Thursday, June 30, 2011

Honey, should we have a chat?

My continuing quest for great divorce service advertising takes me to Toronto, Ontario:


I am indebted to The Egyptian Gazette for news of this striking piece of research today:
"The rates of divorce, once a taboo topic in Egypt, are high in families where husbands are avid soccer fans, according to a joint study prepared by two Cairo-based prominent researchers."

OK, I know, but it is a slow (family law) news day...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

An Excellent Result

After the hearing, Mr Venal discusses the case with counsel:

Today in Parliament...

The government pushes ahead with the second reading of the Legal Aid Bill today. I shall not be hyperventilating over this (other lawyers far more articulate than I have already done so - see, for example, here) - I think I have already made my position clear in other posts. In any event, it is surely a fait accompli - the public apathy towards the issue has ensured that those who seek our votes every few years won't be moved to change their minds, so further exhortation will only amount to so much wastage of breath.

Elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster (OK, in the Wilson Room in Portcullis House, actually) the Education Committee will this morning be exploring the recommendations of the Munro Review of Child Protection, with Professor Munro herself giving evidence. The session "will consider how the review relates to trends in previous policy and legislation and its implications in terms of early intervention and the role and status of social workers". If you understand what that means, you can watch the meeting on Parliament TV, starting at 9.45am.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Happy Staff

An experiment:

Good Times

Venal & Grabbit have indicated that they expect to achieve record profits for the second quarter of the year.

"It is certainly a wonderful time to be practising law." Said Senior Partner Edgar Venal, adding with a chuckle: "Unless, of course, you were foolish enough to decide upon legal aid as a career choice."

He went on: "With our aggressive marketing techniques, our divorce department has taken on a record number of new clients. There was also an upsurge in early April, with clients anxious to avoid that new compulsory mediation assessment nonsense. As a result of all of this we are now doing more divorce work than ever - I may even have to take on another assistant, much as it grieves me to reduce profits by adding to the burden of having to pay salaries."

Meanwhile, Venal & Grabbit Insolvency Partner Ebenezer Grabbit expressed his pleasure at the news of more high street store closures: "The retail sector is presently a very lucrative area of work, providing us with much of our insolvency business. It's wonderful to see so many well-known shops going into administration. Profits have gone through the roof. My only problem is how to evade... er, I mean avoid paying yet more income tax."

* * * * *

UPDATE: With the expected bonanza of gay divorces over there, Venal & Grabbit are apparently considering opening a New York branch office.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Paper Pickup

For those readers who are too shy to actually speak to that special person you fancy, how about the Paper Pickup:

(Comes in packs of 50 sheets.)

Venal & Grabbit don't win Pro Bono Awards!

Venal & Grabbit have not been named in the LawWorks Annual Pro Bono 2011 Awards.

Senior Partner Edgar Venal said he was not disappointed at the news. "The idea of doing legal work for no reward is an abhorrence." He said. "This is the sort of thing that can give a law firm a bad name. Can you imagine the sort of riff-raff you would have to deal with? Now kindly get off this phone - I've got fees to earn."

LoreCast for the week ending 27th June 2011

LoreCasts return, in a new format. Now, Natasha and I bring you the top family law news stories and cases of the last week in a quick, easy to listen podcast of (hopefully) no more than five minutes. Now there's no excuse not to listen and keep up to date!

You can listen to the LoreCast right here:

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

For the living impaired...

Right, enough of all this weekend frivolity, time for something serious. Here's a video for a zombie dating site:

[Found on Neatorama.]

Friday, June 24, 2011

Two thousand posts and I'm still sane...

This is the two-thousandth post* on Family Lore. It's a good job I'm made of stern stuff - for anyone of a weaker disposition such an achievement could have serious consequences for their mental health.

I admit I have been talking to myself a lot recently, but I'm OK. Aren't I John? Yes I am.

Two thousand posts. There have been many highlights, such as the time...

Hey, look at that - I've got hairs on the palm of my hand. Let's count them...

Yeah, two thousand posts. I never realised I could write so much rubbish excellent stuff. Many thanks to all who have taken the time to read (any of) it.

Right, just tighten that strap a little, I can still reach the keyboard...

* * * * *

[*For any clever dicks out there who have added up the post counts in my blog archive on the right and only come to 1999, I can confirm that this is post number 2000. There is a good reason for the discrepancy.]

Law Society’s Lee vows to fight Legal Aid Bill on ‘every clause’

Not that I'm being defeatist...

We did listen on legal aid, Djanogly insists – but Law Society’s Lee vows to fight on ‘every clause’ - Law Society Gazette, 23rd June 2011

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Cloud Cuckoo Land

The Law Society Gazette reports today that the Law Society "has backed the Family Justice Review’s ‘far-reaching’ proposals for reform, but urged the government not to proceed with the changes unless it can provide the money to implement them properly".

I'm sorry? What planet are the Law Society on? Have they not heard that government spending is being cut (almost) everywhere? What on Earth makes them think that the government will find money for family law matters, particularly when it has just shown utter contempt for those in need of legal aid to access the family justice system?

With its imposition of compulsory mediation assessment without waiting for the Review, the government has already demonstrated that fiscal considerations trump any considerations as to what is actually better for families. If a new idea is going to save money then great, but if it's going to cost money, then forget it.

So, when's the honeymoon?

I guess this says it all about marriage:

Edgar Venal welcomes legal aid abolition

In an exclusive interview with Family Lore, Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, has welcomed the (virtual) abolition of legal aid under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. Here is the interview in full:

Family Lore: Good morning, Mr Venal, it is a great pleasure to have the opportunity to interview you.

Edgar Venal: And an honour.

FL: Quite. Now, Mr Venal, what do you think about the government vitually abolishing legal aid in the Legal Aid Bill?

EV: It's a return to the good old days, when the law was just for those who could afford it. No longer will this esteemed profession have to sully its hands working for the great unwashed.

FL: But surely there will be some deserving people who will no longer be able to have access to the law?

EV: That's just the sort of lilly-livered pinko thinking that's got this country into the mess it's in. The law wasn't put there to be used by all and sundry.

FL: So what should poor people do if they have a legal issue to deal with?

EV: Well, that's not my problem, but they can always try this new-fangled mediation-thingy.

FL: But we all know that mediation is not a panacea. What if it's unsuccessful?

EV: Then let them eat cake.

FL: Sorry?

EV: A little joke.

FL: I see. Moving on, what do you think will be the effect of the Bill upon the profession?

EV: Well, for a start, it'll weed out all those bed-wetting liberals who came into the law with the misguided intention of 'helping others'.

FL: But surely, many good lawyers could be put out of work?

EV: If there are any good ones doing legal aid...

FL: I'm sure there are one or two.

EV: Well, if they're up to it and can bill enough, then maybe I could find them work somewhere. Now, on the subject of work, I've got fees to earn, so if you don't mind getting out of my office...

FL: Of course. Thank you for the interview.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Venal & Grabbit get mother sent to prison

Venal & Grabbit are proud to report that they have successfully applied for a mother to be sent to prison for breaching a contact order. Venal & Grabbit applied for her to be incarcerated for her utter contempt of court when she failed to comply with a contact order in favour of their client. The court ordered the mother to serve a term of three months behind bars.

Senior Partner Edgar Venal commented: "Let this be a lesson to all those who would oppose Venal &... er, I mean to all those who disobey court orders. Seeing the child being ripped from the mother's arms as she was taken down was a sight for sore eyes. Another great victory for Venal & Grabbit."

Breach of a contact order is a contempt of court, which can be punished by imprisonment. If you have a contact order that needs enforcing, Venal & Grabbit can begin dealing with the matter for a down-payment of £5,000.

* * * * *

[For those who are easily offended, this post is a parody of a real blog post by a real law firm. I shall not embarrass them by naming them.]

Orders for payment in respect of legal services

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill includes provision in Part 2 for 'Orders for payment in respect of legal services'. Exactly how will these work?

Section 45 of the Bill inserts a new section 22ZA into the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. S.22ZA(1) provides that:
In proceedings for divorce, nullity of marriage or judicial separation, the court may make an order or orders requiring one party to the marriage to pay to the other (“the applicant”) an amount for the purpose of enabling the applicant to obtain legal services for the purposes of the proceedings.

Sub-paragraph (2) states that the court may also make such an order or orders in proceedings for financial relief (i.e., to use the old terminology, ancillary relief) in connection with proceedings for divorce, nullity of marriage or judicial separation.

There are limitations upon when such an order can be made, and these are contained in sub-paragraphs (3) and (4). The court will only be able to make an order if it is satisfied of three things:

1. That, without the amount, the applicant would not reasonably be able to obtain appropriate legal services for the purposes of the proceedings or any part of the proceedings;

2. That the applicant is not reasonably able to secure a loan to pay for the services; and

3. That the applicant is unlikely to be able to obtain the services by granting a charge over any assets recovered in the proceedings.

An order can cover legal services of a specified description, including legal services provided in a specified period or for the purposes of a specified part of the proceedings (sub-section 5).

The order can be paid in instalments (sub-section 6(a)), can be deferred (sub-section 7) and can be varied (sub-section 8).

For the purposes of the assessment of costs in the proceedings, the applicant’s costs are to be treated as reduced by any amount paid to them pursuant to an order under this section (sub-paragraph 9).

'Legal services' is defined in sub-section 10.

A new section 22ZB (inserted by s.46 of the Bill) sets out the matters to which court is to have regard in deciding how to exercise its power under section 22ZA. These include the means and needs of both parties, the subject matter of the proceedings (including the matters in issue - presumably, an order would not be made if the case was straightforward), whether the applicant has considered mediation, the applicant's conduct in relation to the proceedings, and the effect of the order on the paying party (s.22ZB(1)).

By section 47 of the Bill s.24A(1) of the MCA is amended to include s.22ZA orders as orders that can 'trigger' an order for the sale of property.

Finally, note that section 45 amends s.22 MCA by providing that orders for maintenance pending suit "may not require a party to a marriage to pay to the other party any amount in respect of legal services for the purposes of the proceedings". In other words, such matters are now to be dealt with under s.22ZA.

Sections 48 to 50 make similar provision in respect of civil partnership proceedings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why no change on legal aid...

Ken wields the axe

As anticipated, the government is pushing ahead with its £350 million worth of legal aid cuts, with the publication of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill today. Not content with that, the Legal Services Commission is to be abolished.

A little more detail can be found here and here, Ken Clarke's statement can be found here, and Resolution's response here. The Government Response to Justice Committee’s Third Report of Session 2010/11: The Government’s proposed reform of legal aid can be found here and Reform of Legal Aid in England and Wales: the Government Response can be found here.

So much for the 5000+ responses to the consultation...

Trust me...

Lawyers ‘not trusted’ by majority, says consumer watchdog - Law Society Gazette, 21st June 2011

[Image: Charles Dance plays solicitor Tulkinghorn in Bleak House.]

From the American blogs...

It's always fascinating (and often instructive) to see what fellow family law bloggers on the other side of the pond are talking about. Here are three recent examples:

I think I first heard about the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Act some months ago when Nancy Van Tine of the Massachusetts Divorce Law Monitor first mentioned it. It is an interesting piece of legislation, which will (if passed) make substantial changes to the law of spousal support. A summary of the Act can be found here, but essentially it proposes that spouse maintenance be divided into 4 categories: general term, rehabilitative, reimbursement, and transitional, each with a fixed duration. 'General' alimony will terminate when the paying spouse reaches retirement age (the idea being that each spouse should plan for their own retirement), and cohabitation of the recipient spouse has the effect (as I read it) of suspending the payments. Certainly some ideas that would find support over here.

Meanwhile Daniel Clement at New York Divorce Report tells us of a case involving, as he says, a novel way of resolving a custody dispute. The issue here was a sad one: the court had found that both parents were so flawed and lacking in parenting skills that neither should have sole custody of the child. The solution that the judge came up with was "parallel custody". She identified each parent’s parenting strengths to define particular "spheres in which each party will be the final decision maker". Accordingly, the mother was granted decision making over summer camp, extracurricular activities and religion, and the father was granted decision-making over issues relating to the child’s education and health. Daniel concludes: "Rather than “winner-take-all,” this win-win approach assures each parent’s continued involvement in the child’s life, with decisions being made by the parent best suited for doing so."

Lastly, Florida Divorce posted yesterday about a case that is actually taking place in New Zealand, but it is not the case that caught my eye so much as the title to the post: And Another Multi-Millionaire Finds Himself in Bankruptcy Just in Time for Divorce... Clearly, the post's author Janet Langjahr is as exasperated as many a family lawyer over the all-too-common phenomenon of the wealth that mysteriously disappears when a marriage breaks down, with the particularly odd feature that living standards remain the same...

There's no such thing as a free divorce

Law firm sparks outrage by offering free divorces - as long as couples apply by June 30 - Daily Mail, 20th June 2011

Monday, June 20, 2011

Edgar Venal appalled at amount lawyers receive from legal aid

Having read the letter from justice minister Jonathan Djanogly to Stewart Jackson MP (above) giving details of the barristers and law firms paid the most from legal aid over the last year, Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at Messrs Venal & Grabbit, has expressed himself appalled at the amounts that they receive.

In a statement to Family Lore he said: "I am utterly appalled at the amounts that the top lawyers receive from legal aid. Quite how these sums can be justified is beyond me. No wonder there is such an uproar from the general public - it is very good of the minister to bring this matter to their attention."

He went on: "I really don't know how these poor lawyers can manage on such pitiful amounts. I certainly couldn't, especially if I also had to pay UK tax, as these wretched unfortunates do. It's no wonder that fewer and fewer firms are offering a legal aid service these days. In the circumstances, it seems quite right that the government is going to put those that are left out of their misery by abolishing legal aid altogether."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day, Take 2

As a counterpoint to my somewhat more serious earlier Father's Day post, here's a rather cheeky use of the annual celebration:

Serial celebrations

Earl Spencer,
Our ref: EV/B
Date: 19th June 2011

Dear Earl,

Re: Your Wedding

May I congratulate you upon your most recent nuptials. I apologise for not attending the celebrations yesterday but, whilst I appreciate your efforts to support the divorce industry, I'm afraid the fee that you offered was quite insufficient to make it worth my while. Perhaps next time.

Meanwhile, I enclose my business card, and look forward to hearing from you, in due course.

Yours etc.,

Edgar Venal

News Brief: Happy Father's Day

Two Father's Day news stories, without comment:

Runaway fathers are like drink-drivers, blasts David Cameron

"David Cameron is launching a full-scale attack on fathers who abandon their families – calling for them to be "stigmatised" by society in the same way as drink-drivers are.

The Prime Minister's intervention – in an article for The Sunday Telegraph to mark Father's Day – is one of the most outspoken he has ever made in defence of traditional family life, which he describes as the "cornerstone of our society".

Mr Cameron said Britain needs to be made a "genuinely hostile" place for runaway fathers, who deserve the "full force of shame heaped upon them" and are "beyond the pale". "

And from the International Business Times:

American Father Self-Immolates To Protest Against Family Courts

"On June 15 around 5:30 pm, a 58-year-old New Hampshire father named Thomas Ball self-immolated in front of the Cheshire County Court House. Ball was pronounced dead at the scene.

Before he died, he sent a letter The Keene Sentinel to explanation his actions...

Ball said he set himself on fire in front of the courthouse because he was “done being bullied for being a man” by the US family court system."

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Edgar Venal denies commenting on Hurley divorce

I have received the following press release from Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, solicitors:


London, 17th June 2011:
Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at Venal & Grabbit wishes it to be known that, contrary to what is suggested in the headline "Hurley Divorce: Britain's top divorce lawyer comments" at 'Greatreporter', he has not, in fact, commented upon the said divorce of Liz Hurley.


In the firing line

"At 9:20 a.m. on June 2, Carey Hal Dyess walked into the converted single-story house that served as Jerrold Shelley's law office in Yuma, Ariz.

Dyess, 73, instructed an office administrator to move out of the way and then shot and killed the 62-year-old lawyer, who had been in the process of packing up his office and retiring.

The attack wasn't random. Shelley had represented Dyess' ex-wife in a bitter divorce in 2006."

So begins this appalling story, that appeared on yesterday. This is just the latest in a line of attacks on family lawyers in America, including several other murders. In fact, it is now recognised over there that family law can be quite a dangerous profession. The story goes on to suggest ways of dealing with the dangers, including reducing the risk by making family law less adversarial.

Worrying stuff. I'm not aware of anything quite so serious happening over here, but I know that family lawyers here have been targeted by angry former partners of their clients. Perhaps a few basic precautions should be considered, if they are not in place already.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book Review: Family Courts without a Lawyer - A Handbook for Litigants in Person

Family Courts without a Lawyer

A Handbook for Litigants in Person

By Lucy Reed

£29.50 - Published by Bath Publishing: May 2011

Not content with practising at the family bar, writing her Pink Tape blog and bringing up a young family (ably assisted by her husband), Lucy Reed has now written her first book: Family Courts without a Lawyer - A Handbook for Litigants in Person. Lucy explains the rationale behind the book in the introduction: "I hope that with this book I can spread a little of my experience more widely and contribute towards making justice for families more widely accessible". How far does she succeed in that aim?

The book is certainly very timely, coming as it does as the proposed virtual abolition of legal aid for private law family matters threatens to flood our courts with litigants in person.

The book is also very ambitious. There have, of course, previously been litigant in person guides to divorce (including my own Do Your Own Divorce), but I don't recall previously coming across a guide to all areas of (private law) family court work.

Save for the introduction, the book is divided into seven parts, as follows:

1. Understanding the system, including chapters on the courts, lawyers, where to find the law and a 'reality check' chapter which, inter alia, dispels many of the myths surrounding family law.

2. Putting it into practice, including what to expect at court, general procedure, evidence and a chapter on running your case.

3. Divorce, separation and finances, comprising the law and procedure on these areas, including a chapter on finances for separating cohabitees.

4. Children - comprising the law and procedure in matters concerning children, including chapters on child abduction and, interestingly, children cases for non-parents.

5. Domestic violence and abuse - the law and procedure in this area.

6. After judgment - including enforcement, costs and appeals.

7. Lastly, a section entitled 'Toolkit and resources', i.e. appendices, including a fairly comprehensive glossary, a list of internet resources, a table of cases (something I have recently found missing in professional handbooks, and did not expect to find in a book aimed at litigants in person), precedent forms and templates and extracts from rules and statutes.

As is becoming increasingly obligatory, the book also comes with an accompanying website, The site is currently available to non-purchasers, although this may change (the book comes with its own unique access code). There is currently not a lot of content on the site, but it does include downloadable versions of the precedents in the book, and will, in due course, include updates.

One small point on the price of the book: nearly thirty pounds may not seem much to professionals used to paying much more for specialist texts, but I wonder whether it may seem a little high to the average litigant in person, particularly those of limited means, and especially if only one section (such as the one on children) was of interest to them. I do notice that the book is already slightly cheaper on Amazon (excluding postage), and no doubt the price will reduce further. However, it would be a great pity if potential purchasers were put off.

One other small criticism that has nothing directly to do with the contents of the book: I found the font size a little small and the layout at times a touch confusing, making it a little difficult, for example, to see where one item ended and another began. Obviously, this is a very subjective point, and others may disagree.

Moving on to the contents of the book, the biggest thing that struck me is the level of respect with which Lucy treats her reader (I am not, for one moment, suggesting that litigants in person should not be respected). She is not afraid to regularly refer to primary sources such as statute and case law, in a fashion similar to texts aimed at professionals, and expects these to be read, with the help of her guidance. Obviously, this is the best way to 'arm' a litigant in person with the full picture, but it is also fraught with the danger that the reader will be biting off more than they can chew. I suppose this may be a result of the amount of ground that the book covers - to spoon-feed the reader with 'everything' would result in a tome a lot longer than the already considerable 336 pages. Whether Lucy is successful in this 'gamble' only time will tell, but good luck to her for her brave decision.

Lucy writes the book in her usual easy-going style, with use of the odd colloquialism such as 'telly' or 'divvy', and the odd piece of humour, such as referring to the ex's lawyer as "that shark that my wife has hired" (Lucy actually suggests that this is not a good idea). She also openly adopts the convention of alternating the sex of judges (sometimes referring to them as 'him', sometimes as 'her'), which this old dinosaur found a little confusing.

As to the substance of the book, I could criticise by saying that some sections are a little thin on detail, that some points that I consider to be important are omitted, that some information is repeated in more than one section, or that some sections are a little oddly ordered. However, all of this would be nit-picking. The book is a treasure trove of very useful information and, often, extremely good practical advice, for example the sections on applying for contact and on children's wishes and feelings.

I asked at the outset whether Lucy had succeeded in her aim of helping litigants in person. The answer must be a resounding 'yes'. This book is certainly not a panacea, but armed with it the litigant in person is surely going to be better prepared for the ordeal ahead. In fact, I would go further: I think the book could well be used as an introductory text for the aspiring family lawyer.

Highly recommended.

Netting the cash

Here's yet another great child support enforcement idea from the other side of the pond. In Oregon and Idaho (and possibly elsewhere), owing child support arrears can prevent you from obtaining a fishing or hunting licence. Apparently, the program has been quite successful. According to this article in the wonderfully-titled Umpqua Post, in Idaho they were "absolutely amazed at how many people were behind in child support could come up with the money to keep from losing their right to hunt and fish, but wouldn’t do so to keep their driver’s license". Clearly, the program hits where it hurts.

I don't know about hunting, but with some 1.5 million angling licences sold each year in England and Wales, such a scheme could certainly be effective over here. Not that the angling community would thank me for suggesting it...

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

D (A Child): Waiving professional privilege

"This is a care case with an interesting and unusual twist to it." So began the judgment of Lord Justice Ward in D (A Child) [2011] EWCA Civ 684.

The facts: When the child L (I'm not sure why, not for the first time, the initial referring to the child in the judgment differs from the initial used in the citation) was 6 weeks old he suffered a fracture of the mid-shaft of his left humerus, fractures of his ribs on both his left and right side and a fracture of the left tibia. The local authority obtained interim care orders and arrangements were in hand for a fact-finding hearing to be held, to establish the perpetrator, or the perpetrators, of the injuries.

In a witness statement dated 13th January 2011 L's Mother said that she did not know how L had received his injuries. However, having by then separated from the father, the mother applied on the 24th February for an injunction restraining the Father from molesting her, alleging, inter alia, that the Father had threatened to kill her if she spoke to her solicitor "about what has happened with L".

On the 25th February the Mother filed a further statement for the fact-finding enquiry in which she gave a very different explanation of L's injuries, clearly indicating that they had been inflicted by the Father. She explained how her change of heart had come about in the course of conferences with her legal team.

The Father asserted that in explaining her change of heart the Mother had waived the professional privilege which exists between solicitor and client so as to justify him in seeking disclosure of the attendance notes made by her solicitors and counsel at the various conferences.

The judge found for the Father and ordered that the Mother should serve all contemporaneous notes made by counsel during the conferences with Mother and all contemporaneous notes which were made by her solicitor during their meetings in the relevant period, such disclosure to include any notes made by her solicitor during the conferences with counsel.

The Mother appealed.

Held: It was common ground that the Mother's meetings with her solicitor and the conferences with counsel attracted legal professional privilege which only she could waive (paragraph 17). However, after "anxious deliberation", counsel for the Mother accepted that the Mother did waive that privilege because her witness statement could not be said to make only "glancing reference" to the conversations with counsel and solicitors. For example, she had stated that the questioning by her lawyers "made it easy to tell them what had happened".

Accordingly, the appeal turned on the "fundamental question", as Elias J. (as he then was) expressed it in Brennan v Sunderland Council [2009] I.C.R. 479 at [63]:
"whether, in the light of what has been disclosed and the context in which disclosure has occurred, it would be unfair to allow the party making disclosure not to reveal the whole of the relevant information because it would risk the court and the other party only having a partial and potentially misleading understanding of the material."

Counsel for the Father submitted that the unfairness to the Father consisted "in his not being able effectively to cross-examine the Mother about her veracity and about the evolution of her change of heart without being able to see the factual premises on which the advice was given to her and the manner in which her account of the events unravelled". Her primary point was that the balance was one for the judge to strike and that this Court should not interfere unless it has been demonstrated that he was plainly wrong in reaching the conclusion he did.

Lord Justice Ward found that there was no answer to that primary point. He said (at paragraph 23) that the judge's:
"immediate task was to find the material facts relating to the child's injuries and identify the perpetrator. In choosing to explain her shift in position as a consequence of advice she was given, the Mother undoubtedly did elaborate on the nature of that advice and explain the need for sustained questioning and demonstrations with the doll to elicit her story. It is, therefore, a legitimate concern that she might be saying what she believed her interrogators wished to hear rather than what she knew to be true. The undesirability of breaching confidentiality must be balanced against the unfairness to the Father if the cloak that ordinarily concealed the discussions with her lawyers was not lifted. Having made public, at least in part, the circumstances in which she bared her soul to her lawyers, she must be left bare for cross- examination."

Accordingly, Lord Justice Ward was satisfied that the judge had arrived at the correct result, and therefore dismissed the appeal. He concluded with a warning (at paragraph 24):
"Counsel and solicitors will be aware (or ought to be aware) of the fact that advice may have been given to prompt the change of heart or change of attitude and they should be on guard to protect their client from revealing that advice either in the written evidence or when giving oral evidence to the court."

Lord Justice Rimer and Lord Justice Elias gave consenting judgments.

A pleasant surprise

Kathi Smith-Petersen received a very pleasant surprise recently when she was called to the office of the Arizona Department of Economic Security: a cheque for $93,639, representing arrears of child support, plus some $67,000 interest.

Kathi's ex-husband owed her child support dating back to 1976. She had never given up trying to recover it, but didn't expect ever to see more than a few thousand dollars. However, workers at the Department of Economic Security discovered that he had an out-of-state bank account with more than $200,000 in it. A levy was placed on the account and the bank was forced to surrender the $93,639.

I guess there are two morals to this story: 1. Never give up; and 2. If you owe money, pay it as soon as possible!

[Story found via Florida Divorce.]

Shared parenting: fad or forever?

The shared parenting debate seems to be playing out in many places around the world. The latest that I've come across is the US state of Wisconsin, where 'Assembly Bill 54' is proposing that there be a presumption "that a placement schedule that equalizes to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent is in the child’s best interest". The arguments in favour of the Bill may be found here, and those against here. The points raised on either side are, of course, similar to those raised over here and elsewhere.

Shared parenting clearly appears to be the idea of the moment. Whether it is an idea that has found its time or simply a current fad that will pass remains to be seen.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What heals a broken heart

Never let it be said that Family Lore isn't a public information service:[Found on Buzzfeed.]

@familylaw: Two thousand followers can't be wrong...

...well, maybe they can, but at least the followers of my @familylaw twitter feed are keeping up with all the latest happenings in the world of family law. For those who don't already know (where have you been?), @familylaw feeds all news items and cases from Family Lore Focus on to twitter, thereby providing a convenient way to stay up to date.

You can also keep up to date by subscribing to the free weekly Family Lore Focus Newsletter here - all that is required is your name and email address.

To recap, Family Lore Focus is essentially a site that aggregates freely available family law content from the web, including news, cases, statutory instruments, articles, podcasts and blogs. Several times every day I check every source that I am aware of including family law sites, general law sites, blogs, newspapers, Bailii and many others, and post links to items of interest. The most recent links can be found on the front page of Family Lore Focus, and older ones on the relevant blogs: Family Lore News, Family Lore Case Digest, Family Lore Articles, Family Lore Podcasts and Family Lore Blogs.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Are You Ready For Marriage?

"Are you, as a new bride, mature enough and understanding enough to make the kind of wife your husband desires? Will you help him in his career - or hinder him? Will you build a happy home - or a broken one?" So asks Are You Ready For Marriage?, a quiz that first appeared in “Boy Meets Girl” issue #3 in 1950.

The quiz is full of essential matrimonial questions, such as how to respond to your husband's jokes, how to cook chicken, and what to do when your husband is listening to the cattle reports on the radio. If you score 8 out of 10, then "you'll be the kind of wonderful wife a man needs!" On the other hand, if you score less then "you'll really have to make an effort if you want to hold your husband!" I'm sure any ladies reading this will be wanting to read the whole quiz, which you can find here.

(On a serious note, these were the attitudes towards marriage only a short time before our present divorce laws were formulated. Isn't it time those laws were revisited?)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Edgar Venal made OBE in Queen's Birthday Honours!

Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at Venal & Grabbit, has been made OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. The award was made for his outstanding contribution to the public understanding of what it really means to be a family lawyer (and for his outstanding contributions to a certain political party, but that's another story).

Upon hearing of the award, Egdar Venal said: "With what I've done for family law, it should have been a knighthood. Still, one mustn't look a gift horse in the mouth... I wonder if my time spent at the Palace will be billable?"

Something for the Weekend: Les Paul

Thursday was the 96th anniversary of the birth of Les Paul, a fact commemorated by Google, with its excellent guitar 'doodle'. For my own tribute, here's somebody who knows how to use one of Les Paul's guitars:

Friday, June 10, 2011


Just to prove that divorces can be amicable, Karen Elson and Jack White are throwing a party to celebrate their 6th anniversary and their upcoming divorce:

For more details, see here.

E (Children): Supreme Court dismisses mother's appeal

With reference to this post, the Supreme Court has today delivered its judgment in E Children). The mother's appeal was unanimously dismissed. You can read the full judgment here, a press summary (in .PDF format) here, and a summary on Family Law Week, here. Family Law also have a news item on the case, here.

It will be recalled that the main issue was the correct approach to the Article 13(b) exception to the duty to return under the Hague Convention. Here is the relevant extract from the press summary:
"The exceptions to the obligation to return are by their nature restricted in scope and should be applied without extra interpretation or gloss. Violence and abuse between parents may constitute a grave risk to the children. But where there are disputed allegations which can neither be tried nor objectively verified, the focus of the inquiry is bound to be on the sufficiency of any protective measures which can be put in place to reduce the risk. The clearer the need for protection, the more effective the measures will have to be. In this case, the trial judge was satisfied that medical treatment would be available for the mother and that there were legal remedies to protect the children should they be needed. It is not the task of an appellate court to disagree with the trial judge’s assessment."

* * * * *

UPDATE: Jacqueline Renton, Barrister, of 4 Paper Buildings, offers some initial thoughts on the decision on Family Law Week, here.

There's nowt so queer as folk

Yesterday I almost wrote a post about this story in the Daily Mail, apparently concerning an estranged wife who 'trapped' her husband by posing as a teenage girl on a fake Facebook account (above), in an effort to get damaging information from him. The husband and the 'girl' became 'friends', and the husband then told her how he was tracking his wife’s movements with a GPS device placed on her car, and revealed plans to have his wife killed and then flee the state with their children. The husband was duly arrested by the FBI.

It seemed like a great story to blog about, but for some reason it didn't seem quite right, and I chose not to. Now, it appears that I was right, as it has been revealed that the husband wasn't actually duped at all. Instead, he was playing his wife, in the hope of proving that she was “still tampering with his life”. Accordingly, the charges against him have been dropped.

Still, pretty bizarre behaviour all round...

Thursday, June 09, 2011

It's not perfect, but it's ours...

'Troubled Relationship' cards, sponsored by Venal & Grabbit (telephone number on back of card).

[Yes, it seems that these are real - see here.]

It's The Sun Wot Pays Out

The Sun newspaper has today agreed to pay 'undisclosed compensation' and apologised unreservedly to social worker Sylvia Henry, over the publication of false allegations in about 80(!) articles, about her role in the Baby P tragedy. The allegations included that she had been "grossly negligent" in her handling of the case, that she was "thereby to blame for his appalling abuse and death" and that she had shown no remorse. Her solicitor, Daniel Taylor, said the newspaper "unreservedly accepts that there is no justification for any of the allegations".

Unfortunately, nothing about this surprises me.

I'm still going to refer only to 'decree nisi' and 'decree absolute'

Thankfully, I am no longer practising, but if I were then I'm sure the fact that decree nisi and decree absolute are now sometimes referred to as 'matrimonial orders' would be a cause of considerable confusion.

The reason for the confusion is, of course, that the Family Procedure Rules Committee wanted to bring in the new terminology with the Family Procedure Rules 2010 and accompanying Practice Directions. However, the Committee did not, of course, have the power to change the terminology in the Matrimonial Causes Act (in fact, it seems odd to me that they might even have the power to require the use of different terms to those decided upon by Parliament, but that's another matter), and in the event, the old terms were retained. That would be fine, but the Rules and PDs still defiantly use the term 'matrimonial order' on occasion, for example in Practice Direction 7A.

Now, I'm all in favour of modernisation, but as any first year law student will tell you, statute takes precedence over rules, so until such time as Parliament gets off its backside and updates the terminology, I'm still going to use exclusively the old terms.


As regular readers (you really should get out more) will know, I like to report on all the great ideas for enforcing child support coming from the US of A. The latest is the wheel clamp. Nothing too unusual about that you might think, but this is a clamp with a twist. It has spikes in it. If the recalcitrant parent attempts to drive their car away without coughing up to have it removed, they'll end up with a flat tyre. Excellent.

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

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Good fortune, bad timing

In October 2009 Scott Dole won $51,600 on "Wheel of Fortune". As his wife had filed for divorce in September 2008, Scott argued that the money should be his, rather than community property (and therefore divided equally between himself and his wife). Unfortunately for Scott, he and his wife were attempting a reconciliation at the time the show was filmed (they finally separated a month later), and therefore the judge held that the winnings were community property. Scott was thus left with only $25,800, less taxes.

For the full story see here. Thanks to Warren R. Shiell of Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law for the heads-up.

Arrogant atheists and not collecting stamps

I enjoyed Michael Nugent's introduction to the World Atheist Convention in Dublin:

[Found on]

Childhood memories

I've been doing a lot of reminiscing about my childhood recently, perhaps a little too much. I guess it's an age thing.

I was lucky enough to enjoy a very happy childhood: a loving, secure home and a close family were its hallmarks.

I have been remembering, for example, gathering around the old black and white TV to watch the moon missions, and thinking that such things would be commonplace throughout my life. On the same TV we had watched the first Dr Who programmes, and I had clung to my mother's skirt when the Darleks had been his enemy.

Apart from those Darleks, my world was safe (I was oblivious to the threat of nuclear Armageddon), and my greatest worry was where I would find the money (about 7/6d) to buy my next Corgi car.

To use a cliché, the Beatles were the soundtrack to my childhood. I still often enjoy listening to their music. When clearing my late father's house last year, I came across a Beatles scrapbook belonging to my sister. I'm afraid I did not come across one of our plastic Beatles guitars (pictured), which I understand are now quite valuable.

The world seemed exciting and full of possibilities. Unfortunately, it didn't always live up to my expectations, but that's another story...

What has all of this got to do with family law? Well, nothing directly but we family lawyers (or at least those who are still practising) do of course deal with the lives of children. These children, however, are not enjoying happy childhoods, at least not when we come into contact with them. Perhaps we don't always spare enough time to view what we are doing through their eyes?

Dear Dave...

A variation on a recurring theme:

[Found on BuzzFeed.]

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Family Portrait

I rather like this delicious picture of family disharmony:

For more information about this video, see here.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Not all corpulent felines

This headline in The Independent on Sunday today confirms that the legal profession retains it's lofty position in the hearts of the nation:

The people versus the cuts (and, as ever, the lawyers will be the winners)

Whilst there will, of course, always be some who prosper in hard times, I'm not sure that those lawyers whose firms have gone under, or those who have been made redundant, or those who are now having to work short hours, will consider themselves to be 'winners'.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Something for the Weekend: Connolly on religion

I came across this again this week. More sense in 3 minutes 51 seconds than you are likely to find anywhere else. Enjoy:

Friday, June 03, 2011

Venal & Grabbit open Chinese branch office!

Over 5,000 couples divorce each day in China during first quarter - People's Daily Online

Young People's Guide to the Family Justice Review

The Ministry of Justice has today published a 'Young People's Guide' to the Family Justice Review. According to the MoJ website, the Guide "accompanies the interim report published by the Family Justice Review and gives children a unique opportunity to participate in the ongoing consultation". The Guide can be found, in .PDF format, here.

I'm sure that seeking the views of children is a good thing, although they are not exactly being given much time to respond to the consultation. The Guide is somewhat late - the interim report was published back in March, and the consultation ends on the 23rd June.

I would also mention, en passant, what Sandra Davis said about the Family Justice Review in her weekly article on Family Law yesterday:
"That Review though is plainly a cost cutting exercise with no mandate whatsoever to recommend any substantive review of principle."

I don't think this is mentioned in the Guide...

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Edgar Venal Wins (yet another) Award!

Hard on the heels of Edgar Venal receiving the Family Lawyer of the Year Award for 2011, he has now been awarded the equally prestigious Most Innovative and Outstanding Contribution to Family Law Readers Award Ever (at least this year) Award for 2011. The award, given to the family lawyer who is the most deserving of a Most Innovative and Outstanding Contribution to Family Law Readers Award Ever (at least this year) Award, was presented to Edgar Venal at an award ceremony today.

Accepting the award, Edgar Venal said: "I'm sorry, but I'm beyond caring about awards."

Book Review: Family Procedure Rules 2010 - A Guide to the New Law

Family Procedure Rules 2010

A Guide to the New Law

By Stephen Parker

£49.95 - Published by Law Society Publishing: May 2011

The new Family Procedure Rules have, of course, provided substantial opportunities for legal publishers to supply the profession with guidance, and Family Procedure Rules 2010 is, as the sub-title states, Law Society Publishing's effort. How does it fare?

The Guide (as I shall call it) is essentially in two parts: the main text, comprising 104 pages, and two appendices, containing the full text of the rules and the accompanying practice directions. There are no tables or index, the latter being a particularly disappointing omission.

The main text is thus the only original part of the Guide. It comprises four chapters:

1. A six-page introductory chapter, setting out the background to the rules, their objectives and a brief overview.

2. A useful thirteen-page summary of the key changes introduced by the new rules.

3. A detailed explanation of the rules: the 'meat' of the book. The author not only describes each of the rules and (if applicable) its accompanying practice direction(s), but also includes some of his own thoughts as to how the new rules will work in practice. In addition, he occasionally considers how similar rules within the Civil Procedure Rules have worked, and refers to some of that case law, much of which may well not be known to family law specialists. The layout of this chapter can be a little frustrating, partly because the rules do not accompany the text, and partly because some of the longer sections have no sub-headings, for example the sections on Part 9 (applications for financial remedies) and Part 12 (proceedings relating to children).

4. A brief concluding chapter, setting out the author's observations regarding the impact of the new rules.

And that is it. Cognisant of the fact that the rules and practice directions are freely available online (if not possessed already), potential purchasers may consider that they are not getting very much for their money. However, if the book is used as a text to read (save, of course, for the appendices) rather than as a reference then I think it provides a valuable guide to the new rules, of the sort that all family practitioners should read, if they have not done so already.

If, on the other hand, the book is intended to be used as a reference then, aside from the reservations I have already mentioned, I would make the same point as I made when reviewing Financial Remedies under the Family Procedure Rules: would you want it if you already possessed The Family Court Practice?

In summary: a worthwhile, but perhaps a little expensive, purchase for those seeking a readable guide to the new rules.