, but I thought I would draw together some of the most important items that have appeared on Family Lore Focus each week, including (if appropriate) news stories, cases, articles and blog posts.

Without doubt the biggest news story of this week was the commencement by the Law Society of judicial review proceedings in respect of the Legal Services Commission's family tender. The Law Society is seeking a declaration that the family tender process and outcome are ‘unlawful’, and asking for a suspension of the new contracts. There is disappointment all round, with the Law Society saying that they are disappointed that the LSC refuses to acknowledge the detrimental effect that the tender will have on families, and the LSC expressing disappointment that the Law Society has indicated that they are issuing proceedings, with the uncertainty that such proceedings will cause.

Meanwhile, Nearly Legal has pointed out a remarkable shifting of the goalposts by the LSC, which he feels could be the basis for a challenge to the tender. I passed on his findings in this post, and the position seems to be perfectly summed up by a commenter who has been adversely affected by the tender, and says: "I have seen some mad things in my 30 years as a legal aid lawyer but we have now plunged over the edge into an abyss of lunacy". Quite.

Elsewhere, it has been a fairly typically quiet August week. On Monday the BBC Panorama programme reported on the child abuse 'nightmare' of Jake and Victoria Ward, a case that will be familiar to all family lawyers. Lucy Reed at Pink Tape expertly reviewed the programme in this post.

Lastly, two stories that perhaps wouldn't have surfaced if there had been more 'real' news about (and hopefully won't surface again): a 'top professor' arguing for irreversible sterilisation for parents who abuse their children, and a novelist calling for a two-child limit for 'the poor'. No wonder they call it the 'silly season'...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

PENSION relief brief

I have just received issue 8 of their PENSION relief brief from Bradshaw Dixon Moore. Dealing with the turmoil caused by the recent change in the measure of inflation used by State and statutory pensions from the Retail Prices Index (RPI) to the Consumer Prices Index (CPI), the brief makes important reading for all dealing with pensions and divorce.

You can subscribe to PENSION relief brief here.

Legal aid contracts: LSC shift the goalposts - possible basis for challenge?

Nearly Legal has pointed out what he calls 'a major shift in position' by the LSC regarding the tender for civil contracts.

A FAQ on the LSC's website includes the question: "I am concerned that I will not be able to deliver all the matter starts that I have been allocated, what should I do?", to which the answer was originally: "Under the contract, you will be required to deliver both the volume and breadth of services for which you have tendered…." Makes sense. However, the answer has now been changed to read: "If you are in any doubt as to whether you can deliver all your matter starts, please contact us through the message board and let us know how many you would like. We will then adjust your total. It is important that you receive the right allocation at the start of the contract." What??? So it doesn't matter how many you bid for, you'll still get the contract?

As Nearly Legal states, providers whose point scores were just below the ‘winners’ could "have missed out of a contract on a false premise – that the winners could deliver what was bid for – and now the LSC seeks to unilaterally alter the terms of the tender without addressing the award of contracts. To me that sounds like a basis for challenge."

Not being involved in the contract process, I am no expert on its terms, forms and inevitable acronyms. However, Nearly Legal does seem to have a very good point here, one which should be passed on to any firms wishing to mount a challenge to the family tender.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Not a good idea #3...

Following on from this post and this post, here's another bad idea for those who don't like paying child support.

Let me tell you about the case of Heck v Heck, heard recently by the Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District. It essentially concerned Mr Heck's appeal against the trial court's award of child support. Now, the charming Mr Heck had not done all he could to show himself to the court in the best light. In fact, there were one or two things that he did that didn't go down too well with the court, including:
  • Disconnecting the battery cables on Mrs Heck's car

  • Putting a mixture of Vaseline, mustard, brown sugar, and sardines on the doors and sidewalks at Mrs Heck's workplace;

  • After she obtained an order of protection, sending Mrs Heck threatening text messages, including one warning that: "If you get sole custody, you'll never live through the night";

  • Informing Mrs Heck that he would minimise his income, hide assets and do whatever was necessary to avoid obligations such as child support;

  • Sending Mrs Heck photographs of a number of $100 bills while claiming he had no money; and

  • Telling Mrs Heck that: "When you are broke, I will take the kids."
Needless to say, Mr Heck's appeal was dismissed.

The Layette

Whilst writing the previous post I was reminded of my pre-Child Support Act 1991 days, acting for mothers who sought not just maintenance from the father, but also a lump sum payment in respect of birth expenses. If I remember correctly, we called the expenses the 'layette', which for our purposes did not just include a first set of clothing for the baby, but also such essentials as a pram/pushchair, a cot and bedding. It could, therefore, amount to a fair sum, although not sufficient to warrant separate court proceedings, hence I don't recall ever coming across the layette again once the Child Support Act was implemented.

Child-less Support

Here's a remarkable story from Washington State, USA. I don't know if it's unique, but I don't recall ever previously hearing of a woman (allegedly) faking a pregnancy in order to claim child support. That, however, is what Carmen Lynn Johnsen is accused of doing, with the result that she received a total of $3,500 from the alleged 'father'. Quite how she expected to get away with it (if true) without producing a child is not clear.

I do like the way that (at least some) original US court documents are available to view on the internet - see below. It is also nice to see that our legal system does not have a monopoly on archaic language ('to-wit', 'by color and aid of deception', 'against the peace and dignity of the State of Washington', etc.).

Another good idea...

In a not dissimilar vein to the last post, the Telegraph reports today that novelist Amanda Craig says the Government should ban 'poor' people from having more than two children, to help save the environment. I should say that the idea is not quite as appalling as it first sounds - apparently, she is not calling for a ban, rather just resurrecting the old right-wing chestnut that the state should not keep paying benefits to those filthy poor, thereby encouraging them to keep multiplying. Quite right too.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Professor proposes that abusive parents be sterilised

There is very little serious family law news about at the moment but that this idea, with its dark historic echoes, is even given airtime makes me feel very uneasy. I am all for freedom of debate, but do we really want to give encouragement to such extremist views?

Tiger Woods divorce: All the 'news'

The big family law news of the moment is, of course, the finalisation of the Tiger Woods divorce. Now, I would expect this important event to take up plenty of column inches in the tabloid press, but what has surprised me is the amount of broadsheet coverage, specifically in the Telegraph. I have not scoured that esteemed publication for every mention of Tiger+Woods, but these 'stories' all cropped up in my feed reader this morning:

1. 9:34PM BST 23 Aug 2010: For those with short memories, we are given a useful timeline of the marriage breakdown.

2. 11:00PM BST 23 Aug 2010: We are told that "speculation is rife as to the exact details of the settlement". Such is the lack of information, that the Telegraph turns to that old stalwart Vanessa Lloyd Platt for her views.

3. 12:52AM BST 24 Aug 2010: We are treated to a list of the world's top ten highest divorce settlements, which is dragged out every time a large settlement is on the cards.

4. 2:00AM BST 24 Aug 2010: The Telegraph is struggling for real news now, so gives us a story about the other women involved, or at least some of them.

5. 6:00AM BST 24 Aug 2010: Finally, we are taken inside the courtroom where we are informed that: "Miss Nordegren was said to have had eight lawyers present, according to celebrity website TMZ", and that: "they did not look at each other, a source told celebrity website Radar Online".

Thank heavens that we still have the broadsheets to give us the real news...


There is normally nothing funny about domestic violence, but I have to admit that I was amused by this little vignette of modern family life over on The Magistrate's Blog.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Panorama investigates parents' child abuse 'nightmare' in family courts

Just a quick post to point out that tonight's Panorama programme on BBC One (8.30pm) may be of interest to readers of this blog. It deals with the case of Jake and Victoria Ward, who were suspected of hurting their three-month-old son and spent nearly two years fighting to clear their names.

I just hope that the reporting is even-handed, but I won't hold my breath.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

There are no winners in child custody cases

I've noticed that a certain American law firm (who I will not name) has recently been using its blog to announce to the world child custody cases that it has 'won'.

Now, I'm sure that this will impress some people, and may therefore even bring the firm some new clients, but it does not impress me.

For a start, even the worse law firm will from time to time achieve the result that its client is seeking, and to publicise those cases without reference to all of the other cases that the firm handles is meaningless in terms of indicating how good the firm is at its work.

More importantly, however, the idea of 'winning' in child custody work (or, for that matter, in any type of family work) is, I think, repugnant and archaic. We are not talking about money claims here, we are talking about the lives of children. To suggest that these cases are some sort of competition, with custody being the 'prize' that the court hands out is to miss the point entirely. The only thing that matters is what is best for the children. The terminology of 'winners' and 'losers' encourages a confrontational attitude in the parents, which ultimately can only be damaging for the children.

Of course, confrontational parents means more contested cases, and more fees for the lawyers...

Learning the Law

Final clearance of my late father's house is now taking place. In the loft we found many of his old legal textbooks. Unfortunately, lack of available space means that they have to go. I have, however, awarded a stay of execution to one small tome, a slightly tatty copy of a book I recognised from my own time as a law student. Learning the Law by the late Professor Glanville Williams will be recognised by many lawyers as the book that introduced them to their legal studies. As can be seen from the image above, my father had the seventh edition, published in 1963, which he purchased second-hand from Wildy & Sons.

Glanville Williams: Learning the Law is still in print, with the 14th edition having just been published, now authored by Professor Tony Smith. I have not read a recent edition, but I suspect that it may have been thoroughly re-written since 1963, when Glanville Williams began his section on solicitors thus:

"The life of a successful solicitor is not so exacting as that of his opposite number at the Bar; the solicitor has his clerks and junior partners to do some of the work for him. He misses the camaraderie of the Circuit Mess and the exhilaration of forensic battle in the exalted courts, but his work is generally more varied than the barrister's, and offers closer contact with the life of the ordinary man."

Negotiation, Mel Gibson style

Mel Gibson's public relations disaster continues with the news that he apparently thinks that his ex deserves only 1 percent of his monthly living expenses for child support. He is reportedly trying to limit the monthly child support payments to $6,000, whilst at the same time claiming that he needs $600,000 a month for "absolute necessities".

Now, I don't know the details of this case, but I assume that $6,000 a month is effectively a 'first offer' rather than a serious proposal, although if it is I somewhat doubt whether it will form the basis for successful settlement negotiations.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sad iPad Wedding

I've never understood this obsession some people have with Apple products. I mean, how can you call yourself a computer geek if you've never experienced a Windows Blue Screen of Death? Whatever, this couple in America have just gone too far with their iPad wedding. How sad is that?

Right, I'm off to work on my iPad divorce app...

Care proceedings can't be rushed

Just a quick heads-up for an article in The Guardian's Comment is free column today by Leslie Baker, a magistrate and member of the ­Wiltshire family proceedings panel. He argues that decisions on care orders are too sensitive to be given a fixed deadline, and seems to me to talk a lot of sense.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Divided we fall

Further to my post yesterday, I notice that Resolution and the Law Society have adopted different positions with regard to the legal aid bid round tender process. The Law Society has called for the implementation of the family legal aid tender round to be suspended. However, in an e-newsletter to its members yesterday Resolution stated that they cannot support such a stance, taking the view "that further delay and uncertainty around the civil bid round would have a far greater destabilising effect than the present situation".

I am far too far removed from this to comment in detail, but wouldn't it have been better to present a united front?

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

... it is Monday morning coffee time...

Warning: giant fish can destroy your marriage.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Montag and Pratt: Reality bites, at least for Heidi

I didn't actually know who Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt were, but realised that they must be celebrities, as their names kept appearing on my news feed. Accordingly, as your intrepid Celebrity Watch reporter, it was my duty to investigate...

Apparently, Heidi and Spencer met on some MTV reality show, and were subsequently married. Seeing as I've made it my life's work to avoid reality TV shows, it's no wonder then that I didn't know who they were.

As is the way with reality TV marriages, the union failed to last. In fact, this report on MTV suggests surprise that it even lasted as long as it did: "In June, Heidi Montag filed for legal separation from her husband of over a year, Spencer Pratt". Heidi has now filed for divorce, and she clearly understands the realities of what is involved. She says: "there are assets to divide, work to be discussed, and we share our puppies". Good to know.

As for Spencer, I'm not so sure of his grasp of reality. Another report on MTV tells us that he 'has been busy tweeting about his love for mankind and the ways of the universe', with such gems as: "Remember, your thoughts are sent out on a magnetic frequency into the Universe," and: "Think only good things for yourself and the world and we can change all the negative energy into white positive energy for the earth". Hmm...

The legal aid contracts debacle: A tragedy, or an inevitability?

Resolution has published a news release today detailing the results of a 'Family legal aid contracts survey' that it has carried out. As Resolution Chair David Allison says, the "survey has painted a very worrying picture for the future of legal aid provision in England and Wales".

The survey was sent to all Resolution legal aid lawyers, representing 1,355 firms. 597 firms responded (44% of the total number of firms) and 561 of those bid for a family contract. 532 respondents detailed the number of bids they submitted and the number of successful bids. In total 882 bids were submitted and 474 bids were successful, an overall success rate of 54%. In total 232 respondents were wholly unsuccessful in their family bids (41 % of the total), 239 (43% of the total) were wholly successful and 83 (15%) were partially successful. 7 responses were unclear. 256 respondents (45.6% of the total) said they would be appealing.

The anticipated effects of all this include up to 542 redundancies and seriously reduced access to justice, with 'advice deserts' in areas such as Dorset, Cornwall, Bedfordshire and Lincolnshire. There are also "real concerns that that those in need of emergency legal aid such as domestic abuse victims or those in need of specialist legal advice on issues like forced marriage will be unable to find the legal help and advice they need".

Now, don't get me wrong, I do sympathise with the firms and their employees who will suffer as a result of all of this. However, I can't put out of my mind the thought that something of this nature has been on the cards for a very long time. Since about 1990 successive administrations have had it in for legal aid, and the only surprise to me is that a significant numbers of firms have been able to continue to offer a legal aid service for so long. I know it's easy for me to say this, but perhaps many of those firms should have used that time to position themselves for the possibility that one day they would lose legal aid work, thereby mitigating the effects of the blow when it inevitably falls.

Of course, no such planning would help those in urgent need who will now struggle to find proper legal advice.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Rubbish fashion

I am told that there is a woman inside one of these bin-bags, although quite why she is there completely escapes me.

[Found on RichardDawkins.net

Friday, August 13, 2010

Stripped Bare by the LSC

I have mentioned Yvonne Hossack on this blog previously. She is the Principal of Hossacks Solicitors, who specialise in acting for the disabled. I received an email from Yvonne yesterday, in which she informed me:

"We have lost 90% of our legal aid contract from October because of a typo on our ITT or PQQ or XYZ or I'M A SOLICITOR WHOSE OVERWORKED ASSISTANT MAKES TYPING MISTAKES UNDER STRESS SO SHOULDN’T HAVE A CONTRACT pro forma additional forms attached to the contract applications."

Roger & Christine Kinsey, the parents of one of Yvonne's clients, have decided to stage a latter-day John Lennon and Yoko Ono 'naked pensioner' protest against the cuts, as in the 'Two Virgins' pose above. Roger’s line is: “If Honourable Members won’t save Yvonne’s 2,000 disabled clients it behoves me to utilise my own, more humble, member...” I understand that Roger and Christine are also looking for a shop window in Oxford Street, where they intend to stage a 'bed-in'.

For more information about the work of Yvonne Hossack, see here.

News Bites: Legal aid cuts and Skyping children

A couple of things to mention:

A group of the great and the good, including Cherie Booth QC and James Turner QC, have written to The Guardian today to express their "dismay at the arbitrary decision-making process by which it seems the Legal Services Commission has barred leading family law solicitors, in particular those who specialise in protecting victims of forced marriages and "honour"-based violence, from continuing to act for legally aided clients". They "call upon the LSC to demonstrate the public value of experience over bureaucracy by urgently revisiting its decision". I hope that the LSC are listening - I shall be returning to the debacle that is the legal aid contract tendering process in another post later today.

Meanwhile, a court in New York has permitted a mother to relocate to Florida, provided that the father can video chat with the children via Skype, several times a week. I don't know whether such a thing has been included in a contact order over here, but it seems a pretty good (and obvious) idea in cases involving large distances between the parents. For details of the case, see this story in the New York Divorce Report.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not a good idea #2...

Yesterday I posted about a father who tried to avoid paying child support by sending a friend to give DNA samples. Today, I came across a story of a father in America who was prepared to go to even greater lengths to avoid payment. Ronald “Boobie” McIntyre jumped out of a third floor window to elude arrest on a warrant for $5,979.66 unpaid child support. Unfortunately, his escape attempt did not succeed and he suffered multiple compound fractures to both legs, among other injuries. I think I would rather have paid the money...

Warwickshire County Council v TE & Ors: Another father abandons his battle

Adopting the 'poignant descriptive words' of Munby J (as he then was) in Re D (Intractable Contact Dispute: Publicity) [2004] 1 FLR 1226, His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy began his judgment in Warwickshire County Council v TE & Ors [2010] EWHC B19 yesterday as follows:

"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."

So ends ligation relating to child S, which has been before the court almost continuously since June 1999.

The essential facts of the case are as follows:

1. The child S was born on 5th March 1998.

2. S's parents separated before he was born.

3. In June 1999 the father applied for and obtained contact, which eventually included staying contact.

4, The contact broke down in February 2006.

5. Over the next four years "immense energy and resources were invested in trying to reinstate a meaningful relationship between father and son", but those efforts failed.

6. The father applied for a residence order and on 4th January 2010 residence was transferred from mother to father - see S (A Child), Re [2010] EWHC 192. The court found that S had suffered emotional harm, that S had become alienated from his father and that there was a risk that the long-term consequences of alienation and estrangement from his father could be damaging to S's welfare.

7. The mother appealed and on 21st January her application for permission to appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal - Re S (A Child) [2010] EWCA Civ 219.

8. On the 3rd March the court ordered that the mother should take S to the father's home on 11 March, failing which the services of the Tipstaff would be engaged to implement the transfer the next day (S (A Child) [2010] EWHC B2).

9. S appealed against this decision and on 17th March his appeal was allowed – Re S (A Child) [2010] EWCA Civ 325. The Court of Appeal ordered that there should be an interim care order in favour of the local authority until 7 April; that S should be transferred to an identified foster placement after school the next day, on 18 March; that reintroduction of father and son should take place by face to face contact beginning the following day, 19 March; that transfer of S to his father's care should be effected by 27 March; that the mother's contact should be restricted to indirect contact by telephone; and that the matter should be listed for further directions on the 25th March.

10. S refused to engage in any attempted contact with his father and the social worker became 'most concerned for his emotional and mental health', advising the father that she 'did not believe that any further good could come with S remaining in foster care'.

11. Accordingly, at the hearing on 25th March the father agreed that S should return to his mother, though under the auspices of the interim care order.

12. Thereafter, further attempts at contact were made, but the boy continued to refuse to engage.

13. On the 13th July the father's counsel informed the court that he no longer intended to seek the implementation of the residence order made on 4th January.

14. The parents then agreed that there should be a residence order in favour of the mother; that there should be a supervision order in favour of the local authority for one year; that the father have indirect contact only and that pursuant to s.91(14) Children Act 1989 neither parent shall, without the permission of the court, make any further application in respect of the child until he has reached the age of 16. On the 21st July the court approved an order in these terms.

The reason for this judgment is set out by Judge Bellamy in paragraph 11:

"This has been an extraordinary case. The two Court of Appeal decisions attracted wide publicity. There has also been significant professional interest. Against that background I was persuaded that it would not be appropriate to end this case simply by the court approving an order agreed between the parties. In his position statement for the hearing on 21 July, Mr Vater, counsel for the local authority, made the point that the story did not end with the last hearing before the Court of Appeal. He submitted that 'before that decision or those preceding it are relied upon in other, similar cases, either by any experts for the purposes of research or lawyers in support of their cases, the full story should be recorded.' I agree. That is the purpose of this judgment."

Having set out the full story, Judge Bellamy concluded his judgment with some reflections on some of the issues that arose, including discussing the concept of alienation, dealing with a case involving an alienated child and the need for evidence from an appropriately experienced expert.

To end on a slightly more hopeful note, the judgment has as a postscript an email from the guardian describing a meeting at which S was informed of the final order. After the meeting S told the guardian 'that this was not the end and he would think about seeing his father after his GCSE's'.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Revenge is a tissue to wipe your...

Rebranding of Charmin toilet paper was ‘revenge on ex-girlfriend Cushelle’.

Not a good idea...

Headline in the Daily Mail yesterday:

'Mean' father sent best friend to take DNA paternity test on his behalf as he couldn't afford maintenance payments

It's not the first time that it's been tried, and I'm sure it won't be the last. What amazes me is that they think they'll get away with it. Don't they realise they have to take photographic ID with them when they give DNA samples?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Prudent: Divorce Insurance

My thanks to James Gross of the Maryland Divorce Legal Crier for bringing my attention to what is claimed to be the world's first divorce insurance. Called WedLock, the insurance "reduces the risk that your individual/personal financial situation will be negatively impacted by legal fees and other costs associated with divorce".

Here's how it works. For $15.99 per month each, you purchase units that will each initially pay out $1,250 when you make a claim (by providing proof of your divorce). Claims can only be made after the four-year 'maturity period' has expired, although if you're not confident that your marriage will last even that long, you can pay to have the period reduced to three years. On the other hand, if you can stick it out beyond the maturity period you will get an extra $250 cover per unit for every year you stay together.

To help you decide that you need divorce insurance, the WedLock website incudes all sorts of helpful calculators, my favourite of which is the Divorce Probability Calculator. Now why don't all divorce law firms have one of those on their websites?

Whilst I couldn't possibly endorse this product (at least, not without a suitable payment), anything that helps to ensure that needy divorce lawyers receive their fees seems like an excellent idea to me.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Viagra keeps divorce lawyers out of business

I knew I would learn something interesting doing this Celebrity Watch feature. According to The People (there is now nowhere I won't go to bring you the best celebrity news), viagra has helped actress Denise Welch save her marriage to actor Tim Healy. Under the innuendo-rich headline: Viagra keeps our marriage solid, we are given all the sordid details, or at least as many as any sensible person can cope with, assuming they can keep going to the end of the story.

Portents of Doom

I've never known a time like it. Here is a small selection of headlines from the last couple of weeks:

Barnardo's says court delays damage children

Family justice system to 'implode', warns top judge

Response to Baby P 'has pushed foster care network to the brink'

Call for ‘urgent action’ on children’s services

Family law supplier base ‘decimated’ by LSC tender

'Carnage' as family solicitors lose legal aid contracts

Family court service criticised over increased demand

Cafcass efficiency questioned by National Audit Office

So, is the entire family justice system about to collapse around our ears? I feel like I should write a long and detailed post setting out my answer to that question, but the truth is I just don't know. I suspect nobody really knows. We have, of course, had warnings of disaster previously, but the system has always creaked on. I suppose the most pertinent question is: Is there a 'breaking-point', and if so, what or where is it? Is it delay? If so, what level of delay is unacceptable? Is it a lack of a particular human 'resource' (legal aid lawyers, cafcass officers, social workers, foster carers etc.)? Or is it, as seems most likely, a combination of factors?

For now, in answer to the question as to whether the family justice system is about to collapse I must fall back on the cop-out answer: only time will tell. All that does seem absolutely certain is that there are even more difficult times ahead for anyone working for the system, and for all those unfortunate enough to be caught up within it. The challenges for those seeking to resolve these problems are clearly enormous.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

News Bites

Another new feature on Family Lore is News Bites, which will comprise short but (hopefully) interesting news stories that either don't make it into Family Lore News, or upon which I will make just a brief comment.

The first such story concerns a high-profile casualty of the legal aid contract tendering process. Apparently, Anne-Marie Hutchinson's firm Dawson Cornwell has been refused a contract to handle general family law (although they have been granted a contract to do child abduction work). For those who don't know, Ms Hutchinson is a leading family lawyer who has had an extremely distinguished career, including being awarded an OBE for her services to international child abduction and adoption in 2002 and receiving the International Bar Association's Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award in 2010. Sadly, it seems that the reality of post-October 2010 legal aid is that not only will the poorest in society have less choice, but that they will also be denied access to some of the best legal advisers.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Celebrity Watch

As regular readers will know, I've generally shied away from featuring celebrities on Family Lore. However, I've decided to start a new feature Celebrity Watch, as I thought that maybe we could actually learn something from what our idols are getting up to. Or maybe not. To kick off, here are two stories in the tabloid press today:

Firstly, The Mirror ensures that Cheryl Cole remains in the headlines by reporting that she has "missed the deadline for a "quickie" divorce" (whatever that means), because of her recent bout of malaria. Apparently, this will for some reason result in the decree nisi possibly now taking months to secure. Mrs Cole has, however, instructed her lawyers to make up for lost time by working around the clock. I wonder how much their hourly rate is after midnight...

The second story comes from The Sun, and involves Robbie Williams and his forthcoming nuptials. Very sensibly, Robbie has chosen to protect his not inconsiderable wealth (as fully documented by The Sun), by persuading his bride-to-be to sign a pre-nuptial agreement. Take that, Ms Field!

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

UK law firm says Facebook involved in 20% of divorce cases.

New Law Would Ban Marriages Between People Who Don't Love Each Other

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Family Justice System faces "complete meltdown"

My thanks to John Hirst of Jailhouselawyer's Blog for drawing my attention to a letter that appeared in The Times today from Piers Pressdee, QC and Alan Bean, Co-Chairs of the Association of Lawyers for Children. Entitled No family justice, the letter warns of the effect of almost halving the number of family legal aid law firms from this October as a result of the legal aid contract tendering process. The writers describe that process as having "too much to do with box-ticking and procurement dogma and too little to do with child welfare, service quality and client need", and say that: "Unless the Government steps in, from October the family justice system, already creaking from years of under-investment, will officially be in complete meltdown." Strong words indeed, but will they fall on deaf ears?

[Sorry, no link to the letter as The Times is, of course, now behind a paywall.]

* * * * *

UPDATE: The full text of the letter may now be read here.

US Judge votes 'No' on Prop 8

I was pleased to see in the news this morning that a US federal judge has overturned California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage ('Proposition 8'). Subsequently, whilst I was out doing other things, I speculated as to whether the decision could have any implications over here, in terms of such a ban being a breach of human rights. Well, my question has already been answered in the negative by the UK Human Rights Blog, which says that: "A similar decision is unlikely here, however, given a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling on gay marriage. Ultimately, only Parliament is likely to bring about a change to the law in the UK."

It seems therefore that the wait for full marriage equality over here will go on, although there do appear to be moves in that direction.

Utterly Barristerly

Here is something else that I found amongst my late father's papers. The amusing thing about this small piece of family history is the use of the archaic (even for 1969) term 'utter barrister'. I have it on the very good authority of BabyBarista that the term refers to being called to the ‘utter’ or ‘outer’ Bar, as against the 'inner' Bar.

Ain't life a bitch?

I came across this photo of me whilst going through some of my late father's papers. Aged twenty and full of idealism:

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Promoting the profession

I thought it was about time I resumed my quest for the greatest divorce lawyer advertising ideas, so here is one from an Austrian advertising agency (I don't know whether it was ever used):

To explain, the idea of the advert is stated thus: "We cause havoc by slipping snapshots of nakek [sic] males and females into bags containing developed photos. The back-side of the "cuckoo's egg" explains its origin". The "cuckoo's egg" is effectively a divorce lawyer's business card that says (something like): 'This snapshot was attached by us. Should you ever receive similar ones, please contact [name and address of lawyer]'. Sounds like an excellent idea to me.

Whilst trawling the web for this post I came across a particularly gross advert featuring a divorce lawyer, but actually advertising a South African charity. If you're at all squeamish, look away now:

In case you can't make it out, the card reads: "In Bob's previous life he secured multi-million rand divorce settlements. Looks like you're still bleeding 'em dry 'ey Bob? Do something good in this life. www.charitysa.co.za." Nice to see that we divorce lawyers are held in similar high regard in South Africa...

Now THAT is tasteful tasty

I've posted about divorce cakes before (note the lack of originality for the title of this post), but this one has got to be the most graphic of all that I have yet seen. Who says a divorce has to be amicable?

[Image originally posted on Flickr by "cdgleason", April 24, 2009.]

Australian studies cast doubt on shared care

I have just come across this article at HealthCanal.com, via Florida Divorce. Two reports into the impact on children of divorce commissioned by the Australian Government Attorney General’s Department have indicated possible adverse effects of shared care arrangements. Specifically, the reports find that children aged under four and school aged children could be put at risk developmentally through shared parenting arrangements following separation.

Research team leader Associate Professor Jennifer McIntosh is quoted as saying: "Our findings show conclusively that rigid arrangements of any kind, often fuelled by acrimony and poor cooperation, and set out in court orders, are associated with higher depressive and anxiety symptoms in children and this form of living became something children often sought to change". She therefore recommends that that shared care – which the article defines as 'when children stay overnight with the non-resident parent five nights or more a fortnight' – for very young children 'should not normally be starting point for discussions about parenting arrangements'.

The findings of the first study, which focused on school aged children in 'high conflict separation situations' included:
  • That shared care arrangements were less stable over time than primary care arrangements;
  • That children living in rigidly fixed shared arrangements were most likely to want a change in the arrangement, reporting most frequent conflict between parents and expressing feelings of being caught in the middle;
  • That living in shared care over 3–4 years was associated with greater difficulties in attention, concentration and task completion; and
  • That, perhaps unsurprisingly, fathers with shared care arrangements were the most satisfied with the arrangement, despite reporting higher levels of ongoing conflict about parenting.
The second study investigated infants and toddlers in separated families and found that:
  • In infants under two, overnight care with the non-resident parent once or more a week was associated with high irritability and more vigilant efforts by the infant to watch and stay near the resident parent;
  • In children aged two to three, shared care at five or more nights per fortnight was associated with lower levels of persistence (playing continuously, staying with tasks, practising new skills, coping with interruption), and more problematic behaviour - crying or hanging on to the resident parent, high anxiety, being frequently upset; eating disturbances and aggressive behaviour; and
  • For children aged between four to five, independent effects of any care arrangement on emotional and behavioural regulation outcomes were no longer evident, with the vast majority of behavioural and emotional disturbance accounted for by inter-parental conflict and lack of warmth in parenting.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Freedom, one year on

It is now (just over) one year since I gave up practising. Since then, whenever I've been asked what I do the best answer that I can come up with is 'freelance writer'. At the outset, I wasn't at all sure that I could make a living doing such a thing, but here I am still going.

In response to a recent post I was asked whether I prefer reading and commenting on family law to being a family lawyer. My answer is a resounding 'yes'. In fact, I have discovered a level of interest in the subject that I never realised I had, or at least not until I started this blog. I think I would have always preferred writing to practising, although the fact that I had been practising for so long (25+ years) probably made the change even more preferable!

OK, before I embark on my second year freelance I would like to thank everyone who has made it possible, in particular: my very good friend Mike Semple-Piggot (aka Charon QC), without whose encouragement and advice I would probably never have embarked on the first year, Yell.com, for inviting me to write for them, everyone who has advertised here or on Family Lore Focus and, last but not least, all of you out there who take the time to read the nonsense that I write.

Onwards and (hopefully) upwards!

[OK, I know that the PC in the picture above was not my last one, but I can't remember where I put my last one. Besides, I prefer the old pre-SRA certificate with the Law Society coat of arms on it.]

July Post of the Month

As I anticipated in my last post, much has been written about the Court of Appeal's decision in Tchenguiz v Imerman this week, so much so that I could not possibly have read it all. However, of what I have read my favourite piece is the post on the subject by Marilyn Stowe entitled: The Hildebrand Rules and Imerman v Tchenguiz: what about Jim v Mary? Why? Because it explains the practical reality of the effect of the decision in the kind of case that any family lawyer is likely to come across. I also agree entirely with Marilyn's view of the decision, which she calls "a sad day for family justice", and with her analysis of what was wrong with the decision ("they failed to recognise the unique and fundamental nature of marriage"), and why ("unfortunately the Court of Appeal ... was dominated by judges who are not family lawyers and who have little experience of the realities of dealing with everyday cases such as we lawyers deal with across the country").

I was going to mention Marilyn's post here when I first read it, but I decided to wait a couple of days and instead give it my Post of the Month award for July 2010.