Friday, April 30, 2010

New Legal Service

I have received the following press release:

Innovative new legal service to reduce the stress of divorce.

Each year in the UK, thousands of divorcing couples become caught up in costly and protracted legal disputes over separating their finances. For couples already at breaking point due to the collapse of their marriage, the stress and uncertainty over mounting legal bills is a real headache.


An innovative new service is being launched today, offering access to expert family lawyers who will help people to negotiate a financial settlement on divorce, for a transparent fixed price.

The new service is being launched by Wikivorce, the UK's national divorce support organisation, in collaboration with leading family law firms: Brethertons LLP and The National Family Law Practice.

Ian Rispin, the Managing Director of Wikivorce, explained "A common concern I hear when talking to some of our 55,000 members, is that they are very worried about large legal bills, and are particularly concerned that they have no control over the way these costs escalate month by month. Traditional law firms have been very reluctant to move away from hourly billing, but fortunately, in Brethertons and The National Family Law Practice, we have found two very enlightened firms, who have worked closely with us to develop this innovative range of customer friendly, fixed price legal services."

Linda Jones, Head Of Family Law at Brethertons, agrees "In today's economic climate, divorcing clients tell us they want cost-certainty and fee transparency. With our service FAR £egal (Fixed Ancillary Relief) we have broken the ancillary relief process down into four easy to understand steps and provided clear, transparent pricing. This means that our clients will know in advance exactly what the service delivers and how much it will cost."

Rachel Edwards Barrott, Principal Solicitor at TNFLP added, "We have been working successfully with Wikivorce for over two years, providing low cost divorces for many of their members. We are excited about extending the range of affordable services to include Ancillary Relief at a fixed price, which will provide clients with a professional legal service and peace of mind about the costs."

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A sign of things to come?

Lord Justice Wall (left), the new President of the Family Division, today adjourned an application by a father for permission to appeal against contact and s.91(14) orders to a full court, despite clearly being minded to refuse permission himself. The reason for this was that: "The father is amongst many who feel let down by the system, and if his application is not to overcome the permission hurdle that is, I think, a decision which should be taken by the full court."

Could this be a sign of a new attitude towards those "who feel let down by the system"? Under the new President will that system make greater efforts to placate those aggrieved by its workings? We shall see...

Family LoreCast #10

This week Natasha and I discuss the judgment in the Sharon Shoesmith case and the latest in the Young divorce saga. In the usual light-hearted finish, I detail a cunning scheme for divorce lawyers to drum up new business.

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

Don't judge my family

I mentioned the Don't judge my family campaign in a previous post. Now they have created a video to support the campaign:



[My thanks, as so often, to John Hirst of Jailhouselawyer's Blog for bringing this to my attention.]

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

To the next Government: Please think your policies through

Family Law reports today the disturbing news that an increase in violence against children may be linked to the 2008 rise in court fees for care and supervision orders.

A study by Cardiff University has found that data gathered from 44 accident and emergency wards in England and Wales in 2009 showed a 7.5% increase in violence against victims aged 10 and under. Professor Jonathan Shepherd from Cardiff's Violence and Society Research Group suggested that one possible explanation for this is that it is more difficult for children to be taken into care by local authorities.

The fees increase came into force on the 1st May 2008, raising the fee from £150 to a staggering £4,825 for a fully contested case. Unsurprisingly, a review commissioned by the Justice Secretary concluded that the fees can deter local authorities from bringing proceedings, and the Government recently announced that the fees will be scrapped from April 2011.

Now, I accept that the study does not of course prove that children have suffered as a direct result of the fees increase, but surely it didn't take much imagination back in early 2008 to realise that this was at least a reasonable possibility? Let us hope that the next administration, whatever its hue (or hues), thinks things through a little more carefully before making any changes to child protection law or procedure.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce – Part 2: A Letter in the Post

Brian Jones re-read the letter.

“”Would you be prepared to admit adultery for the purpose of divorce proceedings?”” He quoted. “Would I be prepared to admit adultery?” He repeated, emphasising the “I”. “No I bloody wouldn’t. I’m not having that. The marriage had broken down long before you and I started seeing each other.”

“But it says that if you don’t admit adultery then she’ll divorce you for unreasonable behaviour.”

“She’s the one being unreasonable, not letting me see the kids.”

“Yes, you need to sort that out. Perhaps you should see a solicitor.”

Brian ignored that piece of advice. “Makes me laugh,” he said, “she expects me to keep paying the mortgage and pay her maintenance, but won’t let me see the kids.”

“See a solicitor.” Shirley repeated.

“OK, OK.” Brian replied. “But I don’t see why she won’t just talk to me – then we could sort all of this out without the expense of solicitors. Bloody leeches.”

“You know why she won’t talk to you – because you lost your rag with her.”

“Damn right I lost my rag. She had no right to read my emails.”

“No, but you shouldn’t have hit her – that just played into her hands.”

“Whose side are you on?” Brian asked.

“Yours, of course. But now she can get a court order to stop you going round there, as it says in the letter.” Replied Shirley.

“She can’t do that – it’s my house. I’ll go round there whenever I want.”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea Bri – what if she calls the police?”

“I’m not afraid of them. Anyway, everyone knows the police don’t get involved in ‘domestics’.”

“I’m not so sure about that either. Look, Bri, go and see a solicitor before you do anything you’ll regret.”

Brian knew she was right. Reluctantly, he agreed.

Most Wanted Deadbeat Parents

The Americans seem full of ideas about how child support may be recovered. The latest, coming from a mother of triplets who has spent eleven years battling to get child support from their father, is to make a television programme aimed at 'deadbeat' parents. The programme Most Wanted Deadbeat Parents "will be presented in a 1-hour television format in which four (4) of the most serious deadbeat offenders are profiled on-camera using photo’s, court records, interviews with acquaintances and victims and information obtained through public records in an attempt to narrow the geographic area in which the offender was last known to frequent and then bring in local law enforcement agencies. When possible, a MWDBP camera crew will be on-site when “deadbeats” located due to “tips” from television program viewers are apprehended by local law enforcement agencies".

According to this report, the programme is not looking to target parents who genuinely cannot afford to pay child support, but rather those who can afford it but choose not to pay. The idea behind the programme seems to be twofold. Firstly, "through the help of the general viewing public, locate serious “deadbeat” offenders and through local law enforcement agencies, bring them before the courts where they can". Secondly, to encourage 'deadbeats' to pay up, rather than face being shamed on television.

I'm sure that there may be some on this side of the Atlantic who would be horrified by this idea, but is it really any different from those TV programmes we watch that 'expose' other types of wrongdoing?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Shagger Gagger

As I think I've made clear previously, I don't give a damn about Cheryl and Ashley Cole. As far as I'm concerned, they are both over-paid and under-talented. I would not therefore mention them here again, but for the fact that there does appear to be a point of legal interest in this report in the Sunday Mirror today (yes, you read that correctly - a Mirror newspaper with a point of legal interest in it - in fact, the article is actually quite informative).

According to the report, the nation's sweetheart has instructed lawyer to the great and the good Helen Ward, who has written to Cashley, basically saying that she'll make no claim against him provided that he keeps his mouth shut. She does not want him to contact her at all for six months after the divorce, or to ever reveal anything about their relationship (which makes you wonder just what there is that he could reveal). The report quotes the ubiquitous Mark Stephens as saying that whilst it is "incredibly rare" for a party to demand that there be no contact between the couple after the divorce, it does occur "where there has been infidelity because one partner may be controlling or trying to get in touch to make amends". Of these possibilities, I suspect the latter with Cashley...

A point that I find amusing about the letter to Cashley, and something upon which the Mirror comments, is that it gives Cashley just seven days to reply. I came across this sort of nonsense many times in my career - such a short time for the other party to receive such a letter, take proper legal advice upon it and respond to it is, of course, quite ridiculous - but at least it impresses your client.

The Return of the Ring

It is reported that a man in New York is taking his former fiancée to court for the return of a $17,500 diamond engagement ring that he gave to her. According to court papers, in may last year Christopher Reinhold proposed to Colette DiPierro, she said yes, and accepted the ring. However, in September she broke off the engagement. Reinhold repeatedly requested the return of the ring, but she refused. He is now taking her to court, and according to one legal expert, he has a good case.

Over here, Parliament in its wisdom has actually legislated about engagement rings. The Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1970 is one of those things that is taught to all family law students but actually used by virtually none of them throughout their careers. Under section 3(2) we are told that: "The gift of an engagement ring shall be presumed to be an absolute gift; this presumption may be rebutted by proving that the ring was given on the condition, express or implied, that it should be returned if the marriage did not take place for any reason." Thus, the onus is upon the giver of the ring to prove that the gift of the ring is conditional upon the marriage actually taking place, although I can't imagine many romantic souls saying: "Here's an engagement ring, but I want it back if you don't marry me". Note that s.3(2) refers to the marriage not taking place for any reason, thus it would not matter if it was the giver of the ring who called off the engagement.

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

Friday, April 23, 2010

Family LoreCast #9

After the Easter hiatus, Natasha and I return with our ninth Lorecast, in which we discuss the case of Re W (Children), in which the court sought the views of a six-year-old child, a study that indicates that marriage has no bearing on children's outcomes and the tricky problem of dealing with pets on divorce.

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lone Gays State

According to Wikipedia Texas has the highest percentage of people with a religious affiliation in the United States. It is perhaps therefore not surprising that the subject of gay marriage and divorce is occupying quite a bit of court time over there. The Attorney General is appealing against two divorces granted to same-sex couples who married in Massachusetts, on the grounds that such marriages are not recognised in the state. If he is successful, then obviously this could present quite a problem for other such couples who have moved from the state where they married.

Presumably, this could also present a similar problem for couples who have entered into a civil partnership over here and have moved to a jurisdiction where such unions are not recognised (I don't know whether Texas recognises civil partnerships as they are not marriages). On the other hand, same-sex marriages entered into in Massachusetts are specifically recognised over here, so they can be dissolved by our courts.

Clearly, this is a mess that needs to be resolved, and the solution is simple: if a legal marriage between a heterosexual couple entered into in one jurisdiction is recognised in another jurisdiction, then surely that other jurisdiction should also recognise legal same-sex marriages entered into in the first jurisdiction? Such a rule would not, of course, force the second jurisdiction to allow same-sex marriages to take place there.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Woman Who Tickled Too Much: And Other Incredible Stories from Inside Britain's Law Courts by Jonathan Herring

My latest book review has now gone up on Law and More. The Woman Who Tickled Too Much: And Other Incredible Stories from Inside Britain's Law Courts by Jonathan Herring comprises fifteen stories from our family courts and is intended to give "a fascinating insight into the difficult questions and even more difficult decisions our legal institutions have to wrangle with every day". The review can be found here.

Law and More is an "independent career and lifestyle site aimed solely at the legal profession", including employment, entertainment and lifestyle sections.

"Couples on the Brink" Bill

It's good to see that American politicians are as clueless about divorce as their British counterparts. In Minnesota, Senator Steve Dille is proposing a "Couples on the Brink" Bill, which will 'provide an "off ramp" on the superhighway to divorce'. The idea is that the Bill will 'use an additional $5 tax on marriage licenses to develop a way to identify couples who might want to reconcile -- and improve the quality of marriage counseling they'd receive'.

The problem here is that there will surely be very few takers. My experience is that the number of people who have issued divorce proceedings that are prepared to even consider reconciliation is extremely small. Contrary to the belief of (it seems) most politicians, most people do not issue divorce proceedings lightly - they only do so when they are certain that their marriage has broken down irretrievably.

As the Chairwoman of the Minnesota State Bar association's family law section points out, there are far more useful ways of spending this money, such as 'domestic violence prevention programs and programs that assist parents in successfully parenting their children as a separated couple'.

So no, Gordon Brown/David Cameron/Nick Clegg, this is not a good idea.

[My thanks to the Family Law Prof Blog for the heads-up on this story.]

New Family Law Newswatch website


Family Law Newswatch have at last completed the re-design of their website, and a pretty good job they seem to have done too.

The new site includes sections for news, interviews, cases, legislation, articles, practice guidance and even a Family Law Calendar. There is also an Opinion section in which renown family lawyers such as Sandra Davis and Andrew Woolley give their views (quite where Andrew Woolley finds the time to do this, blog and run a firm, I don't know).

Best of all, the site at last contains feeds to its various sections, although one overall feed would have been useful.

All in all, the new site is a vast improvement, and definitely worth a (regular) visit.

All important updates on Family Law Newswatch will, of course, continue to be included in Family Lore Focus.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce – Part 1: The First Interview

“Please – take a seat,” the solicitor ushered Liz Jones and her mother to the two vacant chairs door-side of her desk. “Now, how can I help you?” She asked, with a faint smile.

Liz hesitated. “I er... want a divorce.” She replied, weakly.

“OK, and what are the circumstances?”

“Where to begin?” Liz asked.

“At the beginning?” The solicitor offered. “Why do you think your marriage has broken down?” She continued, rather more helpfully.

“Her husband’s seeing another woman.” Interjected Liz’s mother Julia.

The solicitor looked at Julia. “I see.” She said. “Has he admitted this?”

“He doesn’t have to. It’s obvious.” Continued Julia. “He works with her. Been sending her personal emails and texts.”

“But has he actually gone out with her?” The solicitor tried to direct the question at Liz, but it was her mother who responded.

“Yes. Spent the night with her. More than once.”

“Have you spoken to him about this?” The question was once more directed at Liz.

There was a moment of silence. The solicitor could see that Liz was trying to hold back tears. She gave her client time to compose herself.

“I... tried to.” Liz replied, her voice breaking. “But he just said I was being stupid. Then when I told him about the emails I’d seen he became angry. He said that I shouldn’t have been looking at his private emails. I told him he shouldn’t be carrying on with another woman. Then he hit me. After that, he left, and he’s not been back since.”

At that point, the tears began to flow. The solicitor offered her a tissue from a box on her desk.

“I see.” She said again. “Perhaps I should take some details.”

The solicitor began taking notes. The details she wrote down could have been from any one of a thousand divorces she had dealt with in her long career: married ten years, two children, jointly-owned house, mortgage, husband runs his own business, wife works part-time, marriage been breaking down for a while, husband now seeing another woman... apparently.

“Will I lose the house?” Liz asked, anxiously.

“No, I don’t think it will come to that.” The solicitor reassured her.

“Certainly not.” Interjected Julia. “He can afford to keep paying for it.”

The solicitor did not reply.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Lawyer sue thyself

It sounds like an April Fool, but this story in The Lawyer clearly bears today's date. Solicitor Andrew Grove is apparently suing his own firm Andrew Grove & Company for negligence and damages in connection with advice he received ­concerning his divorce.

I think I may now have heard it all...

Outstanding International Woman Lawyer Award


I have received the following media release from Dawson Cornwell:

Dawson Cornwell is delighted to announce that our partner Anne-Marie Hutchinson OBE has received the International Bar Association’s Outstanding International Woman Lawyer award.

The announcement of this prestigious award and its presentation was made at the IBA 4th World Women Lawyers’ Conference in London on 15th April 2010. It was awarded in recognition of a woman lawyer who has achieved professional excellence in her field and influenced other women to pursue legal careers or opened doors for women lawyers in a variety of job settings that historically were closed to them or advanced opportunities for women within a practice, area or segment of the profession.

The award was sponsored by LexisNexis.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Judging families

There seems to be quite a backlash against the Tory pro-marriage policies, in particular their proposed £150 a year tax break for (some) married couples.

The Independent today runs an article suggesting that: "The Conservatives' promise to give preferential treatment to married couples has mobilised a new force in British politics". The article cites a single mother who "is furious with David Cameron for his plans to give married couples a tax break" ("I think it's blatant discrimination," she says), and goes on to list several organisations who are none too impressed with the Tories' ideas, including somewhat surprisingly the Institute for Fiscal Studies (whose figures the Tories used to justify their plan) and, somewhat less surprisingly, the single parents' charity Gingerbread, which says that the policy "makes our members feel like second-class families".

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports a more organised opposition to the Tory policy. The Don't Judge My Family campaign is to be launched on Facebook. The idea is that those who join the campaign will refuse the Tories' £3-a-week tax break for married couples and hand the money to charity, if the Conservatives get into power. Not too certain what effect this will have - I quite like the 'Don't Judge My Family' tagline, but I'm not sure that many of those in any future Tory government will be too bothered about the money going to charity.

* * * * *

Update: The Don't judge my family campaign is already up and running, here. (Thanks, Eleanor.)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Court seeks views of five year old child

The Telegraph reports today a child abduction case in which the court requested the views of a five year old girl. According to counsel for her father, five was “the youngest age in the reported jurisprudence at which a child has been found to have attained an age and degree of maturity at which it is appropriate to take account of her views”.

The case involves a mother who brought her three children aged eight, five and three to Britain from Ireland last year, without the consent of their father. The father seeks their return to Ireland. In the course of the proceedings Mrs Justice Black directed that the views of both the girl and her eight-year old brother be sought, through interviews with a social worker. The social worker reported that the children displayed “visceral” objections to returning to live with their father, and Mrs Justice Black refused their return.

The father sought permission to appeal against this decision, but was refused by the Court of Appeal, in what The Telegraph says "will be seen as a landmark ruling for the family courts". The Court of Appeal's reasons will be published later, and should be an interesting read - I will leave any further comment until then.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New online divorce service

I have received the following press release:

Justdivorce.co.uk offers consumers a completely online and regulated divorce service

* Solicitor-led service for uncontested divorce

London – 13 April 2010. www.justdivorce.co.uk has launched a sophisticated end-to-end, ‘Litigant in Person’, online divorce service for consumers who wish to manage their own uncontested divorces. However, unlike many other online services, justdivorce.co.uk is operated by a firm of solicitors under the supervision of the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority (the SRA). The new website provides a fully regulated, fixed price service which is clearly more sophisticated than a large number of the paralegal services that promote packaged divorce deals.

Justdivorce.co.uk takes a two pronged approach. It provides consumers with the background information they need to decide if an uncontested online divorce is right for their circumstances and explains the legal processes and paperwork required to obtain a divorce. It also leads the client through an easy-to-follow series of questions, the answers to which populate court forms and letters with all the appropriate information. These documents can be checked by the client, approved for submission by the solicitors’ caseworker, and downloaded anywhere in the world via the Internet before mailing to the appropriate court. Emails are sent to clients explaining exactly what documents are required at each stage of the process and what court fees will need to be paid at that time. Justdivorce.co.uk also offers complementary services such as financial clean break orders, divorce decree searches, and marriage certificate translations.

The new online service has been developed by Bryan Reed, an experienced Consultant solicitor at family law firm Josiah-Lake Gardiner LLP, who is a member of the Family Law Panel and the Resolution group of family lawyers. He explains that: “The first place that everyone turns to for information today is the Internet, so it makes absolute sense that certain legal services can be provided via the Internet too.

“We are confident that as one of only a handful of e-legal providers that are genuinely online, from the beginning of the process through to Decree Absolute, we will be able to remove the stress, worry and delay that can occur when someone takes the decision to manage their own divorce.

“We believe that we are giving our clients peace of mind when they need it most, filling a gap between ‘traditional solicitors’ handling divorce cases on an hourly rate and paralegals providing services unregulated by the SRA and promoted by an online brochure site.

“The legal profession should embrace the opportunity presented by advances in technology to offer a new kind of commoditised, yet entirely secure, legal service. Enabling clients to manage their own simple undefended divorces online does not mean that advice will not be sought in more complex cases, nor that referrals will decrease. What it does mean is that consumers have a choice about how they access legal services and interact with the court system,” said Reed.

Sod the children, this could win votes

I've not commented upon this up until now, but I found it quite appalling (although not at all surprising) that the Government decided that Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill did not warrant proper consideration and was therefore suitable for the 'wash up' procedure, being rushed through before parliament was dissolved. This seems to me to say it all about politicians: being backed by the media, the further opening up of the family courts is a potential vote-winner, so let's push it through without fully considering the possible consequences for the children involved.

"We have established the Family Justice Review to examine reforms to the family justice system making it more child-focused and family-centred." So says the Labour Party Manifesto. I'm sorry? "Child-focused"? There doesn't seem to me to be much that is 'child-focused' about pushing through a provision about which children themselves have expressed serious reservations, without giving it the fullest consideration. Still, only a complete idiot would believe anything they read in a party manifesto...

Other lawyers far more learned than I have warned that the provisions of Part 2 "will put vulnerable children at risk", as reported by the Law Society Gazette today.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The politics of gimmickry

There is an amusing article by Mark Steel in The Independent today in which he analyses the Tory thinking behind its policy of tax breaks for married couples. Here is a sample:
Couples scream with anguish at each other while the kids plead for them to stop, then sob themselves uncontrollably to sleep in bewilderment at how their love has turned to such animosity, until they conclude that the situation is irretrievable and in desperation one of them goes to live on a mate's settee while they draw up arrangements for access to the children, and all the while they're thinking, "The one thing that would have kept us together, is £2.87 per week tax relief, subject to alterations in the basic allowance."
He continues in a similar vein, and his mockery extends to the Labour party, who he says have done so much to create this culture of 'gimmicks' in the first place. Definitely worth a read, especially if you are standing as a candidate in the forthcoming election.

Divorce Recovery Kit

My thanks to Divorce Saloon for bringing my attention to another idea from America. The Divorce Recovery Kit by OakStreet Man ('Exceptional Goods for the Uncompromising Man') is aimed at helping divorced men to instantly create "a new home that is comfortable as well as comforting". The kit comprises such essentials as pots and pans, bedding and towels, and such not-so-essentials as champagne glasses and a 'sea salt body scrub', whatever that is. Mind you, none of this comes cheap. The kit comes in two sizes, a possibly unfortunately named 'Queen Sized Kit' which costs $5,975 or a 'King/California King Sized Kit' (presumably California is synonymous with all things big), which costs $6,375. Still, you owe it to yourself...

No gambling with child support

I've blogged previously about the American idea of casinos deducting any child support arrears from the winnings of their patrons. Well, now Missouri may ban 'deadbeat' parents who have a conviction for owing child support from even entering casinos in the state. Quite how such a law would work, I'm not sure. Would casinos have to do a police check on every patron before letting them in? Or would it just be that any convicted child support debtor found in a casino commits an offence?

I quite liked the idea of deducting arrears from winnings - at least that benefits the children. However, restricting the debtor's liberties in this way is unlikely to encourage them to cough up the money they owe. Still, I suppose the same could be said for disqualifying non-payers from driving over here, although driving is a rather more valuable liberty than the right to gamble.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Campaigns, criticisms and clerihews

I shall miss The Times' regular shots at the family justice system when it goes pay-to-view in June. The paper has, of course, long been running a campaign to open up the family courts (I wonder how many people will still be following their campaign after June?). Today the paper runs three stories, or perhaps that should be two stories and a commentary:

The first story concerns the criticisms of social workers in the recent EH v London Borough of Greenwich & Ors case (in which Lord Justice Wall said that social workers "are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system"), and in a case involving Devon County Council, in which Lord Justice Aikens described the actions of social workers in Devon as “more like Stalin’s Russia or Mao’s China than the West of England”. The author of this story, Rosemary Bennett, then gives a brief commentary in which she suggests that we may have gone too far in suspecting child abuse, quoting fellow campaigner John Hemming MP who says that only 0.27 per cent of care applications are refused outright. Bennett suggests that the comments in the Greenwich and Devon cases may serve as a warning not just to social workers, but also to family court judges, who appear too ready to follow the views of social workers. The article concludes with the self-congratulatory: "Opening up the family courts, which followed a campaign by this newspaper, could help as their judgments are more open to scrutiny", and a warning that "further reforms may be needed".

In the second story Frances Gibb reminds us that Sir Nicholas Wall is, of course, to be sworn in today as the new President of the Family Division. This, she says, "may be a relatively low-key affair", but he "is unlikely in future to have a low profile to match", being "well-well known for his forthright pronouncements both in court and out of it". More importantly, however, Gibb tells us that when not in court Sir Nicholas enjoys collecting and restoring books and composing clerihews. Unfortunately, we are not given an example of his literary talent. However, says Gibb, in the immediate future he will have no time for such frivolities. Instead "he will be fighting the corner for the family courts: more funds; more disputes resolved out of court and no further opening up of the family courts — at least without full debate". Yes, those things should keep him busy...

Monday, April 12, 2010

Beyond the call


Now this is really going beyond the call of duty towards divorce lawyers, but it is reported that Elizabeth Taylor / Hilton / Wilding / Todd / Fisher / Burton / Warner / Fortensky is about to marry for the ninth time. This woman should be given a medal...

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Cohabitees flock to get married after Tories announce marriage tax break; divorces called off


Confident of a Tory victory in the upcoming general election, thousands of cohabiting couples who have up to now been living in sin are signing up to get married, so that they can claim the £150 a year marriage tax break just announced by the Conservative Party. Divorcing couples are also deciding to stay married so that they can cash in on the £3 a week jackpot.

Olivia Gullible, who is giving up her £50,000 a year job in ladies' underwear so that her husband Rupert can claim the tax break said: "It's wonderful. We're going to be so much better off under the Tories. Thank you, Dave."

Fred Dover, who has been involved in a protracted divorce battle with his wife Eileen, was ecstatic about the tax break: "Eileen and I have spent thousands on lawyers' fees," he said, "but now we're calling the whole thing off so that we can get our £150."

The Labour Party reacted to the news by announcing that it will increase child benefit by 1p a week. "That way, all families with children will be better off." A spokesperson said.

Nick Clegg of the Liberals said: "I wish we had thought of this policy first. Still, if I'm out of a job after the election, then at least my wife can get another £150 a year."

Friday, April 09, 2010

*-* & :-S

At the end of a week with very little serious family law news, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be driven to something like this. So, inspired by this important article in the Guardian, here is my emoticon ode to divorce (if you haven't a clue what on Earth I'm on about, see here):

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Wise words

Marilyn Stowe wrote an excellent post yesterday on professional ethics, which I recommend, particularly to new or budding family lawyers. I especially agreed with her advice that lawyers should keep their clients 'at arms length' - not socialising with them, and not seeking their friendship. This is a trap that it is all too easy for family lawyers to fall into, as they sympathise with their client's predicament, but it is a great mistake which can seriously cloud the lawyer's judgement. Whilst obviously caring for their client, the lawyer must remain independent at all times, as Marilyn points out.

In the course of the post, Marilyn quoted Lord Denning, who signed her admission certificate. It was always a regret of mine that I qualified just too late to have Lord Denning sign my certificate - Donaldson doesn't quite have the same cachet as Denning. However, I do now have the great man's autograph, as a very good friend recently gave me a photograph of him (above), bearing his signature.

Don't instruct Crapola & Co.

I refer the reader to this recent post, in which I enquired as to the stupidity of spam commenters. I now refer the reader to the following comment on my last post that Messrs. Crapola & Co. of Smalltown USA attempted to get through my comment moderation today:
Please call our office if you need assistance with the following:

* Contested Divorces

* Uncontested Divorces

* Child Custody Disputes

* Child Support Proceedings (including modifications)

* Visitation Schedules

We offer reasonable fees and we accept all major credit cards. Please call our office for a FREE consultation. WEEKEND & EVENING Appointments are available!
Now, would you instruct a firm that is happy to bum free advertising on the back of someone else's efforts? No, nor would I. I would also not instruct a lawyer who would offend my intelligence by thinking that I would publish a comment like this. In fact, the comment is so blatant in making no attempt whatsoever to hide its purpose that I actually laughed when I read it. Would you instruct Messrs. Crapola & Co., laughing stock of Smalltown USA?

OK, I realise that the comment was probably written by some cruddy internet advertising agency instructed by Crapola & Co., rather than by Crapola & Co. themselves, but what does that say about the judgement of Crapola & Co.?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

CMEC v Mitchell: Child support and the Limitation Act

Strange how things happen. Only this morning I was reading a report from America about an 81-year-old woman who is suing her ex-husband for child support that he was supposed to start paying sixty years ago. That got me idly thinking about the possible application of the Limitation Act to child support. A few hours later I came across the report of CMEC v Mitchell on Bailii.

The case involves the ever-ingenious David Burrows, who sought to claim that the Act applied to applications by CMEC under s.39A Child Support Act 1991 for the issue of a warrant committing the liable person to prison or for an order for him to be disqualified from holding or obtaining a driving licence. Mr Burrows represented David Mitchell, who owed child support arrears of £14,592.07, having only ever paid the princely sum of £9, and having at one point made himself bankrupt with the express purpose of avoiding payment of child support.

Needless to say, CMEC (and its predecessor, the Child Support Agency) obtained a liability order (on 24th January 2002) and thereafter made numerous attempts to enforce payment against Mr Mitchell, but without success. They therefore made an application under s.39A. The Magistrates' Court rejected the argument that that the application should be struck out on the basis that it was barred by the Limitation Act 1980 (having been made more than six years after the making of the liability order), and disqualified Mr Mitchell from driving for 12 months, suspended on the basis that he pay £5 per week in child maintenance arrears.

Mr Mitchell appealed to the County Court, where his limitation argument was accepted. CMEC then appealed against the County Court order, contending that as a matter of law the Limitation Act 1980 does not apply to an application pursuant to s.39A of the Child Support Act 1991.

The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal. Lord Justice Thorpe agreed with CMEC's submission that the section 39A procedure fell without the express wording of section 9 of the Limitation Act, namely "an action to recover any sum recoverable by virtue of any enactment". "That is because neither of the two possible orders that can be obtained under section 39A will result directly in the recovery of the sums due by way of child maintenance", he said, even though s.39A may "pressurise the parent who is wilfully refusing or culpably neglecting either to meet his financial obligations or to suffer a distasteful alternative".

A decision that may smack a little of semantics, but nevertheless surely ends up with the correct result.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Serious News

For the second morning running I've not found any family law news worthy of inclusion in the news section of Family Lore Focus. That is not to say, however, that there is no family law-related news about...

Perhaps most importantly, the Mirror tells us in an exclusive the news we all feared most:

Katie Price's marriage in crisis after nine and-a-half weeks

Apparently, their problems are exacerbated by her constantly referring to him as 'Pete' in bed. I think there are more revelations in the Mirror report, but I lost the will to live before I got to the end. Still, looks like good news for those who bet on the marriage not lasting...

Meanwhile, another celebrity marriage has hit problems before the nuptials have even been entered into. Described as "the fairytale wedding between a Pakistani cricket legend and one of India’s biggest tennis stars", the marriage of Shoaib Malik and Sania Mirza was "hailed last week as a triumph of love and sport over the political chasm that has divided India and Pakistan for 63 years". However, there is one small problem: another woman claims that Malik has overlooked the fact that he is married to her. Still, I suppose a telephone wedding is not very memorable...

Back on these shores the divorce of Michelle and Scott Young continues its bizarre course, evidenced by this headline in the Mail today:

Oligarch's aide delivers £10,000 in 'secret spy drop' to British wife at centre of £400m divorce

We are informed that in 2006 Mrs Young was told by her husband to "go to Davies Street in Mayfair and wait outside the Toni & Guy hairdressing salon", where an aide to billionaire oligarch Boris Berezovsky would give her £10,000 towards her living expenses. She did so, and sure enough a man drove up in a Porsche and handed her an envelope stuffed with banknotes. I'm really looking forward to finding out what the court makes of all this...

Finally, I shall miss reading The Times' website when it goes pay-per-view in June. I shall not, however, miss any further contributions by guest contributor Melanie McDonagh. In a column today she discusses the decision in the Vaughan case this week, then launches into a right-wing religio-fundamentalist tirade against many of the advances that have been made in family law over the last hundred years. Here are a couple of examples of her wisdom:
  • First spouses should be favoured over subsequent spouses, as "the first wife is the woman to whom the husband first made a lifelong commitment".
And:
  • "The whole concept of a no-fault divorce is, in most cases, ... a weaselly concession to our unwillingness to attribute blame to anyone, for anything."
With there still being dinosaurs around who think like this, it is no wonder that our divorce law is taking so long to evolve into something fit for the 21st-century.

Right, that's enough serious family law news this Easter Sunday. I'm off to crucify a chocolate egg...

Friday, April 02, 2010

For the Sake of the Kids


I have now watched the first episode of the new BBC series Who Needs Fathers? Entitled For the Sake of the Kids, the programme follows two couples as they try to resolve arrangements for their children following separation, in contrasting ways. Alex and Juliet have been to court many times, whereas Chris and Angela are determined to manage their separation without going to court.

Alex tells us that since his relationship broke down in 2005 he has spent tens of thousands of pounds in legal expenses and at the end of the programme he shows us 13 out of 15 large lever-arch files with the resulting paperwork, although he laments that "my position after all that is no different". This is confirmed by Juliet, who says that Alex has taken her to court every 2 to 3 months for the last 3 years, but "he's still not won anything". She suggests that the court should make an order requiring each party to "just get on with your life".

The most dramatic events in Alex and Juliet's story occur when Alex tries to take his four sons on holiday. He has a contact order stating that he can take them on holiday for a week "or thereabouts", but his plans involve him having them for nine days. Unsurprisingly, Juliet refuses, complaining also that Alex doesn't tell her where he intends to take the children. The wise counsel of a family friend, a retired family court magistrate, persuades Alex to reduce the time he wants the boys to one week, but to no avail: Juliet refuses. Alex contacts the police. They do eventually speak to Juliet, but can't force her to agree, and tell Alex it is a matter for the court. Alex goes back to Juliet the next morning (tellingly she can't recall this), but she still refuses. At this point, Alex almost gives up, but instead he makes an urgent application to the court, goes before the judge immediately, obtains the order he sought and went on holiday. "It worked", he said.


The story with Chris and Angela is very different. They have agreed to divide the children's time more or less equally between them. Angela tells us that she had a West Indian upbringing, where family is "incredibly important", but she admits that many mothers behave badly (although they will be answerable to the children when then get older).

However, things are not all sweetness and light even with Chris and Angela. Angela is most unhappy when Chris ignores her request to have the children contact her when he takes them on holiday. She says that they were "building up civility for nothing" and that Chris was "trying to sabotage it all". However, the real stresses upon their relationship stem from financial worries, in particular the cost of running two separate households. Chris wants to move to a house he owns in east London, near to his family, but that would mean that the children spend much less time with him. He suggests to Angela that she also moves to east London, but she doesn't want to disrupt the children, particularly by making them move schools. She says that "their world is quite solid and we want to keep it that way".

Impressively, at one point we see Chris and Angela trying to resolve their problems in a round-table discussion. They appear quite civil towards one another, although the meeting breaks up after they agree that they are just "going round in circles".


I think this programme was reasonably worthwhile, particularly contrasting the different approaches of the two sets of parents, although the story of Alex and Juliet will read like a well-thumbed book to any experienced family lawyer (incidentally, we are told at the end that after another 13 months in court, Alex and Juliet reached an agreement, whereby the children spend more than one-third of their time with their father). Unexpectedly, there is no indication that Alex blamed his frustrations on the system, putting the blame fairly and squarely on Juliet's shoulders; indeed, at one point he exclaims that the system works. Chris, on the other hand, could not see that he would have achieved anything more through the courts, and I'm sure he was right.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

March Post of the Month

Charon QC, clearly invigorated by his recent move to to the Staterooms-on-Thames, was even more prolific than usual last month. He even took the unusual (for him) step of imparting his wisdom in matters of family law, both on his blog and on Twitter.

In "Law Review: Pre-nuptial agreements, Citizen’s arrest for Blair?, Sympathy for barristers… you’re having a larf, guv?" he no doubt caused a bout of apoplexy amongst family lawyers by daring to suggest that the courts should keep out of divorce:

"[I] do not see why the courts, in these modern days, should have any involvement whatsoever between the adult parties – save for dissolving the marriage according to statute, a pretty routine administrative matter these days."

As to children, Charon QC confined his true thoughts to Twitter. Here is a taste:

"Why should people who do not have children subsidise other people's children's education, health care etc. Tax parents for each child! :-)"

All of which leads me to a blinding revelation: I now know why Jack Straw opposed the appointment of Sir Nicholas Wall as next President of the Family Division - Charon QC was his preferred candidate! Fortunately for family lawyers, Charon QC declined his invitation, obviously having better things to do...

Straw backs down over appointment of Wall

It seems that Justice Secretary Jack Straw has been forced into a humiliating climbdown over the appointment of the next President of the Family Division. Yesterday, only five days before the current President Sir Mark Potter stands down, the Government announced that Sir Nicholas Wall, the appointment panel's original choice, would, after all, be the next President.

This whole fiasco seems to me to demonstrate a fault in the new appointment system. As he did not veto the appointment, Straw will not now have to explain his reasons for opposing Wall, but whatever they were he would be criticised for politicising the appointment, as Family Law Newswatch states. This would make it difficult for any appointment to be vetoed, which makes the right to veto fairly pointless.

Anyway, leaving that aside, the good news is that we have the first choice candidate for our next President. There are huge challenges ahead for the family justice system, and I wish him well.

New quickie divorce procedure


As reported exclusively by the BBC (see above), the Government has today introduced quickie divorces. No longer will it be necessary to wait months for a divorce to come through - all that will be required is a simple trip to a solicitor, who will be able to take the required details, print off and hand the decree absolute to their client there and then.

A spokesperson for Resolution said that the new simplified procedure will be a boon to all divorcing couples: "This new procedure will greatly reduce the delay and stress involved in divorce, not just for the parties involved, but also for their solicitors", she said.

However, the new procedure is not being welcomed in all quarters. A spokesman for the Conservative Party said: "This new procedure is a disgrace. It will undermine marriage and make Britain even more broken".