Monday, February 28, 2011

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

... Mr Venal has found a way to re-use an advertising poster:

Wives are the first to tire of marriage after husbands stop being romantic - Daily Mail

Nice idea...

David Burrows makes an interesting point in a letter to the Guardian today. He suggests that, rather than clogging the courts with litigants in person as a result of legal aid cuts, the government should make the rich pay 'for the luxury of using the courts for long periods of time'. Nice idea, but I can't see it happening.

He also makes a comment about the new Family Procedure Rules, which he says 'are, in many parts, barely understandable and often of doubtful legal principle'...

A salutary tale

I shall make no comment about this salutary tale:

Man Receives Oral Sex, Ordered to Pay Child Support

If you really want all the details, see here.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Increasingly hysterical reporting

It used to be The Times that ran a headline-grabbing populist campaign against the 'secretive family courts' (and for all I know it still does), but since that publication disappeared behind the great paywall of Murdoch, the opportunity has clearly opened up for another journal to draw the nation's attention to this scandal. The baton has been picked up by The Telegraph, which has ably demonstrated that it is as capable as any paper of drumming-up mass hysteria. Yesterday, it ran two pieces, one with the headline 'Mother's horror as court takes children after 15 minute hearing' (the children were returned to her the next day, after an appeal) and the other telling the story of how 'an increasingly Stalinist state has torn apart one woman’s family'.

Now, I won't comment upon either of these two cases without seeing a full report, but suffice to say that, as with any other human endeavour, mistakes are made from time to time. Unfortunately, in some areas of human endeavour (such as child care or medicine), the consequences of mistakes can be extremely serious. Obviously, every effort should be made to minimise error, but remember that the people making the decisions are under enormous pressure - after all, the very same media that criticise courts for putting children into care unnecessarily will be even more critical if a Baby P - like tragedy occurs as a result of a failure to act.

I'm not asking for the media to stop drawing attention to wrongs, or even to stop criticising. All I ask for is a little less hysteria and a little more balance. The judges, lawyers, social workers and others who operate the family justice system are hard-working dedicated people who do a difficult job under extremely demanding circumstances. They also get things right far more often than they get things wrong.

Still, I suppose headlines like 'Family court makes correct decision again' don't sell many papers...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Something for the Weekend: Organizing the Bookcase

Still on the subject of sad, this amusing little video, featured on Boing Boing this week, reminded me of the habit I used to have of arranging the books on my bookshelves:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Sad.

With more time on my hands than usual on a Thursday due to not recording a LoreCast this week (Natasha and I are taking a half-term break), I found myself doing something I don't normally do: looking at the Huffington Post divorce section. OK, I know that's pretty sad, but not half as sad as the items that former husbands and wives have been putting up for sale on Craigslist. Still, you have to raise the money to pay for your divorce lawyer somehow...

News Brief: Djangling by a thread

Yesterday afternoon I received an email from the Ministry of Justice inviting me to 'blog' about their news release regarding the announcement on compulsory mediation assessment. I declined, pointing out that I had put a link to their news story (as against the news release) on Family Lore Focus, but that I thought I had covered the story enough for now on Family Lore. Well, it seems that I lied about the last part, as a couple of items that showed up in my feed reader this morning have prompted me to mention the story again.

It seems that I was not the only one to receive an email from the Ministry of Justice. Pink Tape received one as well, prompting her to 'blog' A GIFT from the MoJ, in which she dissects what she calls 'the fatuous press release'. Here's a taste:
"Do not think I am opposed to mediation. I’m not. It’s not mediation or the promotion of mediation I’m attacking. It’s the promotion of mediation as a potential solution for everyone (with the exception of a limited category of dv sufferers) and the fingers in ears approach to suggestions that there may only be a smallish proportion of the types of cases that currently go through the courts that can successfully be diverted elsewhere."

Excellent stuff, and well worth a read.

Pink Tape is not the only one with something critical to say about the announcement. Family Law points out that the proposals have been announced despite a national shortage of family law mediators, something that I have suggested here myself. Even the Telegraph is putting the boot in today, with a story publicising criticisms of the Government for promoting mediation to mask planned cuts to legal aid.

I don't know whether it is due to pressure from the high level of opposition to the Government's proposals regarding mediation and legal aid, but Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly's grip on things seems to be hanging by a thread after two recent parliamentary blunders, amusingly pointed out by Obiter in the Law Society Gazette today.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Who wants to mediate?

News Brief: Busy, busy, busy...

The Government is keeping busy this week, continuing its policy of not leaving anything alone.

First up, we had Education Secretary Michael Gove announcing new adoption guidance yesterday (quite what adoption should have to do with a Department for Education, I don't know). I won't say much about this, as the media has already covered the story from a variety of different angels, including: White couples should be allowed to adopt black and ethnic minority children; Older couples whose own children have left home should be considered as potential adoptive parents; More children will be put up for adoption instead of being left in council care; and More children will be placed for adoption with single parents. For all the details, the adoption guidance itself may be found here.

Next up is Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly, giving us the news we already know that: Divorcing couples will be referred to mediation to sort out most disputes before they are allowed to use the courts. The move doesn't seem to have gone down well in all circles, with the Daily Mail headline telling us:

Warring couples told to try £300-per-hour mediation before they enter divorce courts

I also rather liked the Pugh cartoon, showing a couple in front of a divorce lawyer, with the caption: 'We were blissfully happy until we fell out over the pros and cons of a mediation course'.

* * * * *

UPDATE: The Mail headline has now been changed to 'Warring couples told to try costly mediation before they enter divorce courts', after they got a letter from National Family Mediation (thanks, NFM).

Monday, February 21, 2011

Is there a future for family lawyers?

This is a subject that I have been toying with for some time, but never seem to have gotten around to dealing with properly, so I thought I would post some initial thoughts.

It seems that the work of the family lawyer under threat like never before, and this took me to the question posed by the title to this post: Is there a future for family lawyers?

The threats include:

Mediation
The Government has made it quite clear that it considers that mediation should play a far greater role in the resolution of family disputes, and Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly regularly repeats the message. I think it is accepted by all that mediation is not a panacea, but obviously any significant increase in cases settling through mediation will reduce the work available to family lawyers.

Mediation has been a 'threat' for a long time. Of course, lawyers can train to be mediators themselves ('if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!) - I signed up for mediation training myself many years ago, long before it was fashionable to do so, but didn't proceed as there didn't seem to be sufficient money in it at that time to justify the cost of qualifying. I'm sure that has changed, and it certainly seems to be prudent for firms to position themselves to do more mediation work.

Cheap online services
Again, these have been around for a long time. I don't know that their 'threat' is any greater now than previously, although the Law Society recently issued a warning about using them, which suggests a heightened level of concern.

These sites deal primarily with uncontested divorce and agreed settlements (i.e. consent orders), so their 'threat' will always be limited, but nevertheless they can cut into the 'bread and butter' work that most firms do (at a considerably higher cost).

Divorce as an administrative process
Andrew Woolley indicated in a blog post back in October that the Government is considering bringing in the "no court divorce", whereby the 'petitioner' simply registers for a divorce, which automatically comes through after a set period. This would not only do away with uncontested divorce work but also the rarer (but more lucrative) contested divorce work.

Lawyer-free tribunals to resolve disputes
Another idea that has been mooted as part of the Family Justice Review, and possibly the biggest threat of all. I really have no idea of the likelihood of this coming to fruition - I suppose it depends upon whether it could create significant costs savings (as against whether it is actually a good idea). Obviously, if lawyers were to be removed from most disputes, then the future would look very bleak indeed (save, perhaps, for those dealing with public law matters, which I can't see being taken away from the courts), with lawyers being limited to an advisory role only.

* * * * *

OK, those are some initial thoughts. I may pursue the question further at a later date, and maybe even try to draw some conclusions.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Extreme Nerdliness

A marriage proposal from within a video game:

Inviting...


State Invitations Secretary,
Lord Chamberlain's Office,
Buckingham Palace,
London SW1A 1AA.
Our ref: EV/B
Date: 20th February 2011

Dear Sir,

Re: Royal Wedding

I accept the invitation to the nuptials of the Prince of Wales and Miss Middleton - I am sure that they will be honoured by my presence. I trust that I will be given a seat in the Abbey commensurate with my status.

I enclose two copies of my business card, and should be grateful if you would pass these to William and Kate, for future reference.

Yours etc.,

Edgar Venal

P.S. I will be charging my time for attending the wedding at my usual rate, plus 50% mark-up.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Something for the Weekend: A little trip...

It's nice to go somewhere at the weekend, so I thought I'd take you on a little trip. OK, this is a bit further than most weekend jaunts. In this soundless video from NASA, we're going to the universe's most distant object:



For more information, see here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Worrying

I've not made a study of the Welfare Reform Bill, but this article in the Guardian's Comment is free column today is worrying:

The welfare reform bill will trap abused women in their violent hell

Thursday, February 17, 2011

2000 Posts on Family Lore News

Another milestone passed today. According to Blogger, I've now written over 2000 posts on Family Lore News, since it was started in July 2009. The posts of course feed on to the front page of Family Lore Focus, and create the news section in the Family Lore Focus Newsletter. They can also be followed on twitter.

Right, no time to rest - off to check my news feed again...

Family LoreCast #36

In this week's LoreCast I discuss the Practice Directions supplemental to the new Family Procedure Rules and the cases of C (A Child) and O (Children), and Natasha explains what happened at the meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law and The Court of Protection this week, which explored the issue of shared parenting.

Click here to listen to the LoreCast.

O (Children): Dealing with children who have become settled in a new country

The case O (Children) [2011] EWCA Civ 128 concerned an appeal against an order for the return of children under the Hague Convention.

The Facts: The parents met in the United States, although they originate from Nigeria and are Nigerian citizens. They made their home in the US and the children were born there. In February 2009, the mother went with the children to Nigeria on holiday. Whilst there she decided that she could not continue to live with the father and she told the father, in mid March 2009, that she did not intend to return to the US. She and the children were based in Nigeria from then until July 2010, when they came to England to visit the mother's brother for a holiday. When the father learned of this, he made an application under the Hague Convention. Since that time, the mother and the children have been unable to leave this country, by virtue of orders of the High Court.

The mother raised three "defences" to the father's application, under Article 13(a) of the Hague Convention, Article 13(b) and Article 12, arguing that the proceedings had commenced more than a year from the date of the wrongful retention and that the children had settled in Nigeria. The trial judge rejected the mother's case under Article 13(a) and Article 13(b), but found the mother's argument in reliance on Article 12 established. However, he went on to determine that the children should nonetheless be returned to the US. His reasoning was as follows:
"These are very young children and are of an age where I have no doubt that they are able to adapt more readily than older children who may have established deeper attachments and networks to family, friends and environment. In the circumstances therefore the children should be returned to the USA for the American courts to determine any respective applications of the parties based on welfare principles."

The mother appealed against this determination of the judge.

Held: After reviewing Re M (Abduction: Zimbabwe) [2007] UKHL 55, the leading authority on the exercise of the discretion to order the return of children who have become settled, Lady Justice Black found (at paragraph 26): "that the judge both failed to state the Re M principles and failed to apply them. In the circumstances, I am unable to support his exercise of his discretion as a valid one. It follows that the question of whether the children should be returned to the US remains to be determined."

Lady Justice Black then went through the facts in detail and concluded (at paragraph 49):
"I am persuaded that there are overwhelming reasons to decline to order summary return of these children to the US. ... The children do not view the US as their home, were settled in Nigeria in comfortable circumstances and with appropriate arrangements in place for their welfare before coming here on holiday last summer, and are likely to continue to see Nigeria as their home. ... The Nigerian court has already been seised of the matter at the invitation of the father and it would, in my view, be a significantly more appropriate forum for any future litigation about the children than the American courts."

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the father's application seeking the return of the children to the USA was dismissed. The mother was therefore able to return with the children to Nigeria.

Lord Justice Pitchford and Lord Justice Wilson gave consenting judgments.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Exclusive: Family Lore interview with Edgar Venal, Senior Partner of Venal & Grabbit

Family Lore has been granted an exclusive interview with Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, solicitors, which we are proud to reproduce here:

Family Lore: It is a great honour to have this exclusive interview with you today.

Edgar Venal: I know.

FL: Ahem, yes. Now, I'd like to begin by asking you what led you to become a family lawyer?

EV: Well, once I qualified I did a complete hours/profits analysis of every area of law, and concluded that the best income was to be found doing family law. Provided, of course, that one restricts oneself to high net worth clients.

FL: I see. So you've never done legal aid work?

EV: Hahahahahahahaha... you're not serious, are you?

FL: Er... I suppose not. Moving on, what is the approach that you take to family law?

EV: Well, certainly not the namby-pamby "constructive and non-confrontational" approach that so many bleeding-hearts family lawyers espouse these days. No, I am a firm believer in the "take them for every penny and don't stop squeezing until the pips squeak" approach.

FL: So you don't believe in mediation or the collaborative approach?

EV: Certainly not. Clients pay lawyers to fight for them, and that's exactly what we at Venal & Grabbit do.

FL: But surely these days judges oppose such a confrontational approach?

EV: We have ways and means of dealing with judges.

FL: What do you mean?

EV: Let us just say that most judges have a skeleton in their closet, if you dig deep enough.

FL: Blackmail, you mean?

EV: Certainly not. We prefer to call it "jogging the memory".

FL: And what if they don't have a skeleton in the closet?

EV: Well, then there's always bribery. Have you ever heard of a lawyer who can't be bought?

FL: Now you come to mention it, no. Moving on, what are your views on client care?

EV: Meddling, that's what it is. Meddling and nonsense. The client needs to know their place, that's what I say. Let them know who's boss. The last thing you should do is give them any ideas about making a complaint against you.

FL: Quite. But shouldn't you at least give them some idea of how much your fees should be?

EV: [Chokes]

FL: OK, silly question. To finish this interview, I understand that you have recently been giving lectures to other solicitors?

EV: Yes, for a suitable fee. After the success of Avoiding paying counsel's fees, I have most recently been giving seminars on How to get that last penny out of your client. They've been going down a storm.

FL: Excellent. Well, thank you for your time.

EV: I'm sure it was a pleasure. I shall send you my account as soon as my secretary, Brunhilde, prepares it.

Marital Rating Scale

Just found this on Boing Boing - a 1930s chart used by one spouse to 'rate' the other:

For the rest of the wife's chart and the husband's chart, see here. I shall make no comment!

Practice makes... more work

I commented yesterday on the need for the plethora of Practice Directions supplemental to the new Family Procedure Rules. Practice Direction 35A is a case in point. It reads:
This Practice Direction supplements FPR rule 35.2(Relevant disputes: applications for consent orders in respect of financial remedies)

1.1 An application for an order to which rule 35.2 applies must be completed in English or accompanied by a translation into English.

1.2 Where the application is supported by evidence of explicit consent to the application by a party, the evidence must also be in English or accompanied by a translation into English.

1.3 Where a party chooses to write to the court consenting to the making of the order the correspondence must be in English or accompanied by a translation into English.

Was a Practice Direction really required to say this?

Marital Bliss Bar

I rather liked this, found on BuzzFeed:

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Big Society

Venal & Grabbit are very conscious of the need to play their part in Mr Cameron's Big Society. After all, one must do one's bit for the common good. Accordingly, they are pleased to announce that they have volunteered their entire staff for a weekend of charity work, delivering free meals to those poor unfortunate lawyers who do legal aid work.

Mr Grabbit said: "We have heard that some legal aid lawyers make less than £500 an hour. Quite how they manage on such a pittance is beyond us. This work will ensure that, for one weekend at least, they will have a decent meal on the table."

Sadly, neither Mr Venal nor Mr Grabbit will be able to participate in the work, due to pressing prior engagements in their offshore tax havens.

News Brief: A case, more rules, more forms

The Court of Appeal gave its judgment in Traversa v Freddi yesterday. For those who have not followed the case, the husband sought financial relief under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, after the wife had taken divorce proceedings in Italy. Unfortunately for the husband, his application was heard after the Court of Appeal judgment in Agbaje, and as a result was dismissed. After the Supreme Court overturned the Court of Appeal decision in Agbaje, Mr Traversa appealed. Unsurprisingly, his appeal was successful, although the case also has a European element to it, unlike Agbaje.

Keen family lawyers may have noticed Jordans Family Law have been publishing the Practice Directions supplemental to the new Family Procedure Rules. I am not entirely sure why the new regime has been laid out in such a piecemeal fashion, but I suppose there must be a good reason for it. To keep things as simple as possible, I am only putting links to what I consider to be the most important practice directions on Family Lore News.

Meanwhile, the second batch of forms to accompany the new rules has been released by the Ministry of Justice, although not yet published. Amongst the new forms is the Family Mediation Information and Assessment Form FM1, which will have to accompany most private law children applications and most applications for a financial remedy. I notice that one of the reasons on the form why the applicant has not attended a Mediation Information and Assessment meeting is that:
"The applicant (or the applicant’s solicitor) has contacted three mediators within 15 miles of the applicant’s home and none has been able to conduct a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting within 15 working days of the date of contact."

Will we have sufficient mediation coverage in place by the 6th April to meet this?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Atmospheric

Enough law, here's something for the weekend: An atmospheric short film about a dilapidated chapel in Zeliszów, Poland. For more details, see here.



[Originally found on Geekologie.]

C (A Child): Difficult does not mean appealable

The case C (A Child) [2011] EWCA Civ 72 (not to be confused with C (A Child) [2009] EWCA Civ 72) was an application by a mother for permission to appeal against the refusal of leave to remove her seven year old daughter to Australia. The judge at first instance had come to that decision notwithstanding a Cafcass recommendation that leave to remove be granted. Lord Justice Wilson said that the crucial findings of the judge were as follows:
"If she were permitted to live in Australia, I find that [the mother's new husband] would assume the role of [the child's] father and that, within a short time, [the child's] relationship with her father would be of little value. In my judgment the mother's attitude towards the father combined with the limited direct contact would not permit a relationship between the father and [the child] to be sustained. To lose the significant relationship which she has with her father would not, as I find, be in [the child's] present or future interests and would be inimical to her welfare."

Lord Justice Wilson went on:
"The judge recognised that she was departing from the recommendation of Mrs Nolan [the Cafcass officer] but considered that, unlike herself who had heard evidence over three days, Mrs Nolan had been unable to perceive the strength of the mother's dislike of the father and the impact thereof on his future relationship with the child in the event of a move to Australia. She also found, no doubt by reference to the account of the mother which the judge had not altogether accepted, that Mrs Nolan had underestimated the strength of the past and present relationship between the child and the father."

The Court of Appeal found no arguable ground for appeal and therefore refused the application for permission. Lord Justice Toulson perhaps put it most succinctly in a consenting judgment:
"The Cafcass officer described it as a difficult decision. The judge described it as a difficult decision. The circumstances are difficult for all concerned and especially for the mother, who is naturally very upset by the result. But the fact that it was difficult does not mean that the mother has a real prospect of persuading this court that the decision of the judge, who heard the case and explained her decision in a clear and careful judgment, was wrong."

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

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


Valentine's Day? More like Divorce Day: Number of break-ups on February 14 soars
- Daily Mail

Family LoreCast #35

In this week's LoreCast Natasha and I try a slightly different format, with each of us discussing items that we have found particularly interesting. Topics covered are the cases of Jones v Jones and Richardson v Richardson, a study published on how local authorities work with domestically abusive fathers and the next meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Family Law and The Court of Protection, which 'will explore the different interpretations of shared parenting as a legal and practical notion'.

Click here to listen to the LoreCast.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Not QUITE Everything...

Just a quick heads-up for a series of articles that The Guardian is running today, under the heading 'Everything you need to know about divorce'. The series doesn't quite live up to its billing, but does have a couple of interesting tidbits, including a rather brief six-point guide to getting the 'perfect divorce', and an account of a fairly typical day in a family court, including the classic party who refuses to agree on anything, yet blames the system for his woes. Worth a look.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Richardson v Richardson: Cases in which a Barder event can be successfully argued are extremely rare

In Richardson v Richardson [2011] EWCA Civ 79, decided today, the husband appealed against a final ancillary relief order on the basis of subsequent events.

The order was made on 25 September 2009, dividing the matrimonial assets as to 47.5% to the wife and 52.5% to the husband. The subsequent events were:

1. The death of the wife on 4 November 2009;

2. The discovery by the husband that his business insurance may not cover a substantial claim for damages; and

3. The avoidance of the policy by the husband's insurers, leaving his business liable for the claim.

The husband claimed that (1) constituted a Barder event and that (2) and (3) showed that the parties and the court entered into the order on the basis of mistake, or alternatively that they constituted a Barder event.

Giving the leading judgment, Lord Justice Munby found in respect of the three matters:

1. That the death of the wife was not a Barder event, as: "the wife, by her labours over many years, both as a wife and as the husband's active business partner, had earned her equal share in the matrimonial assets" - the amount awarded to her was not referable to her needs or to her future expectation of life (paragraph 20).

2. That the possibility of the insurance not covering the amount of the claim was something that the husband ought to have known, and therefore this part of his claim failed (paragraph 38).

3. That the husband was entitled to assume that he was covered by the policy, and that therefore: "the revelation in December 2009 that the insurer had avoided the policy is a vitiating event which in principle entitles him to relief" (paragraph 55). Lord Justice Munby agreed with Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Rimer (who gave concurring judgments) that the 'vitiating event' was a 'mistake' rather than a Barder event. Lord Justice Munby also entirely agreed with the "powerful observations" of Thorpe LJ (at paragraph 86):
"Cases in which a Barder event, as opposed to a vitiating factor, can be successfully argued are extremely rare, should be regarded by the specialist profession as exceedingly rare, and should not be thought to be extendable by ingenuity or the lowering of the judicially created bar."

Having found in favour of the husband on point (3), Lord Justice Munby then went on to grant him relief by dividing the potential liability equally between the parties

Here's a headline you don't see every day:

For all the details, see here.

Monday, February 07, 2011

M v M: Court orders that husband should not be heard in relation to wife's application for interim maintenance

The case of M v M [2010] EWHC 2817 (Fam) (for some reason also reported with the citation [2011] EWHC 3574) involved a successful Hadkinson application on behalf of the wife.

The case concerned the wife's application for interim periodical payments, under Part III Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. Directions had been given for the wife to file an affidavit in support of the application, and for the husband to file an affidavit in reply. The wife filed her affidavit, but the husband did not, and offered no explanation for its absence. The husband did not attend the hearing of the wife's application, but was represented by leading counsel and junior counsel.

The court was therefore in the position of having to deal with the wife's application with no evidence from the husband as to his financial position.

The wife's counsel submitted to the court that under the principles in Hadkinson v. Hadkinson [1952] FLR 287, the husband should not be heard in relation to the application.

Mrs Justice King considered the principles laid out in Mubarak v. Mubarik [2004] 2 FLR 932, where Ryder J had considered a Hadkinson application, and found as follows:

1. The husband was in contempt;

2. The contempt impedes the course of justice;

3. There was no other effective means of securing compliance; and

4. The contempt was wilful: "This husband has one of the country's most elite teams of matrimonial finance lawyers at his disposal. Instructing them, as he does, to appear today having failed to comply with the court's order and offering it no explanation, shows an unfortunate arrogance and a complete disrespect for the court process."

Mrs Justice King was therefore satisfied that the wife's Hadkinson application succeeded in principle. She adjourned the case for a short period to allow the husband to consider his position, but he did not change his instructions. Accordingly, she acceded to the wife's application, and the husband's counsel left the court.

She then proceeded to make an interim maintenance order, essentially in the amount of the wife's stated income needs.

News Brief: Supporting Relationships and Sounding off for Justice

The Telegraph reports today that Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith will announce this week a £30 million programme of "relationship support", under which 'couples will receive free counselling sessions to help them stay together as part of a Government drive to support marriage and cut down the cost of family breakdown'. The increased expenditure (from £5 million this year) will be justified by the potential savings to the taxpayer if couples stay together. Interestingly, though, we are also told that:
"Under a shake up of the benefit system, he will pledge that couples will be rewarded for staying together, receiving more money than single parents in the long term."

No stone will be left unturned to keep couples together. As well as financial incentives, couples "can also use a Government-backed website, called the Couple Connection, which is currently featuring advice suggesting that men buy their partner a card on Valentine’s Day".

Meanwhile: "The Law Society is to launch a high-profile campaign, ‘Sound off for justice’, this week – aimed at harnessing public opposition to legal aid cuts." Apparently, a 'specially designed' website (aren't all websites 'specially designed'?) for the campaign will go live today (although it is not yet live as I type this), where: "Members of the public will be invited to ‘sound off’ by signing up to the campaign". Let us hope that this is not a case of too little, too late - after all, the deadline for responses to the government's legal aid green paper is next Monday.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Something for the Weekend

As a self-confessed propellerhead (or should that be airhead?), I rather liked this:



[Found on Boing Boing.]

Friday, February 04, 2011

Poignant

Today we sold my late father's house. Quite a poignant moment, particularly as it was the home in which I grew up.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Family LoreCast #34

In this week's LoreCast Natasha and I discuss the second report of the Munro Review, the case of CW & Ors v TW and Sir Nicholas Wall's call for cohabitees' property rights.

Click here to listen to the LoreCast.

News Brief: Rights for cohabitees, working with abusive fathers ...and a little light relief

Sir Nicholas Wall remains in the news, this time giving an interview to The Times in which he states that he is in favour of cohabitees having property rights. I can't link to the article as it is, of course, behind the great paywall of Murdoch. However, the BBC quotes the President as saying: "Women cohabitees, in particular, are severely disadvantaged by being unable to claim maintenance and having their property rights determined by the conventional laws of trusts." As I'm sure I've said here before, any family lawyer who has been practising for a while will have come across this situation. Unfortunately, reform in this area does not seem to be included in the numerous changes to family law that are currently in the pipeline, which is strange seeing as it was recommended by the Law Commission in 2007.

Meanwhile, The Guardian reports upon the publication today of a study into children's services involvement with domestically abusive fathers. Working with risky fathers found that: "Almost 90% of men guilty of domestic violence remain in close contact with their children without supervision." Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, is quoted as saying: "Really scary, violent fathers are routinely falling through the gaps in children's services, putting children who have already been raised in homes where domestic violence was present, at risk of further physical and emotional harm."

All of which is pretty depressing. For a little light relief I recommend that you head over to Confessions of a divorce lawyer in the Law Society Gazette today, in which James Morton recalls "the days when fashionable barristers could appear in lists of those about whom the readers of popular newspapers would like to read". I particularly liked the tale of the goings-on on the stopping train from Sutton Coldfield to Birmingham.

* * * * *

UPDATE: I have since read in The Telegraph that a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice has said that the Coalition Government will make an announcement “in due course” regarding cohabitees’ rights.

Further, the article in The Times can now be found here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Stupidity

If you have a non-molestation injunction against you:
  • Breaching it by telephoning the other party is wrong;

  • Breaching it by telephoning the other party while they are reporting previous breaches to the police is not only wrong but bad timing;

  • Breaching it by telephoning the other party again while they are still reporting previous breaches to the police is just plain stupidity.
That, nevertheless, was what happened in a recent case in Florida. Needless to say, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the man in breach, who was subsequently charged with violation of the injunction.

[Story found on Florida Divorce.]

CW & Ors v TW: Getting the message across

The President of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall clearly seems to understand that these days it does not matter how well you do a thing - all that matters is how well the public perceives you to be doing that thing. In recent years the reputation of the family justice system has been seriously damaged by continuous attack from various sources, many of whom know little of the work that it does. Yesterday, Sir Nicholas Wall continued his fightback against this assault, by arranging for his judgment in CW & Ors v TW to be published on Bailii, notwithstanding that he considered that it was not reportable. He explained (at paragraph 8) that the case:
"represents the type of difficult family case with which the circuit and district benches are wrestling day in and day out. It does not contain any point of law, and is not reportable. It is of acute importance to the parties, but of little public interest. The parties are not "personalities" or otherwise in the public domain, yet the case is an intractable contact dispute of a type which represents a major aspect of the work undertaken by the circuit and the district bench. Those who criticise the family justice system for the superficiality and "knee-jerk" nature of its judgments would do well to read what follows."

I will not recite what follows, save to say that it includes a summary of the considerable care and thoroughness with which the court has dealt with the case over a number of years, culminating in the present hearing, which concerns the mother's application for the father's committal for alleged breaches of orders and undertakings, and the paternal grandparents' application for direct contact with the children. In particular, Sir Nicholas explains that, despite what disappointed parents and their families may think to the contrary, "judges do not deprive separated parents of contact with their children lightly or for no good reason".

I wonder how widely the message will be heard?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

DIY Paternity Tests

As reported on BBC Newsbeat this morning, home DNA testing kits are going on sale in Boots stores across the UK. The BBC today had an excellent interview on the subject with Dr Denise Syndercombe-Court of Barts and London Medical School, which is worth a watch:

News Brief: Second report of the Munro Review

The Munro Review of Child Protection: Interim Report, The Child’s Journey, the second report of Professor Eileen Munro's independent child protection review, has been published today.

"In recent history," says Professor Munro, "the child protection system has focused on imposing and meeting managerial targets and regulations, and in doing so has forgotten that the needs of children should be at its core. My interim report discusses some early recommendations and considerations for reform, covering areas such as inspection, performance monitoring, and referral and assessment which I will be developing in my review’s final phase."

I have not read the report (which stretches to 113 pages - goodness knows how long the final report will be), but here are a few points from the 'Executive summary':
  • The review is recommending that announced Ofsted inspections should end and that instead unannounced inspections should be given a broader remit.
  • The review is recommending that Ofsted evaluations of SCRs should end in due course.
  • The 'core guidance' Working Together to Safeguard Children, which is now 55 times longer than it was in 1974 (!), is to be reduced, by separating out statutory guidance from professional advice.
  • The review is working with the Family Justice Review to explore how local authorities can contribute to reducing unnecessary delays in the child’s journey through the courts and care proceedings.
The final report of the Munro Review, including recommendations to Government, is due to be published in April.

January Post(s) of the Month

When I read the BabyBarista post Clothes make the man on the 7th January I made a note of it as a possible Post of the Month. Not only was the post amusing, it said everything one needs to know about the relative position of solicitor and barrister.

When I read the BabyBarista post Honour among er, barristers on the 11th January I made a note of it as a possible Post of the Month. Not only was the post amusing, it said everything one needs to know upon the subject of costs.

Hmm. You may see my problem.

Never one to shirk a difficult decision, I have chosen to award my Post of the Month trophy for January to...

Both posts!