Monday, May 31, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce - Part 8: Contact visit

It was barely 9am on Monday morning when the phone rang on David Charles' desk. He took a deep breath when he was told that Brian Jones wanted to speak to him.

The contact had not gone well that weekend. Sophie had wanted to go horse riding (as she usually did on Saturdays), and begrudged having to go to the contact centre instead. Her brother Liam, perhaps picking up on her mood, had constantly complained of being bored. Eventually, Brian had acceded to the supervisor's suggestion that the visit be cut short.

"It's Liz - she's turning them against me." Said Brian.

"We don't know that." Replied David. "You have to give it a chance."

"What's the point? They don't want to spend time with me."

It was the first time that David had heard Brian sound defeatist. "No," he said, "you mustn't believe that. You've got to stick with it. As I've said before, the contact should become less restrictive - when it does, you'll be able to do more interesting things with the children."

"By then it'll be too late. We have to do something now."

"What do you want to do?"

"Go back to the court - get better contact."

"But you heard what the district judge said. This is the best you're going to get, for a while at least."

Brian's despair quickly turned to anger, and there was only one target. "I don't believe that. You're not doing enough for me. I want to go back to court, and if you won't do it, I'll get another solicitor who will."

"Mr Jones," David replied calmly, "you are of course entitled to instruct another solicitor, but I'm sure they will give you the same advice as I have given you. Going back to the court now will achieve nothing, apart from increasing your costs."

"So you're saying there's nothing I can do? What am I paying you for?"

"I've given you my advice. I know it's not what you want to hear, but I'm afraid I can't always tell clients what they want to hear. If you're not satisfied with my advice then perhaps it would be best if you did speak to another solicitor."

"Are you trying to get rid of me?"

"No, certainly not." Replied David, trying to hide his exasperation. "But I don't want to keep acting for you if you're not happy with the job I'm doing."

Brian hesitated. "I... don't know." He said. "It all just seems so unfair. No wonder so many fathers think the law is biased against them."

David ignored that.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Run for your life

I grew up in the sixties. I had two older sisters, both of whom would buy and play all the latest Beatles records. To use a cliché, you could say that The Beatles were the soundtrack of my childhood. I love the music, I always have done, and always will. However, listening to Rubber Soul on my iPod today the lyrics of one particular track sounded somewhat sinister:

Well I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or I won't know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

Well you know that I'm a wicked guy
And I was born with a jealous mind
And I can't spend my whole life
Trying just to make you toe the line

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

Let this be a sermon
I mean everything I've said
Baby, I'm determined
And I'd rather see you dead

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl

I'd rather see you dead, little girl
Than to be with another man
You better keep your head, little girl
Or you won't know where I am

You better run for your life if you can, little girl
Hide your head in the sand little girl
Catch you with another man
That's the end'a little girl
Na, na, na
Na, na, na
Na, na, na
Na, na, na

Painting? There's nothing to it...

Taking a leaf out of Charon QC's book, I thought I would have a go at this painting lark. Here's something I knocked up five minutes ago:

OK, I admit it. I created the 'painting' using Composition with Javascript.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Goodbye to The Thunderer

"I was on the way to buy my morning paper the other day (it’s an outrage: they erected a “pay wall” around it in 1785 and ever since then you have actually had to pay money to read it)"

- Giles Coren, The Times, 29th May 2010.

Hmm, I'm not entirely certain that it is appropriate to compare the current situation with a 1785 business model - perhaps that is the problem. Be that as it may, from the 1st June The Times' website will disappear behind a paywall. Accordingly, from that date news stories, articles and law reports from The Times will no longer be mentioned in Family Lore Focus, or the Family Lore Focus Newsletter. I'm not sure if old stories previously linked from Family Lore Focus will still be available, but if they are not then I apologise for the inconvenience.

I had toyed with the idea of subscribing to The Times and still including links to relevant material in Family Lore Focus, with a warning that a subscription was required to view the material. However, the whole ethos behind Family Lore Focus is that it provides links to free resources on the internet, so I decided against that idea. For me, the greatest thing about the internet has always been the free access that it provides to vast amounts of information (Geeklawyer would call me a 'Freetard'), and it is no different in the field of law. In fact, shouldn't the law be freely available? This not only benefits members of the public, but can also reduce the overheads of law providers. Accordingly, Family Lore Focus will continue to provide only links to free internet family law resources, of which I am glad to say that there are still many.

In fact, it is said that when one door closes another opens, and it is certainly the case that I have added a number of sources of family law information to Family Lore Focus recently (such as the new law section in The Guardian), and no doubt will continue to do do. In fact, if any reader should be aware of any such source that they think I do not use, then please let me know. As far as I am aware, Family Lore Focus remains the only site that provides links to a full range of free UK family law resources across the internet, including Bailii, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, UK Parliament, Resolution, Family Law Week, Jordan's Family Law, Weekly Law Reports and UK family law blogs.

Family Lore Focus is a blog-driven website, with information feeding in to its front page from no fewer than five different blogs: Family Lore News, Family Lore Case Digest, Family Lore Articles, Family Lore Blogs and Family Lore Podcasts, all of which have just been updated. Each blog includes an archive of everything posted on it and a subject index so that you can, for example, search the Digest for cases under the subject Ancillary Relief: Barder event.

For a weekly summary of the most important items on Family Lore Focus you can subscribe to the free weekly Newsletter, here.

Friday, May 28, 2010

How to handle a woman

Thanks to Boing Boing for reminding me of this wonderfully politically incorrect advert from 1952:

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Tim Kevan withdraws his blog from The Times to avoid being associated with their new paywall

Barrister and writer Tim Kevan today withdrew the BabyBarista Blog from The Times in reaction to their plans to hide it away behind a paywall along with their other content. He commented on his new blog:

"Now don’t get me wrong. I have absolutely no problem with the decision to start charging. They can do what they like. But I didn’t start this blog for it to be the exclusive preserve of a limited few subscribers. I wrote it to entertain whosoever wishes to read it. Hence my decision to resign which I made with regret. I remain extremely grateful to The Times for hosting the blog for the last three years and wish them luck with their experiment."

The re-launched site is at www.babybarista.com and includes numerous cartoons of the characters which appear in the blog by Hollywood animator Alex Williams who also draws the Queen’s Counsel cartoons for The Times.

By way of background, BabyBarista is a fictional account of a junior barrister at the English Bar. The stories he tells appeared on The Times for over three years and they also led to him getting two book deals with Harry Potter's publisher Bloomsbury. BabyBarista and the Art of War was published as a trade paperback last year and was described by broadcaster Jeremy Vine as "a wonderful racing read - well-drawn, smartly plotted and laugh out loud" and by The Times as "a cross between the talented Mr Ripley, Rumpole and Bridget Jones's Diary". A mass market edition with the new title Law and Disorder is due out in August. Book Two of the BabyBarista Files will also be published by Bloomsbury. The provisional title is Law and Peace and although a date hasn't been finalised it is likely to be published in 2011.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Kernott v Jones: A cautionary tale

"This is a cautionary tale, which all unmarried couples who are contemplating the purchase of residential property as their home, and all solicitors who advise them, should study." So said Lord Justice Wall, introducing his judgment in Kernott v Jones [2010] EWCA Civ 578.

The Facts: The parties were an unmarried couple who purchased a property together in 1985. The parties separated in 1993, at which time it was accepted by common agreement between them that the property was held by them beneficially in equal shares. The respondent remained in the property and paid all outgoings, including the mortgage. In 2007 she issued proceedings seeking a declaration that she owned the entire beneficial interest in the property. The judge at first instance decided that the value of the property should be divided as to 90% for the respondent and 10% for the appellant. That decision was upheld on first appeal, and the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal.

The Decision: Lord Justice Wall and Lord Justice Rimer allowed the appeal, and declared that the parties hold the severed joint tenancy as tenants in common in equal shares. Lord Justice Jacob dissented, and would have dismissed the appeal. The crucial part of Lord Justice Wall's judgment comes at paragraphs 61 and 62:
"I described this case as a cautionary tale. So, in my judgment, it is. The purchase of residential accommodation is perhaps the single most important financial transaction which any individual transacts in a lifetime. It is therefore of the utmost importance, as it seems to me, that those who engage in these transactions, and those who advise them, should take the greatest care over such transactions, and must – particularly if they are unmarried or if their clients are unmarried – address their minds to the size and fate of the respective beneficial interests on acquisition, separation and thereafter. It is simply impossible for a court to analyse personal transactions over years between cohabitants, and the costs of so doing are likely to be disproportionate in any event. Cohabiting partners must, it seems to me, contemplate and address the unthinkable, namely that their relationship will break down and that they will fall out over what they do and do not own.

If this appellant and this respondent had truly intended that the appellant's beneficial interest in the property should reduce post separation, or if the property was to belong to the respondent when the appellant acquired his own house, they should have so decided and acted accordingly by adjusting their beneficial interests in the property. I cannot spell such an intention out of their actions. If anything I find equal interests on separation and an agreement by the appellant to defer realisation for a number of years prior to the severance of the joint tenancy, an action which, in my judgment, crystallises his 50% interest."

Lord Justice Jacob, on the other hand, found that the facts of the case were sufficient for the judge at first instance to have reasonably inferred or imputed a shared intention that the parties' interests in the house were to vary over time.

I've heard of the quickie divorce, but this is ridiculous...

Well, at last we have the news that we have all been totally indifferent about dreading: the nation's sweetheart has started divorce proceedings against her (allegedly) philandering husband, Cashley Cole. The reports (see, for example, this report in The Guardian, which should know better) say that she issued the proceedings yesterday, timing them so that they would be concluded before Cashley first kicks a ball in World Cup earnest on the 12th June. Er... I think not. Seeing as you need a six week period between decree nisi and decree absolute, let alone the time it would take to get the decree nisi in the first place, I somehow can't see the divorce being finalised in just two and a half weeks. Another example of the myth of the 'quickie' divorce methinks...

Of course, a cynic might say that the divorce has been timed purposely to coincide with the World Cup, but far be it from me to suggest that the nation's sweetheart would do anything to jeopardise that same nation's chances in the most tedious and over-hyped greatest event in the sporting calendar.

Nevertheless, as a mark of solidarity with poor Cashley I'm off to buy a couple of those ever-so-tasteful England flags, which I shall be displaying proudly on my car, at least until Germany knock us out on penalties in the quarter-finals...

* * * * *

POSTSCRIPT: The BBC was also one of the 'culprits', reporting that the divorce could go through before the World Cup. However, they have since made amends by publishing an article by Caroline Bourn in their magazine, explaining that there is no such thing as a 'quickie' divorce, and that this divorce will take months. There is only one small point upon which I would disagree with Ms Bourn: the article states that the respondent to the divorce must file the acknowledgement of the divorce proceedings within 14 days - I think that should be 7 days.

UPDATE: Now corrected to 7 days.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Why marriages fail... and why I don't care

I don't know why we family lawyers seem to have a fixation about the reasons for marriage breakdown - surely, the important thing is not why they break down, but that they continue to do so on a sufficiently regular basis to keep us in business? Notwithstanding this, there have been a number of posts on family law blogs in recent days giving us various reasons why marriages are more likely to fail, ranging from the obvious to the unexpected.

Divorce Saloon (amongst others) picked up on the study by the London School of Economics which showed that when men assist their wives with the housework, the marriage tends to last longer, although quite why we needed a study to provide us with this revelation, I don't know. Seriously, I agree with Marilyn Stowe, who believes that divorce rates are falling "because husbands and wives are together taking on both roles, setting aside the traditional approach that certain jobs are allocated by gender". This is a natural progression from the days of my youth when most fathers were the sole breadwinners, with mothers staying at home to look after the children, to the modern situation where in most households both parents work - it simply took a while for the husbands to catch up with the new reality and realise that they had to share the household chores.

Then we have the story that men who are less happy than their wives tend to have more enduring marriages, as mentioned by the Divorce-Online Blog. Whether this is related to men being less happy because of all the housework they are now expected to do, I don't know. Perhaps wives consider themselves to have failed in their matrimonial duty if their husbands are not kept miserable. The 'official' interpretation is that couples work best if they are equally happy (again, not rocket science), although a cynic might also say that the findings show they work best if they are equally miserable.

Today, I came across two separate American family law blogs (the Family Law Prof Blog and the New York Divorce Report) covering the same story: a list of fifteen ways to predict divorce, on the basis of various academic studies (all fifteen may be found in The Daily Beast). Again, some of the predictors are somewhat less than profound, such as the shocking news that couples who argue about finances once a week are more likely to divorce than couples who argue about finances less frequently, or that couples who have been married before are more likely to divorce. Others are perhaps less obvious (but nevertheless explicable), for example that couples who marry in states that predominantly vote Republican ('red states') are more likely to divorce. Does the same hold for Conservative constituencies over here?

Another unexpected predictor is that couples with a daughter are more likely to divorce than couples with a son. The increased likelihood is only 5%, although this is said to multiply with the number of daughters or sons. The explanation for this one is that "fathers get more invested in family life when they have boys". We are not told why this doesn't also work the other way round with mother and daughters.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, we are told that: "If you're of "below average" intelligence, you're 50 percent more likely to be divorced than those of "above average" intelligence". I guess there's nothing quite like telling it straight, although I'm not quite sure what a serial divorcée might think of this one - or perhaps they just lack the intellect to think at all.

So, what use is all of this information to us divorce lawyers? Well, apart from indicating that our next branch office should be located in a Conservative constituency, not a lot.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce - Part 7: Form E

Brian Jones stared at the 34-page document. "I'm not bloody filling this in." He declared. "It'll take me forever - I've got a business to run."

"But your solicitor says you have to." Counselled Shirley.

"Bloody solicitor. Whose side is he on anyway?" Retorted Brian. He had toyed with instructing another solicitor, but Shirley had persuaded him otherwise. For now.

"He's only trying to do his best for you, Bri."

Brian looked sceptical. "I still don't see why I have to give all this information, especially about the business. What right has Liz got to have all that? She's just trying to take me to the cleaners."

"Maybe, but your solicitor says that if you don't complete the form then that could add to the costs."

"Yeah, and he's charging me enough as it is."

"Exactly. Just fill in the form and keep the costs down."

Brian ignored that. "Did you see he wants another £1000 now that Liz has applied for a financial settlement. Where am I supposed to find that?" He asked.

Shirley did not answer.

Brian flicked through the form again, his irritation rising with every page. "Look at this", he said, "house, bank accounts, life insurances, business accounts, pensions - it even wants details of your income and assets. What's that got to do with anything?"

"I know." Said Shirley. That had worried her too - would her house somehow be part of the divorce settlement?

"And all these documents that I'm supposed to attach to the form," continued Brian, "it's going to take me ages to get hold of all of them."

"I know." Repeated Shirley.

Brian threw the form down in disgust. "And meanwhile, I'm only getting to see the kids for a couple of hours every other Saturday." He said bitterly.

"But you know that won't be forever." Shirley tried to reassure him.

"I'm not so sure about that." Replied Brian. "Liz is going to stop me seeing the kids, and now she wants to take me for every penny."

Shirley could see that Brian was in no mood to be persuaded. The Form E was left where it had landed.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Being a family lawyer

In the third (and, for now at least, final) post in this series I wanted to look at what is involved in actually practising family law. The pedantic reader may think it odd that a post in a series entitled "Become a Family Lawyer" should deal with life after qualifying but, as I said in the first post in the series, anyone wishing to be a family lawyer must understand the nature of the work before they embark on their career. Besides, there is far more to being a family lawyer than merely qualifying, as I said in the second post.

I suppose that this post should start by asking exactly what type of family law work you want to deal with, and the first question is: Do you want to be an all-rounder or a specialist? An all-rounder would typically spend most of their time dealing with divorce, ancillary relief, children disputes, domestic violence and cohabitee disputes, with the first three of those likely to occupy them most. The advantage of being an all-rounder is, of course, the variety of the work, although paradoxically the work can be quite repetitive and mundane, especially dealing with divorce itself.

There is, however, scope for specialisation within family law. Perhaps the most common two examples are those family lawyers who deal exclusively (or at least mainly) with ancillary relief claims for high net worth clients, and those who specialise in public law children matters. Both types of work can be extremely rewarding (although not necessarily from a pecuniary point of view, in the case of public law work), but you do need to ensure that you are the right type of person to do the work. This is particularly so for public law children work, which can be extremely 'gritty', and is certainly not for the faint-hearted.

Another, related, question that you will have to ask yourself is: Do I want to do legal aid work? This will obviously have a bearing upon the type of work you do, but be warned: you will be spending vast amounts of your time in form-filling and bureaucracy rather than fee-earning, and the rates of pay are abysmal, which is likely to have a direct impact upon your own remuneration. Having said that, there are many devoted family lawyers who are motivated by a genuine desire to help the most needy in society, and are prepared to put up with these drawbacks, usually doing a mix of private and legal aid work, to make up their fee income.

Moving on, I would recommend membership of the appropriate family lawyers' association, providing access to news, learning (see below) and other benefits. All barristers practising family law are encouraged to join the Family Law Bar Association, which organises conferences, seminars, meetings and social events for its members. For family law solicitors, legal executives and paralegals there is Resolution, formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association, which offers similar services but also requires its members to follow a Code of Practice that promotes a non-confrontational approach to family disputes.

You may also wish to join an appropriate accreditation scheme, such as the Law Society's Family Law Panel or Children Panel. Membership of such a scheme indicates the lawyer's expertise in that particular area of work, which has obvious marketing benefits and, with regular membership renewals, ensures that that level of expertise is retained.

Which brings me on to the penultimate matter I want to discuss: continuing education. A certain level of 'Continuous Professional Development' ('CPD') is compulsory for all barristers, solicitors and legal executives and is usually met by attending seminars. Seminars primarily deal with new developments in law and procedure. However, I would suggest that all family lawyers should do more to keep abreast than just meet the basic CPD requirement. I would recommend subscribing to a periodical such as Jordans' monthly Family Law. There are also now a large number of free family law resources available on the internet, many of which are linked to in my own Family Lore Focus, with its weekly Newsletter.

The last thing that I want to discuss is what I will call the emotional aspect of the work. Family lawyers deal with huge issues in their clients' lives: not just marriage and money but the entire futures of separating couples and children. This knowledge alone would make the work stressful, but the stress can be multiplied many fold by the clients themselves, who may be in a severe state of distress or may wish to use you as a conduit to direct their anger at their former partners. Be prepared both for tearful clients and clients who will not be satisfied unless you conduct the matter in the most inappropriate fashion (which you will, of course, refuse to do). Also be prepared for the frustrations of delay and for unsatisfactory outcomes - matters are often resolved by compromise solutions that can leave some clients less than happy. I'm not saying that there aren't (non-pecuniary) rewards to doing family law work (there are), but I'm sure there are times in the lives of all family lawyers when they question exactly why they chose to do the work.

If I have not put you off becoming a family lawyer then: Good Luck!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Family LoreCast #11

After a short hiatus due to the election and certain technical problems, Natasha and I return to discuss the case of JKN v JCN and Lord Justice Thorpe's comments in the case of C (Children).

You can listen to the LoreCast here.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Look, Ladies! It's Always Positive!

Now I couldn't possibly endorse this...

The packaging says that this fake home pregnancy test that always gives a positive result is great for marriage (and probably thereafter divorce lawyers), extortion (!) and laughs, although I'm not quite sure that the 'victims' will find it so amusing...

[Found on BuzzFeed.]

Trailblazing divorce law firm becomes 'Vardags'

I have received the following press release on behalf of Vardags Solicitors:

Ayesha Vardag Solicitors has incorporated and become Vardags in the wake of a string of high-profile wins for clients and rapid growth...

Ayesha Vardag remains as the firm’s Managing Director or “Senior Partner”, while Emily Brand - a senior matrimonial lawyer, formerly of Manches - is employed as Director (or “Partner”). Susan Budaly, a distinguished member of the Family Law Bar, formerly of One Garden Court, also joins the firm, bringing its total team of lawyers to seven, up from just one four years ago.

In that time, the firm has positioned itself at the very forefront of English Family Law, winning against the old magic circle firms and cutting into their market share. It reported a turnover of £1.5m last year, doubling its previous turnover year-on-year for the third successive year, and expects to do the same again this year.

“Last year we handled 24 multi-million or billion-pound cases and 21 mid-level cases, ¬addressing a total asset base of several billion,” Ayesha Vardag says.

Ayesha Vardag Solicitors (now Vardag Solicitors Limited, trading as Vardags) gained worldwide attention in 2009 acting for German heiress Katrin Radmacher. It achieved what was a reported as a ’landmark’ victory for her in the Court of Appeal, to apply a prenuptial agreement contested by her French ex-husband. An appeal judgment is now awaited following the husband’s appeal to the Supreme Court before nine Law Lords in March.

Over the past year, the firm’s work has included acting for Michelle Young in the high profile ’Brewster’s millions’ case regarding the whereabouts of her husband’s possible £400m fortune, acting in a £40m cross-border nullity case and obtaining what is said to be the highest interim child maintenance award ever against a member of a foreign royal family.

Ayesha Vardag says: “Our strength is in our unique style, which combines empathy for clients’ individual, often culturally-specific, experience with commercial savvy. We bring a dynamic, modern approach to the law, looking not only at how it has been applied in the past but at how it could and should be applied in an evolving society. Our firm will continue to grow organically, slowly recruiting stellar lawyers where we find them, retaining our boutique quality and personal service. We really care about our cases and our clients“.

In July 2009, Ayesha Vardag – a widely-broadcast legal media commentator - was named The Times ’Lawyer of the Week’ and the Law Society Gazette’s ’Lawyer in the News’. Ayesha Vardag Solicitors has more recently been profiled in The Lawyer in March, and has been shortlisted by The Lawyer for its Niche Practice of the Year award, to be announced in June.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Consigned to the dustbin of history

Continuing my clear-out of old papers, today I am disposing of an old file dating back to the 1980s. Entitled simply "Matrimonial - General", the file contains various office memos, law reports, articles and other items that I once felt it was essential to retain. The office memos are particularly poignant, several of the writers and recipients no longer being with us.

Highlights from the file include:
  • My handwritten College of Law revision notes for 'Family and Welfare Law', all 44 tightly-written pages of them. (I recall regularly consulting them in my early days in practice.)

  • Numerous memos regarding court fee changes. (Does anyone recall the fee on a divorce petition being £40?)

  • A copy of the Practice Direction dated 2 November 1982 advising that as from 1st January 1983 the Principal Registry would be operating a pilot scheme of conciliation in contested applications for 'custody, access and variation therof'.

  • In a similar vein, a memo dated May 1985 advising of the setting up of what I think was the first local mediation service (we called it 'conciliation' in those days).

  • A memo dated 1st August 1985 reminding us that where the petitioner knew the identity of the person with whom they alleged that their spouse committed adultery, then that person must be named in the divorce petition, and made a co-respondent to the proceedings.

  • A memo dated 8th May 1989 advising of the repeal of the Affiliation Proceedings Act 1957. Anyone remember affiliation proceedings?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce – Part 6: Directions Appointment

The waiting area at the court was a hive of activity. Besuited lawyers milled around, chatting with each other and their bewildered-looking clients. From time to time the usher would call out the name of a case and a small group would file through into the district judges' chambers. Despite this, there was still not a spare interview room available, so David Charles had to make do with consulting his client in hushed tones in a corner of the waiting area.

Brian Jones was not in the best state of mind when he had arrived at court late, having been held up by traffic, and his mood had not improved when he discovered that the well-dressed woman his solicitor had been sharing a joke with was Liz's solicitor. Now he was being told that Liz's solicitor was not prepared to enter into any discussions about him seeing the children, in advance of him and Liz speaking to the Cafcass officer.

"The Cafcass officer will just have an informal discussion with the two of you, without lawyers present." David reminded Brian. "She will want to know exactly what the problems are, and whether there is any possibility of resolving things without having to ask the court to make a decision. At the end of the meeting, she will call the lawyers in, explain what has been discussed, and then prepare a note for the district judge. The judge will read the note, and then call us in."

"But will I get to see my kids after today?" Asked Brian.

"That depends upon how the discussions go. If some agreement can be reached, then yes."

"What if no agreement can be reached? Will the judge make a contact order?"

"No, not today." Relied David. "But he will give directions for your contact application to proceed as quickly as possible." He added, hopefully.

"But you said that could take months!"

"Well, yes. But if we can't agree any contact at all today then we can come back in the next week or so and ask for an interim contact order, as I explained to you before. Look, let's just see what happens when you talk to the Cafcass officer?"

The two men fell silent.

Eventually, a slightly dishevelled-looking middle aged woman appeared and introduced herself as the Cafcass officer. Brian followed her into a side room.

Twenty minutes later the woman reappeared and summoned David and Liz's solicitor into the room. Inside, David found Liz dabbing tears from her eyes with a tissue, and Brian staring at him with a face like thunder. David's heart sank...

* * * * *

"Do you admit that you hit your wife?" The district judge directed the question straight at Brian.

"Well, yes, but..." Brian began to reply, but the district judge interrupted him.

"There are no 'buts' about it, Mr Jones. There was no excuse for hitting her, was there?"

"No... Sir." Admitted Brian.

"No indeed. Well, in these circumstances I think that contact at a contact centre is the best way to proceed, pending a full Cafcass report. Do you agree, Mr Charles?"

David knew there was no point in arguing, despite what his client thought. He nodded his assent.

"Good." Smiled the district judge, mentally ticking another case off his long morning list. "Then I shall give the following directions..." He said, removing the top from his fountain pen.

As David scribbled a note of the directions, he glanced sideways towards his expressionless client and wondered whether he would still be instructed by the time the matter next came before the court.

A bundle of no joy

A Canadian woman is suing her mobile phone provider for $600,000 for bundling her mobile phone bill with the family's cable TV account with the same provider without her consent, thereby enabling her husband to discover an affair she was having. She had been billed separately for her mobile phone, under her maiden name, but after her husband added internet to the account her mobile phone usage was included on the same invoice as the TV and internet. Her husband then saw several hour-long phone calls to a single number on the invoice. He rang the number, and the 'third party' admitted the affair. He then left the matrimonial home.

Needless to say, the mobile phone provider is denying any liability.

Moral of the story: If you're having an affair, use a different mobile provider.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ugli by name, not by nature

I have just become aware of Ugli mediation, offering what I believe is a new type of mediation service. They mediate all issues relating to divorce, separation, financial matters and children, and can also assist in other family matters, such as inheritance disputes. What is new, however, is that all mediation sessions are conducted by telephone rather than face to face, opening mediation up to those couples separated by distance, and those who are simply too busy to attend.

Why 'Ugli'? Apparently, the name comes from the fruit, which is a cross between a grapefruit, an orange and a tangerine. This was considered appropriate, as it symbolises "the cross breed of legal and counselling skills which go into mediation; and to demonstrate that divorce and separation need not be ugly, which it can be if it is approached in the wrong way".

OK, so how do I become a FAMILY lawyer?

In my last post in this series I set out the options for becoming a lawyer, but nothing specific to becoming a family lawyer. In fact, there are no specific requirements to becoming a family lawyer - it is quite possible to practise family law with no family-specific training whatsoever, although obviously I would not recommend this.

I will divide this subject into two parts: pre- and post-qualification, and this post will deal with the former. If it seems a little odd to deal with the latter, my explanation is that there is far more to being a good family lawyer than merely qualifying - as the old adage goes, you never stop learning. In fact, you will learn far more post-qualification than you ever did whilst training to become a family lawyer.

As I indicated in my last post, where you begin your training as a family lawyer depends upon what you are doing and what qualifications, if any, you already have. However, for the purpose of this post I shall begin with those still at school, and A-levels. This can be dealt with quite quickly: it is not necessary to have A-level law in order to do a law degree. Most law undergraduates do not have A-level law. It will, however, be necessary to get good A-levels - typical university entry requirements are AAB.

Moving on to the law degree course, family law is not one of the compulsory subjects, as I suggested at the beginning of this post. However, most (if not all) degree providers have it as an option. The family law degree course will generally be more theoretical than the far more practical course in the Bar Professional Training Course ('BPTC') or the Legal Practice Course ('LPC') - see below - but will nevertheless provide a useful background, and is therefore to be recommended to those intending to become family lawyers.

Those intending to go the barrister route will do the BPTC once they have their law degree. A list of BPTC providers, in Word format, may be found here. Once again, family law is not a compulsory subject on the BPTC. However, the BPTC includes 2 optional subjects, from a choice of at least 6, and every course provider includes family law/practice as an option. This should definitely be studied by those intending to practise family law.

Similarly, for those intending to go the solicitor route, family law is not a compulsory subject on the LPC, but rather an elective subject (or a 'vocational elective'), and should again be studied by those intending to practise family law. I have not checked all of the 38-odd LPC providers (a list of whom may be found here), but most if not all of them should have family law as an elective.

Those wishing to become legal executives should obviously specialise in family law, and paralegals will need to learn the subject 'on the job'.

Which brings me to the next stage of the process: getting in-the-job training. Aspiring family law barristers will obviously need to obtain pupillage in a set that does family law work or, preferably, a set that specialises in the work. Not being a barrister, I am no expert as to how one goes about getting pupillage, but I recommend the excellent site Pupillage and How to Get It, which has a wealth of information on the subject.

For trainee solicitors going into private practice, most firms will have family law departments and a few will specialise, so the choice is wider. Note, however, that a training contract will cover a range of subjects, not just family law. Few family law firms advertise training contracts, so I suggest that the best way to obtain one is to send your CV to suitable firms in your area. A good place to find such firms is the 'Find a family lawyer' section on the Resolution website (Resolution is an association of solicitors specialising in family law, more of which in the next post in this series).

A legal executive specialising in family law will obviously seek qualifying employment in a firm doing family law work, just as a paralegal wishing to do family law will seek employment in such a firm. Again, suitable employment may be advertised, or you may need to hawk your CV around local firms.

[Once again, if you believe that I have made any errors or serious omissions in any of the above, do please let me know, by leaving a comment below.]

101 uses for an unwanted wedding dress

I'm not sure whether the motivation behind this site is revenge or rehabilitation (or a combination of both), but it is certainly amusing, although perhaps not for the former owner of the garment in question. The author of My Ex-Wife's Wedding Dress tells us how he took up the challenge that his ex-wife gave him when she left the matrimonial home. He says that when she was removing her belongings from the house she left behind her wedding dress. When he asked her what he should do with it she somewhat foolishly replied: "Whatever the $%^@# you want", so he has now set about finding 101 uses for the unwanted frock. Amongst those he has come up with to date are a grill cover, scarecrow clothing (above) and a pasta strainer. Readers are invited to suggest their own ideas.

Moral of the story: When you leave your (ex-) husband, take the wedding dress with you.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Only in Japan...



So long as they don't invent a robot divorce lawyer...

They want him Here, There and Everywhere

According to his ex-wife, Ted Felicetti has been on the run since 1999 for non-payment of child support, which now totals $40,000. She says that he has taken up residence in about nine different states in the last eleven years. Each time the authorities located him (he was tracked down in Oregon, Pennsylvania, New York and California), he would move to another state before they could arrest him. On one occasion he was found working in San Diego and a deduction from earnings order was made, but he left the job before any money was collected.

Well, now he has been arrested, albeit in connection with a different matter. In addition to owing child support in Tennessee, Felicetti was wanted by San Diego police for failure to appear in court in connection with driving under the influence charges. They had been trying to find him for over a year. The breakthrough came when they found out that he was performing as part of a Beatles tribute band (he plays Paul McCartney, although I can't see the likeness myself). They located the band's Facebook page and discovered that the band was due to perform on Fox 5 Morning News. After performing "I am the Walrus" he was arrested, and subsequently jailed on $130,000 bail.

Moral of the story: If you are wanted by the police, it is probably not a good idea to appear on TV, and publicise the fact on Facebook.

Friday, May 14, 2010

I want to be a family lawyer

I dealt with the above question in a recent Questions and Answers post. I gave the somewhat facetious answer: Can I persuade you otherwise? I thought I should now give a rather more helpful answer. Before I do, however, I should say that there was a good reason for that facetious answer: as anyone who has done family work will tell you, the life of a family lawyer is not an easy one - the work can be extremely stressful, and at times appear to be unrewarding. Anyone wishing to become a family lawyer must understand the nature of the work before they embark on their career. I may touch upon this further in a future post.

OK, so you do understand what you are letting yourself in for and you still want to be a family lawyer, what are your options? There are four separate career paths, although the last is not technically a 'lawyer':

Barrister - "Barristers are specialist legal advisers and court room advocates." So says the Bar Council website. You will usually take instructions from solicitors, who will be wanting you to represent their clients at court, or to provide advice upon some complex issue, for example what the client may be entitled to in a complicated ancillary relief (i.e. financial/property settlement on divorce) case. To become a barrister typically involves three main stages of training: the Academic Stage (a degree in law, or any other degree followed by a conversion course), the Vocational Stage (the 'Bar Professional Training Course', one year full-time or two years part-time) and finally Pupillage (usually one year spent in a barristers' chambers). Once training is complete, you will need to obtain a 'tenancy' in a set of barristers’ chambers, or to go into employed practice with a company or other organisation which employs barristers.

Solicitor - Solicitors "provide clients with expert legal advice and assistance" (Law Society website), working in a law firm or elsewhere, such as for a local authority. Working in a law firm your clients will usually be members of the public - you will take instructions from them, advise them and (usually) act for them throughout the course of the matter. There are three routes to becoming a solicitor: the law graduate route, the non-law graduate route and the Institute of Legal Executives ('ILEX') route. Most take the law graduate route, which involves obtaining a law degree, followed by a one-year 'Legal Practice Course' ('LPC') and finishing with a two-year training contract (usually at a firm of solicitors), incorporating the 'Professional Skills Course'. The non-law graduate route is similar, save that after getting your degree you will have to do a one-year 'Common Professional Examination' ('CPE') or a one-year Graduate Diploma in Law. The ILEX route essentially involves becoming a legal executive (see below), followed by CPE, LPC and training.

Legal Executive - The work of a legal executive is similar to that of a solicitor, save that they usually specialise in one particular area of law. They are most often employed by solicitors. The exact route to becoming a legal executive depends upon what relevant qualifications, if any, you already hold, but involve an academic stage and a five-year period of 'qualifying employment', usually working for a solicitor. For more information on becoming a legal executive, see the ILEX website.

Paralegal - Paralegals are simply non-lawyers who do legal work that a solicitor might do. They are usually employed by solicitors, who will supervise their work. Paralegals do not (at this time) require any formal qualification - most learn 'on the job', although many also seek relevant educational attainment. For more information about paralegals, see the Institute of Paralegals website.

Of course, none of the above options is specific to becoming a family lawyer - that will be the subject of my next post in this series.

[If you believe that I have made any errors or serious omissions in any of the above, do please let me know, by leaving a comment below.]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce – Part 5: A Decision

David Charles knew this was not going to be easy, but he would try nevertheless.

"Mr Jones, I would advise you to give serious consideration to agreeing to your wife's solicitor's suggestion that you go to mediation. Every reasonable effort should be made to sort out arrangements for your children by agreement, rather than risk having the court impose something that neither of you want."

Brian Jones screwed up his face. Before he could reply, David added the carrot:

"And if you can agree matters, you would save yourself the huge expense involved in contested court proceedings."

Brian was still unimpressed. "She's only doing this to delay things." He said. "The sooner we get to court, the quicker I get to see my kids."

"Why don't you give it a try? If it becomes clear that she's not serious about reaching a reasonable agreement, you can always pull out of mediation and go to court."

"Yeah, but how long would it take me to find that out?"

"You should be able to see a mediator in the next few weeks."

"Weeks?" Exclaimed Brian. "Meanwhile, I don't get to see my kids."

"She has offered contact at a contact centre, pending the outcome of mediation. If you took that, at least you would be seeing the children, as I said the last time we met."

Brian was now losing his temper. "Why should I have to go to a bloody contact centre to see my own children? I'm not having that."

"Look, Mr Jones, we need to stay calm. If you go straight to the court, it will take at least six months before the court makes a final order. You can ask the court to make an interim contact order, but without doing a full investigation the court is going to be very cautious about how much contact it gives you, and may only order contact at a contact centre anyway."

"Oh brilliant, so I'm screwed whichever way I go. No wonder they say the system is biased against fathers."

David let out an exasperated sigh. "It's not a question of bias." He said. "It's a question of what is best for your children. The court won't know that until it gets the Cafcass report, and unfortunately that takes time."

"Look, I know I shouldn't have hit Liz that time, but I'd never do anything to harm my kids - Liz knows that."

"Maybe, but the court doesn't know it, and this letter from your wife's solicitor suggests that if you go to court she'll bring up your violent behaviour. As soon as she does that, the court is going to want it investigated, and is going to be ultra cautious about what it does."

Brian thought for a moment. "Look," he said, "I hear what you're saying, but I want my kids to share their time between their parents, and I just can't see Liz agreeing to that, or anything remotely like it, in mediation. I still think I should go straight to court, and take my chances."

"OK. So be it." Replied David, with a hint of resignation.

Love is... robbing a bank to pay your boyfriend's child support. Allegedly.

What could be a greater act of love than to rob a bank to pay your other half's child support arrears? That is what police in Virginia say happened on Tuesday when they arrested a 20-year-old woman following a bank robbery. They say that using information they found at the scene of the robbery they notified the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office that the suspect could be on her way to their County. The suspect then appeared at the Shenandoah County Court Offices with a large amount of cash in her possession, seeking to pay her boyfriend's child support arrears. Unsurprisingly, she was arrested.

Moral of the story: If you rob a bank (allegedly), a court is probably not the best place to go to with the loot.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Vote for Relationships Scotland

I have received the following from Relationships Scotland:

With all the shenanigans of the last week wouldn't it be great if you could vote for something and actually get it?

Family mediation and counselling charity Relationships Scotland - www.relationships-scotland.org.uk - are in the running to win a shiny new website. The competition has now gone to a public vote and they're the only family support charity in the final ten.

Please take a second to vote and help support Scottish families: http://unxposed.net/vote/

A marriage of convenience

The best news about the new political reality at Westminster is, of, course, that if things work out as hoped we will all be spared the horror of another general election for the next five years. How, however, will the coalition affect family policies?

Well, there's not much news yet. One thing does, however, appear to have been decided as part of the Tory/Lib-Dem deal. According to reports (see, for example, in The Telegraph today), the Liberal democrats have agreed not to block the Tory marriage tax break proposal. They will not, however, support the proposal. By my maths, it thus appears that the proposal will be passed, there not being enough MPs to defeat the Tory vote without the Lib-Dems.

What of other family policies? There are, of course, more pressing issues, and I suspect it will therefore be some time before we hear anything more. Looking at the manifestos of the Tories and Lib-Dems, there does seem to be scope for further reforms, but also scope for argument over issues upon which the two parties disagree - I doubt whether such details were thrashed out in the coalition deal, but we shall see.

Longer-term, it must seem very doubtful whether there will be the much-needed reform of our divorce laws. That is such a divisive issue at the best of times, and having a government made of two different parties must surely make it even more unlikely.

Finally, who will be the new Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, assuming that department remains in its current form? It appears that he/she will be a Tory, and presumably therefore former shadow Children's Secretary Michael Gove, although quite what that may mean I don't know.

* * * * *

UPDATE: The Coalition Agreement has now been published, and this confirms that Liberal Democrat MPs may abstain on budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples without prejudice to the agreement. It has also been announced that Michael Gove is to be Education Secretary, with the DCSF looking like it may be broken up.

* * * * *

FURTHER UPDATE: The DCSF will be known once again as the Department for Education.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Refuge shortage is a tragedy waiting to happen

The BBC yesterday ran a worrying story about the lack of space for domestic abuse victims in Scottish refuges. I didn't include the story in my Family Lore Focus news update as I don't cover other jurisdictions. However, it is clear from the story that the problem is far from confined to Scotland:
Across Britain, it is thought that 235 women every day are refused access to refuges because there is no space, equating to up to 58,000 a year.

That is a staggering figure, and it is only likely to get worse if funding is cut because of the economic situation we are now in. How many of these women are forced to return to abusive partners?

And it is not just the women. Many of them of course bring children with them. How many of them are forced to witness further acts of violence and abuse against their mothers, or even suffer violence and abuse themselves?

Anyone who has worked for victims of domestic violence knows the value of these refuges, particularly in that critical period before the law can catch up with the perpetrators. I realise that money is tight, but what price do you put upon the safety of mothers and children? We can only hope that when the cuts come refuges are spared, otherwise an already appalling situation is going to become a tragedy, if it has not done so already.

And before any commenter makes the point, men are of course also victims of domestic violence.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Those were the days

Whilst clearing out some old papers I came across the above, an Application for Legal Aid Certificate (Matrimonial), vintage April 1983. Back in those days you didn't need to chop down an Amazonian rain forest every time you wanted to apply for legal aid. The form comprised a mere six sides of A4 (one of which just required a signature, and another of which was for 'Official Use Only'), and included the client's statement of means. The entire form only took a few minutes to complete.

Now, I don't know how many pages comprise a legal aid application now, but when I last completed one back in the early nineties, no fewer than four forms were required, if my memory serves me correctly. These comprised the application itself which went to about 20 pages, a means form (another 20-odd pages), a statement of earnings from the client's employer and a form relating to mediation. Needless to say, getting all of these completed was a major undertaking, adding considerably to the costs, and a major reason for me giving up legal aid work (rather naively, I had entered into the law to do the job clients instructed me to do, rather than fill in forms). The forms must also have added enormously to the bureaucracy and delay required to process them (having a form sent back because it was not completed, or not completed correctly, was another major frustration).

Quite why legal aid forms expanded exponentially was a bit of a mystery. The Legal Services Commission (or whoever administers legal aid these days) would no doubt say that it was primarily to ensure that legal aid went to those who truly required it, although I don't recall any greater percentage of clients being refused (of course, fewer clients became entitled, as the financial eligibility bar was raised). On the other hand, a cynic would say that the forms expanded with the sole purpose of deterring people from applying at all...

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce – Part 4: A Suggestion

"I don't care what the solicitor says, I'm not having my kids come into contact with that slut."

Bev had not heard her friend use such strong language before. "But Liz, if you don't agree contact, then the court could order something that's even worse." She counselled.

"I'm not agreeing to any court order that means the kids have to see her."

"What if the court makes such an order anyway?"

"I wouldn't comply with it."

"But you could go to prison... couldn't you?"

"I don't care. I'd rather go to prison than force my kids to see her." Liz replied, then burst into tears.

Bev gave Liz a cuddle, and waited for the tears to pass. When her friend had composed herself, she asked: "What about this mediation thing that your solicitor suggests? Sounds like quite a good idea to me."

"I'm not sure. I don't want to be in the same room as Brian. What if he got violent again?"

"But the mediator wouldn't let him."

Liz looked sceptical. "You know Brian's a big bloke." She said. "The mediator might not be able to stop him. Anyway, even if he doesn't get violent, Brian will still try to bully me into agreeing to what he wants."

Bev wasn't sure about that. "Look," she said, "why don't you at least give mediation a try? Your solicitor says you can pull out at any time if you don't like it. Besides, Brian probably won't agree to it anyway."

Liz thought for a moment. "OK." She replied, with some reluctance.

The Saga Continues...

The Scot/Michelle Young divorce case continues to entertain. The Sunday Times tells us today that Michelle has handed over 'secret files' on Scot's dealings with the 'super-rich' to HM Revenue & Customs. The paper speculates that this may give some of Scot's friends 'the jitters', but Scot assures us once more that he has nothing to hide.

The files apparently contain details of Scot's property dealings (which were the subject of a Daily Mail article last week) and also references to various investments including possibly funding Manolete, a film about a Spanish bullfighter. According to Wikipedia, the film was originally due for release in 2007, but wasn't actually released until March this year, after facing "several production delays and a spiralling budget". Doesn't sound like that good an investment to me...

Scot was of course recently made bankrupt by HM Revenue & Customs and has apparently failed to make any of the maintenance payments that he was ordered to pay last year, with the result that Michelle is struggling to pay her legal costs. However, the Sunday Times tells us that she is looking for “an angel investor” to help fund her case, and her solicitor points out that the taxman can do much of her work for her anyway, as he has “a bottomless pit in terms of resources” to find out what had happened to Scot’s assets. So, we're all going to foot the bill...

It looks like this one is going to run and run. Stay tuned for the next exciting instalment...

Friday, May 07, 2010

The Big Questions

Now that the crushing boredom excitement of the election is over, I thought I would take this opportunity to answer some of the big questions that the country really wants answered, i.e. the keyword queries that brought recent visitors to this blog. So, subject to my usual disclaimer (see sidebar), here goes:

where do i find a lawyer that will take csa to court in liverpool

The methods by which you can take the CSA to court are extremely limited, but if you have a case then any family lawyer in Liverpool should be able to help you. I suggest you look here.

grandparents rights uk law

I dealt with this long ago, in this post.

who needs fathers

Children do! Despite what you may hear to the contrary, this is the view of the family justice system, and everyone working in it.

can csa disclose nrp address?

The CSA should not disclose a parent’s address unless ordered to do so by a court.

turning up for the decree nisi

Generally, no one need attend court when the decree nisi is pronounced, but either party may attend if they wish to oppose any of the orders that the court intends to make. The most common reason for a party attending is to oppose the making of a costs order against them.

consent order to pay costs but refuses

If the order provides for one party to pay the other party's costs then that costs order can be enforced, irrespective of the fact that the order was made by consent.

best divorce lawyer who won in husband's favour

You can search, but there is no such thing as the 'best divorce lawyer', and the fact that a lawyer may have 'won' a case in a husband's favour will have no bearing upon your case. All lawyers should do their best for their client.

ex-wife not cooperating with CSA

If she is not providing the CSA with the information that it requires to calculate the child maintenance, then the CSA can make a 'default maintenance decision', which will require her to pay a fixed amount, which may be more than she would otherwise be required to pay.

is a consent order binding before approved and sealed by the court

No, but it may be difficult for a party to persuade the court not to make the order.

how can i have a consent order and then my ex go to csa

Any child maintenance agreement contained in a consent order does not prevent either party applying to the CSA after one year has elapsed from the date of the order.

HOW TO END CSA Liability order

Pay the child maintenance arrears.

The election and the effect on cohabitees

I thought we had got away from the election! OK, for the main parties' policies on family matters, see here.

Is a consent order enforceable in UK family Law?

Yes.

i want to be a family lawyer

Can I persuade you otherwise?

ex husband moving abroad not paying maintenance

Whether you can enforce the maintenance depends upon where he is going, but it is possible to enforce in most countries.

am i liable to pay spousal maintenance

This depends upon the circumstances - you will need to take advice specific to your case.

Lastly, not so much a query but more a statement:

csa fucking crap

Well, I won't argue with that.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Opening up the courts, one year on

Like a dog with a bone, The Times today continues its campaign to open up the family courts. In typical Times fashion, we have not one but two articles that tell us the same story: one year on from the first reforms that were intended to open up the courts, the press are still silenced. Of course, there will be many who do not see this as a bad thing...

The first article (at least the first one I came across) tells us briefly that: "Media organisations and lawyers both say that the campaign to open up the family courts has largely failed", and that Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010, which was rushed through before parliament was dissolved for the election, will actually make it even more difficult than before to report on the family courts. The article quotes the paper's former lawyer of the week Rachel Atkins, partner at Schillings, who said that the recent changes were “a misguided and politically motivated fudge which has understandably satisfied neither side”.

That quote becomes the headline for the second article, which goes into rather more detail as to what exactly has changed, and what the effect of those changes has been. The conclusion (albeit in the second paragraph of the article) is that: "the media have stopped reporting family cases in all but rare high-profile disputes because a restrictive reporting regime makes coverage meaningless". Surely, however, most of the media will only ever be interested in the 'high-profile' disputes? Run-of-the-mill care cases (for example) are simply not going to be of interest, even to local newspapers.

There may have been few cases to which the media have sought access, but one thing does seem clear: chief amongst the opponents of such access are the parties themselves. Atkins reports that dealing with the 'threat' of journalists being in court has made cases "more complicated, lengthier and potentially more expensive for clients". On a more positive note, it has encouraged more couples to settle out of court.

The Act of course provides for an independent review of the existing regime, but this will not take place until the regime has been given 18 months to work. There will therefore be no further reforms for some time yet, although I'm sure that we have not heard the last from The Times on this subject.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Promises, promises...

You may have missed it in the media, but I have it on good authority that a general election is due to take place tomorrow. In case it should be your intention to cast a vote, I thought I would draw your attention to this page on the BBC, which compares the family policies of all the main parties. Of course, I make no guarantee that any of the parties will actually implement those policies if elected...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Who wants to be a DCS?

Very few people, by the look of it. This report on Children & Young People Now today gives the unsurprising news that nearly half of all directors of children's services in England have either left the post or moved authority in the last two years. Unfortunately, the report doesn't go into any more detail, so we don't know how many have left completely, or how many of those simply left because they had reached retirement age (although the report goes on to quote someone from the Improvement and Development Agency for local government, who says that many DCSs are nearing the end of their careers). Nevertheless, such a high rate of turnover must surely be a cause for concern.

The news of course follows in the wake of the Sharon Shoesmith decision (which I discussed with Natasha in our LoreCast last week), and the media vilification of social services generally in the last couple of years.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Anatomy of a Divorce – Part 3: An Admission

David Charles had been doing divorce work long enough for certain regularly occurring situations to be somewhat wearisome. Persuading a client that an admission of adultery would not affect the financial/property settlement was one of them.

“I can assure you, Mr Jones, that it will make no difference whatsoever to what happens on the financial/property settlement.” He said, for the third time.

Brian Jones remained unconvinced. “What about Shirley?” He asked. “Does she have to be dragged into this?”

“No, she doesn’t have to be named.”

“But Liz knows who she is. I’m sure she’ll want to drag her in. What if she names her anyway?”

“She won’t, because you can admit adultery on the specific proviso that no other person be named.”

Brian considered this. “I still don’t think it’s right that I admit adultery.” He said. “The marriage had already broken down when Shirley and I started seeing each other.”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s still adultery, even after you and your wife separated.”

“Do I have any alternative?”

“Yes, you do. You don’t have to admit adultery, in which case your wife will proceed on the basis of your unreasonable behaviour, and you may not like what she says. You could even take the divorce proceedings yourself, although if you did, your wife may choose to defend. Rather than possibly making things more complicated, I suggest you consider letting the divorce proceed on the basis of your adultery, and concentrate on more important things, like your contact with the children.”

Brian was not entirely happy with this advice, although he could see the sense in what he was being told. Certainly, seeing the kids was his top priority. But wasn’t there a problem?

“Surely, if I admit adultery, that could affect my contact with the kids?” He asked.

“Not at all. An admission of adultery alone will have no bearing at all upon how much contact you have with your children.”

This reassured Brian a little. “OK,” he said. “What about me seeing them?”

“Well, from what you’ve told me, I can see no reason why you should not be having regular contact with them.” Said David.

This is more like it, thought Brian. “What are we going to do about it?” He asked.

“First, we’re going to try to agree arrangements with your wife, and if that fails, you’ll have to apply to the court for a contact order.”

“She’ll never agree to anything. Why don’t we just go straight to court?”

“She may not agree, but the court will expect us to have at least tried.”

Brian was not happy with this. “Look,” he said, “she’s not going to agree to what I want. The quicker we go to court, the quicker I get to see my kids.”

“She may not agree to everything you want, but her solicitor is going to tell her that the court will expect the children to be having contact with their father. Chances are she’ll offer some contact. If you’re not happy with the amount, you can still go to court, but getting a contact order can take a very long time. At least this way you’ll be seeing the children while you’re waiting for the court to sort things out.”

Brian still looked dubious.

Catch the Wind

I think this advert is for real, although as a divorce lawyer I really can't recommend any product that resolves serious issues of marital strife. (Not for those of a highly sensitive disposition.)



[Found on Geekologie. Oh, and I really must stop using song titles for blog post titles, especially if they show my age like this one...]

Sunday, May 02, 2010

April Post of the Month

Professional ethics is a rare topic for a blog post (at least those blogs that I read), but it is an important subject where those of greater experience can pass on the benefit of that experience to those newer to the profession.

Which is exactly where my Post of the Month for April comes in. Marilyn Stowe passes on her wisdom in the sometimes tricky area of one's relationship with one's client. "I don’t socialise with clients", she says, "I don’t want favours; I don’t seek their friendship. That is because crossing the line can put you in a vulnerable position, and render you liable to make mistakes in your professional life. You might be tempted to take steps that otherwise you would not." Wise words indeed.

"Professional ethics: keeping your head in a difficult situation" is my Post of the Month for April 2010.