Saturday, April 30, 2011

Something for the Weekend: Focus

Not quite sure what to make of this, and it's certainly not uplifting, but it does seem relevant to the subject of this blog:



For more details, see here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

War without end...

I first posted about New York couple Chana and Simon Taub way back in January 2007, reporting how a judge ordered them to partition their house. I read today that their divorce has at last been finalised, with the court ordering them to sell their properties and divide the proceeds equally. This report says that what became known as the 'War of the Roses' is over, but it appears that Mrs Taub is not happy with the outcome, and may appeal. Perhaps the term 'Hundred Years' War' may be more appropriate...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A day to celebrate

A good friend asked me the other day what I would be doing on the day of the royal wedding. (You have, I presume, heard that a royal wedding is taking place this Friday - or were you still wondering why it was a Bank Holiday?)

Being a staunch (whatever that means) republican, and hater of archaic 'pomp and ceremony' (I keep hearing comments about how we British are so good at this - what a useless thing to be good at), it was a very good question.

Of course, if I were still practising then I would join the throng of divorce lawyers outside the Abbey, eager to thrust their business cards into the sweaty mit of the bride and/or groom. However, I am no longer practising.

The day is, nevertheless, one to celebrate. After all, a royal marriage will doubtless encourage more plebs to marry, and we all know that more marriages = more divorces = more money for divorce lawyers.

Cheers!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Something for the Weekend: The Mountain

I almost posted this last weekend, but thought maybe I'd done too many space-related Something for the Weekend posts. Now, I don't care - this is too good to miss:



For more details, see here.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Retirement Judith

Just a quick post to wish fellow family law blogger Judith Middleton a long and happy retirement. As stated on her blog today, Judith is retiring as a partner in Latimer Hinks. As I recall, Judith was one of the first to join me in the family law blawgosphere, and I am pleased to say that she indicates that she will continue blogging, although we will have to wait and see what she will be doing with her time.

News Brief: Before you shut up shop...

As I went for my daily walk this morning I noticed that some businesses had already shut up shop for Easter. Well, I thought I would get in one more News Brief before the break, for those who are still interested in serious news.

On the subject of news, Lucy Reed over at Pink Tape is continuing her admirable hobby of dissecting newspaper articles to see if they actually have any truth in them. On this occasion it is a story in Metro (sorry, I can't find a link) about the statistical increase in the number of young children needing emergency hospital treatment because of violence, as reported elsewhere (e.g. here). Lucy finds that the increase is probably down to more than just a single issue.

Lucy also posts today about the thrillingly-named statutory instrument The Family Procedure (Modification of Enactments) Order 2011, which I posted about on Family Law News back on the 7th April. As I stated there (quoting from the explanatory note): The Order provides for modifications and amendments to primary and secondary legislation in relation to provisions made in Family Procedure Rules. Lucy has the exciting details.

In other news, the Law Society Gazette reports the comments of the Master of the Rolls Lord Neuberger in the Ambrosiadou v Coward case last week, that court hearings should not be private. He said (at paragraph 50): "As has been stated on many occasions, court hearings should take place in public and should be freely reported unless justice cannot be done on that basis in the particular case, and in that event, the court should ensure that the restrictions on access and reporting are the minimum necessary to enable justice to be done in that case." Will the message be heard?

Lastly, the Law Society Gazette also reports an interesting case that I have not yet found elsewhere. Re H (A Child) [2011] EWCA (Civ) concerned an appeal by a mother against findings and declarations made in the course of contact enforcement proceedings. In particular, the Court of Appeal was asked to consider the effect, if any, of the decisions in Re L-W (Children) (Enforcement and Committal: Contact), [2010] EWCA Civ 1253 and Re S (A Child) (Contact Order), [2010] EWCA Civ 705. Worth a quick read.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Happy Easter Divorce

As we all know, the true meaning of Easter is stuffing chocolate down your neck until you feel sick. With this in mind, may I recommend to recent divorcées the Happy Divorce chocolate bar, made from finest Belgian chocolate:

Only 12.69 Canadian dollars, from The Nutty Chocolatier. Yum.

Book Review: Law & Peace

Law & Peace

By Tim Kevan

£11.99 - Published by Bloomsbury: 3rd May 2011

Law & Peace
is the sequel to Tim's first BabyBarista novel Law & Disorder, which I reviewed (under its original title BabyBarista and The Art of War), here.

At the end of Law and Disorder our hero had managed, by hook or (more likely) by crook, to secure a precious tenancy. Law and Peace takes up the story as BabyBarista begins his first year practising on his own account. His past is not entirely behind him, however, with the continuing worry of the huge debts that his mother ran up to get him through Oxford, and the continuing threat of dire retribution from his arch-enemy, TopFirst.

A possible solution to the debt problem presents itself when SlipperySlope, that fine example of the other side of the profession, makes BabyB an offer he can't refuse. Needless to say, this involves BabyB getting mixed up in all sorts of skullduggery and shenanigans, as every means at his disposal are used to win an important case involving the 'Moldies', a delightful cast of ASBO-attracting geriatrics.

And who is on the other side of the Moldy litigation? Why, TopFirst of course, and for him it's personal. To add spice to the rivalry, the two of them enter into a wager as to who will be the first to get a coveted 'red bag', awarded to a junior barrister by a leader in their case if they do a particularly good job, with the loser having to act for the winner as a mini-pupil (read: dogsbody), for a week.

As with Law and Disorder, what follows is a romp through the all the dark corners of the legal profession: we have a judge with a fetish for 'ladies in particular attire', barristers who will stop at nothing to further their career and solicitors who employ various dubious persons to obtain the evidence needed to win the case. All of our favourite characters from the first book are there, together with one or two new ones, such as Smutton, a glamorous partner in SlipperySlope's firm whose every word drips with innuendo, much to BabyB's embarrassment.

On the subject of favourite characters, BabyB is once again guided through his adventure by the wise and gentle hand of OldRuin, who provides sage advice and assistance, both in respect of BabyB's professional and his personal life.

But, as with the first book, Law and Peace is not just a story. The narrative is liberally interspersed with amusing anecdotes and interludes, in particular describing the, ahem, camaraderie and friendly banter between fellow members of the Bar. There are even some moments when characters dare to contemplate that there may be more to life than the ruthless struggle up the ladder to the top of the profession.

As you may have gathered, Law and Peace is more of the same, but that is no bad thing at all. It provides the same highly entertaining read for lawyers and non-lawyers alike. If you loved Law and Disorder, you'll love this. If you haven't read either, read Law and Disorder, and I guarantee that you'll then want to read Law and Peace.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Father sues airline, claiming they aided child abduction

According to the Brisbane Times, an American man is suing Japan Airlines and a travel agency, claiming they wrongfully helped his Japanese ex-wife leave the United States with their son, despite court orders that the child remain in California. His lawyer claims that the companies were "deliberately turning blind eyes to the known parental kidnapping problem endemic to Japan and the warning signals surrounding this case".

I don't know if the case will be significant if the father should win (as indicated, the case relates particularly to the issue of child abduction to Japan, which has been causing concern in America for some time), but if nothing else it may make airlines and travel agencies a little more careful in future.

I'm (not) payin' for it

An Australian mother has sought increased maintenance, claiming as one of her expenses the sum of $60 that her son spends in McDonald's each week. Quite how many Big Macs can be bought for 60 Australian dollars is not explained in this report in the Herald Sun, but the court did tell her that she can no longer expect to continue financing her son's 'Macca's habit'...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Re S (Children): The welfare of each child should be considered separately

Re S (Children) [2011] EWCA Civ 454 concerned the unusual circumstance of a father obtaining leave to remove two children from the jurisdiction, but the mother only appealing in respect of the younger child.

Facts: The father is Canadian and the mother English by birth. They were married in 1992. They have two sons: B, who was born in Canada on 1 April 1994 and C, who was born in the UK on 7 September 1998. The marriage broke down in 2006, after which the children remained with the mother, but had regular contact with the father.

In October 2009 the mother, having learned of the father's desire, shared by the boys, to move to Canada, applied for a Residence Order, which was made in April 2010. The father made his application to remove in June 2010.

On 4 November 2010 the judge made an order granting the father's application to remove B and C from the jurisdiction to live with the father in Canada on or after 1 January 2011. In coming to his decision the Judge treated the boys as a unit for the purposes of deciding whether or not they should be permitted to go to Canada with the father. He did so by common consent of the parties supported by the approach of the CAFCASS reporting officer that the siblings should remain together.

Faced with jubilation on the part of B at the outcome of the proceedings, the mother decided to pursue her appeal in respect only of C whose reaction, according to her, has been ambivalent, and she obtained a stay from the court in respect of C. B left for Canada on his own, shortly before the hearing of the appeal.

The primary ground of appeal was that the judge had erred in principle in treating the two children as a "unit", by failing to have regard to their individual needs and welfare, particularly those of C.

Held: The Court of Appeal directed that the CAFCASS officer should file a further report dealing with the best interests of C in the light of the change in circumstances that B had now gone to Canada, such report including C's wishes and feelings. The CAFCASS officer found that C had chosen to "sit on the fence" and that there was no overpowering reason why C should not remain in his mother's care.

In his leading judgment, Sir Mark Potter found (at paragraph 57) that the judge: "fell into clear error by his failure to recognise that the welfare interests of the children, considered individually, were substantially at odds, rather than in harmony, in the light of their different ages, the stages of their development and the nature of their needs, with the result that the welfare interests of C were wrongly subordinated to the wishes and perceived interests of B." He went on (at paragraph 61): "Had the Judge separately considered the welfare interests of each [child] he should, in my opinion, have been driven to the conclusion that the application should be refused." He concluded:
"I consider that the Judge was wrong in his decision that the boys (collectively) should go to Canada rather than maintaining the status quo, on the basis that priority should have been given to the welfare interests of C in the balancing exercise which the Judge was obliged to perform. I am satisfied that the evidence now available in respect of C following B's departure serves to enhance that view ... It also serves to reassure me that C is content to leave the decision to the court and will accept it whichever way it goes. In my view it should go in favour of maintaining what is still the status quo in respect of C."

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the permission granted to the father to remove C from the jurisdiction was set aside.

Lord Justice Patten and Lord Justice Lloyd gave concurring judgments.

The Honest Lawyer

Mr Venal and Mr Grabbit were enjoying a lunchtime tipple at their favourite watering hole, The Honest Lawyer.

"So, Mr Grabbit, what do you think of this new report from the Centre for Social Justice?" Asked Mr Venal, between sips of his G & T.

"Appalling, Mr V, appalling." Replied Mr Grabbit.

"Quite so, Mr Grabbit. Shocking to see how our once great country has declined since the 1960s."

"It certainly is. And the root of all our ills? Cohabitation, that's what." Pronounced Mr Grabbit.

"Indeed." Replied Mr Venal. "Clearly the cause of our broken society."

There followed a pause.

"Still, " said Mr Grabbit, "one mustn't complain. After all, family breakdown is at record levels. Fancy another G & T?"

"Don't mind if I do, Mr Grabbit." Replied Mr Venal.

[Image by NotFromUtrecht (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons.]

I blame Charon QC...

As regular readers of Family Lore will know, I pride myself in being the first on the blawgosphere with a story. Yesterday, I fear, I was beaten to not one but two stories. However, it was not my fault...

On Saturday evening I had a video chat on Skype with Charon QC. It was an interesting conversation (Charon described it as "amusingly surreal"), during the course of which the reprobate Charon FORCED me to drink copious amounts of wine (in addition to the copious amounts I had already consumed with my regular Saturday night curry). Well, needless to say, this left me feeling a little, shall we say, delicate all day yesterday. I did (just) feel up to checking my news feed, during the course of which I spotted this story in The Telegraph about how those awful family lawyers have been making huge fortunes from legal aid, and this story on the BBC, warning wives with maintenance orders not to do belly dancing. I wanted to post here about both stories, but it is not easy to write a post when the keyboard keeps swimming before your eyes...

Now I have been beaten to both stories by blawgers who were obviously more sober than I. Lucy Reed at Pink Tape has done a far better hatchet job than I could have done on the Telegraph story (perhaps it was not such a bad thing after all that I didn't do my own post), and Mark Keenan at Divorce-Online has nicked the belly dancing story. Damn.

I can assure readers that there will be no repetition of this reprehensible behaviour. In future, I shall be drinking alone...

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Something for the Weekend: Every Sperm is Sacred

Time for a little Python common sense (with a family theme):



(No joke intended re: something for the weekend!)

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Selling the dream home after divorce

Irish divorcée Jillian Godsil is so desperate to sell the former matrimonial home in County Wicklow that she has turned to YouTube to sell the property. Not a bad idea given the current property market, although as you will see, this is no ordinary home:



Let us hope she finds her 'happily ever after'.

Divorce? I'm all for it.

As reported by The Guardian today, a new divorce app is now on sale. Divorce? "delivers great legal advice and guidance for people in England and Wales who are contemplating divorce", according to its description on iTunes. Divorce? has been developed by Peter Martin, head of the family department at OGR Stock Denton, and HG Apps Store, and is available for £9.99.

It has, however, caused some controversy, according to The Guardian. For example, Anastasia de Waal, deputy director and director of family and education at the thinktank Civitas, questioned whether "casual technology" would trivialise divorce. Not having seen it, I can't comment upon this app, but as a generalisation I think we have to get used to the fact that, casual or not, apps are just another method of delivering information to the public, and I'm all for that.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

News Brief: The DPP gets serious about domestic violence, and social workers pressurised to ignore child abuse

The BBC reports today that every domestic abuse death is to be automatically reviewed by all involved agencies, in an effort to make sure that "lessons about violence in the home are learned". The move follows a speech 'Domestic Violence: the facts, the issues, the future' given by the Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer QC at the Crown Prosecution Service headquarters yesterday, which he began with the words:
"Domestic violence is serious and pernicious. It ruins lives, breaks up families and has a lasting impact. It is criminal. And it has been with us for a very long time. Yet it is only in the last ten years that it has been taken seriously as a criminal justice issue. Before that the vast majority of cases were brushed under the carpet with the refrain "it's just a domestic"."

He then went on to set out some statistics about domestic violence which he described as "shocking", including that nearly 1 million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse each year, that at least 750,000 children a year witness domestic violence and that two women are killed each week by their partner or ex-partner. The rest of the speech sets out progress that has been made (domestic violence now accounts for 14 per cent of violent crime whereas in 1997 it accounted for 23 per cent), the problems that are still faced, and what needs to be done to deal with them.

Meanwhile, Community Care reports the disturbing results of a survey it has carried out amongst 170 front-line social workers, which revealed that they are effectively being pressurised to ignore child abuse as a result of budget cuts. The survey "found that 58% believed pressure had been placed on them to reclassify child protection cases as less serious child-in-need cases" and that "more than four-fifths of respondents felt child protection thresholds had increased in their area over the past year". According to this page (which I assume is referring to the same survey) 88% say budget cuts at their council are putting vulnerable children at risk. The same page quotes social workers, for example:
"We were told by a senior manager that our area has too many child protection cases and that it was above national average, so all cases had to be examined and downgraded."

And:
"Several cases were reclassified to clear caseloads for each team to meet regulatory targets."

How long before the next Victoria Climbie or Baby P, and when it happens will the Government take the blame because of the cuts it imposed?

* * * * *

UPDATE: The government has apparently responded to the Community Care survey by urging social workers to blow the whistle on local authorities that prevent professionals from protecting children. Hmm...

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The risks of entering into a surrogacy agreement

I posted about the case CW v NT & Anor back in January. To recap, it involved a couple ('Mr and Mrs W') who entered into an informal surrogacy arrangement, only for the surrogate mother to change her mind and decide to keep the child. Mr W then applied for a residence order, but his application was refused by the High Court.

It has today been reported in The Telegraph and elsewhere that Mr W has been required to pay £568 per month in child maintenance. The headline to the report makes the point that he and his wife will never see the child as, after the court decision, they "relinquished their contact rights because they said it would be too difficult emotionally and that it was unfair for the baby to be split between two homes". The point is also made that they apparently allowed the surrogate mother to keep the sum of £4,500 that they had already given to her.

As a matter of law, the maintenance decision is of course correct, as Mr W is the legal father of the child. Lack of contact is irrelevant, as there is no connection between contact and child maintenance. In any event, contact was voluntarily relinquished. The payment of £4,500 is also irrelevant - the CSA have no discretion to take any such payment into account.

However, is the decision correct as a matter of morality? I believe that it is. A child is not some sort of commodity that you can decide to bring into existence and then wash your hands of. Irrespective of the shenanigans of the adults involved, there is a child here that needs to be cared for, and that includes financially. If the father not financially responsible (along with the mother), then who is in his stead? The state? That can't be right. Mr W may feel hard done by but, as Mr Justice Baker said at the beginning of his judgment, the risks of entering into a surrogacy agreement are very considerable. Mr and Mrs W knew those risks when they entered into the agreement.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Storm

I always liked Tim Minchin's poem Storm. Now it has been turned into an animated movie. Enjoy:



For more details, see here.

Keeping a cool head...

I can remember a few old divorce clients who would quite happily have done this to their (former) spouse, and the head wouldn't have been a prop:

Lady Hitchcock poses with a refrigerated prop head of her husband.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Something for the Weekend: Golden Slumbers - Carry That Weight - The End

It was good to hear this again on the radio during the week:



Being something of an ageing hippy, I like to think that the last lines are true:

And in the end
The love you take
Is equal to the love you make.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Software Review: @eGlance


@eGlance

£85 plus VAT a year - Class Legal

Introduction
@eGlance is a piece of software that has for some years been published by Class Legal, in association with the Family Law Bar Association. Described as an "electronic toolkit and resource for money cases", and inspired by the FLBA's At A Glance "it goes one step further by allowing you to calculate a whole range of useful figures for money cases (including Duxbury), to browse for the FLR headnotes on recent cases and to check tax and benefit rates."

@eGlance has the same illustrious authors as At A Glance: Sir Peter Singer, Mr Justice Mostyn, Lewis Marks QC and Gavin Smith.

The purchase price includes updates for the rest of the year, plus access to Class Legal's FamilyProcedure.com website, which "will contain commentary on the new Family Procedure Rules that are relevant to money cases" when it is available, which I understand will be very soon.

Downloading & installation
The download file is just 20 megabytes, and should therefore present few problems for anyone with a broadband connection (it is not available on disk, as far as I can tell from their website). The program has very modest system requirements (it requires 64 megabytes of hard drive space), so should run on any modern PC, including netbooks.

The installation was simple, although it did throw up an error, which I understand the developers are looking into. I chose to ignore the error, and the program has run without a problem. After installation you are left with a shortcut on your desktop, with which to start the program.

Features
@eGlance includes a large number of tools - too many to list here (a full list can be found on Class Legal's website here). Highlights include:
  • An ancillary relief timetabler, which calculates case deadlines;
  • An ancillary relief procedural table;
  • A price index calculator (CPI and RPI);
  • Child support calculators for each régime, including the 2008 régime, which hasn't yet been implemented;
  • Salary and income calculators;
  • A Duxbury calculator;
  • Tax calculators;
  • Exchange rates and
  • A substantial section of support material, including statutes, rules (yes, the FPR 2010, including a commentary) and leading cases (most of which link to headnotes or full transcripts).
Many of the tools also include their own expert commentary and guidance.

As you may already have gathered, @eGlance is certainly comprehensive - in fact, try as I might, I haven't been able to think of anything missing from it (save, of course, for a link to Family Lore in the 'Useful Websites' section!).

Most screens can be printed out, and calculation screens have the facility to add a client's name, in order to identify on the printed report for whom the calculation was prepared.

Comment
@eGlance is not the most attractive piece of software you are ever likely to use. In fact, it has a somewhat old-fashioned 1990s look and feel to it, and the 2010 - 2011 version I was given to review uses a rather lurid bright red colour (see image above) to highlight various elements. It is laid out in the fashion of many older Windows applications, with a menu across the top, an expandable 'folders' pane on the left and a main window on the right - 'functional' is the word that comes to mind.

@eGlance is, however, very easy to use. Most of the tools are set out in a similar format, so don't require individual learning.

Take the Duxbury calculator as an example. This has four tabs: one for the calculator itself, one to show male and female Duxbury tables (governed by the sex chosen on the calculation screen), one for 'information' (i.e. guidance and commentary on Duxbury calculations) and one for example calculations. There are also buttons to add the contents of a page to the Windows Clipboard (for pasting into documents), and to print the page. Using the calculator is simplicity itself: input the sex, age, type of calculation (it can do a conventional calculation, to work out the capital sum needed to fund a particular income requirement or a 'reverse calculation', which works out the income a particular capital sum would provide) and the income requirement, and the calculation is instant.

It is true that many of the tools are freely available online (for example, a child support calculator, a salary calculator and tax calculators), along with much of the support material, but even there @eGlance has the advantage of not requiring an internet connection - particularly handy when out of the office/chambers.

The expert commentaries are also very handy, as are the leading cases, saving the user the trouble of looking elsewhere for this information.

I remember that At A Glance was so useful that it was an essential annual purchase from its first publication until I stopped practising. @eGlance is the same as At a Glance, and more: packed full of similar information, but with the ease of doing all of the calculations for you.

Conclusion
@eGlance contains so many features that a review such as this can do little more than scratch the surface - I've not mentioned most of the calculators, for example. However, that sheer number of features makes it easy to recommend. There is, quite literally, something here for everyone, whether they deal with big-money or benefit cases.

As I have said, many of the features may be available elsewhere (although not usually so conveniently), but at this price the purchase really is a 'no-brainer' - @eGlance will surely pay for itself after just a couple of uses.

If you're still in doubt as to whether it will be useful for you, a 35-day free trial is available.

* * * * *

UPDATE: The FamilyProcedure.com website has now gone live.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

HOW MUCH???

We often complain about how court fees have risen in recent years. Spare a thought, however, for the town of Sangeorgiu de Mures in Romania. There, the fee for getting divorced is 10,000 lei (£2,065), which equates to nearly 60 per cent of the average annual salary. The average annual salary in this country is about £25,900, so by my calculation an equivalent fee here would be some £15,540. Perhaps we shouldn't be complaining after all...

[There is, in fact, a reason why the fee is so high in Sangeorgiu de Mures, although I wouldn't call it a 'good' reason. For details, see here.]

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

I rather liked this...

[Found on BuzzFeed].

Ministry of Justice Family Procedure Rules sub-site

I mentioned this in an update to my last post, but upon reflection I think it deserves a post of its own. The Ministry of Justice has uploaded a new Family Procedure Rules sub-site on its website (thanks to Nick Holmes for the heads-up). The sub-site includes:
Looks like a valuable resource, although obviously most of the information is already freely available elsewhere.

Brave New World?

Compulsory mediation assessment (see this news release from Resolution), a new set of rules, new practice directions and new forms. All implemented today. I'm glad I'm no longer practising, but best of luck to those who are.

* * * * *

UPDATE: If it helps, the Ministry of Justice has just uploaded a new Family Procedure Rules sub-site, here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant

A recent high profile case in Scotland raises some interesting issues about paternity and financial responsibility.

James MacLetchie was married in 1988. In 1991 his wife gave birth to a son and Mr MacLetchie was registered as the father.

The couple divorced in 1995 and in 1996 the CSA contacted him in respect of maintenance for the child. However, Mr MacLetchie knew that the child could not be his, as in 1987 he had undertaken a test at Glasgow Royal Infirmary which revealed that he was infertile.

Notwithstanding this, the CSA were obliged to proceed against him, in view of the presumptions: (a) that the mother's husband is the child's father and (b) that the man named on the birth certificate is the father. The presumptions could have been rebutted either by DNA evidence - but the mother refused to submit to a test - or by a declaration (called a 'declarator' in the Scottish courts) of paternity from a court - but Mr MacLetchie did not initially apply for such a declaration.

Accordingly, the CSA proceeded to make an assessment and, for the next 13 years, took various forms of enforcement action against Mr MacLetchie, including attaching his earnings. In 2009 they applied to have him jailed for six weeks and his driving licence revoked. Finally, he applied to a court for a Declarator of Non-Parentage, which was granted by a sheriff last month, after his former wife refused four requests to provide DNA samples.

Mr MacLetchie is now calling for a change in the law, saying: "If a presumed father refuses to take a DNA test the CSA concludes he is the father and forces him to pay maintenance. Should the same law not apply in reverse if the mother refuses to take a DNA test – shouldn't the CSA conclude her claim is false without the father having to go through the expense and trauma or court action?"

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, issued the following statement:
"Paternity is formally contested in only around 1% of all Child Support Agency cases and DNA testing provides a simple and conclusive means of resolving these disputes. Whenever a mother refuses to co-operate with a test arranged by the Agency the case will be closed. The law of presumed parentage, however, requires alleged fathers who were married to the mother at the time of birth or named as father on the birth certificate to arrange a test themselves or to seek a declarator of non-parentage from the courts. While understanding Mr Macletchie's desire to see a change in the law, the Commission believes current legislation is being correctly applied in these situations in which the CSA has been given no discretion to close the case."

I don't think there can be any argument that the CSA applied the current law correctly, but should the law be changed? Is it right that in such circumstances the burden of (dis-)proof falls upon the father? I am not suggesting that the presumptions of parentage should be changed - that could have very wide implications - but perhaps the CSA/CMEC should be able to draw an adverse inference from the mother's refusal to submit to a DNA test, in the same way as a court would, and as suggested by Mr MacLetchie?

Child maintenance consultation deadline

I have been reminded that that the consultation period for the government's proposed reforms of the child maintenance system ends this Thursday, the 7th April. With all the excitement surrounding the interim report of the Family Justice Review last week, potential responders may have overlooked this deadline. If you wish to respond, the consultation document and details of how to respond can be found here.

I understand that there has been quite a strong response to some of the proposals, in particular (and not unexpectedly) the plans for a system of charging parents who want to use (the successor to) the Child Support Agency. The government's position is set out in this article in the Law Society Gazette by the Minister for Work and Pensions, Maria Miller MP. The position of some campaigning groups - including Gingerbread - opposed to the charges is summarised in this Comment is free article in The Guardian.

Monday, April 04, 2011

'Barrister' is a spam word...

Before I send out my Family Lore Focus Newsletter each week I run it through a spam checker, to ensure that it is not rejected by recipients' spam filters. This week the checker told me that it would be rejected, because it contained the word 'barrister'. Hmm...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

How to make money after the Family Justice Review


Memo to staff


As you will be aware, the interim report of the Family Justice Review suggests that there are likely to be sweeping changes to family law in this country. Some of these changes may not be entirely to our benefit. The Partners have therefore been considering what opportunities there will be to make a suitable profit after the final recommendations of the Review are implemented. We realise that this may still be a considerable way ahead but there is, of course, no time like the present to consider the 'bottom line'.

Here are our initial thoughts:

1. Contrary to reports in the uninformed media, the Review is unlikely to recommend better contact rights for grandparents. This does, not, however, prevent us from 'encouraging' grandparent clients to believe that they do have greater entitlement, for which they should of course fight tooth and nail.

2. An online information 'hub' (whatever that is) and helpline is to be established, to give "information and support for couples to resolve issues following divorce or separation outside court". Obviously, it will be imperative that all efforts should be made to discourage clients from accessing this 'hub'.

3. Provision is to be made to ensure that a signed 'Parenting Agreement' has weight as evidence in any subsequent parental dispute. We therefore recommend that an additional copy of any such agreement should always be prepared containing more favourable terms for our clients, in order to encourage future litigation.

4. Compulsory mediation is likely to be introduced. We have, of course, already set out some strategies to deal with the scourge of mediation, including creating a power imbalance, non-cooperation and playing the 'domestic violence card'. We could also consider offering mediators financial 'encouragement' to certify that cases are not suitable for mediation.

5. Cases dealt with by the court will be allocated to a track system according to complexity. Obviously, we should ensure that all of our cases are allocated to the most lucrative complex track.

6. Apart from the curse of mediation, the Review has, thankfully, not got its hands upon ancillary relief. It should therefore still be possible to make a reasonable profit doing ancillary relief work, and accordingly we should seek more such work, to make up for any profit shortfall that the Review may cause elsewhere.

7. Lastly, undefended divorce has, of course, been an easy money earner for solicitors for many years. Sadly, however, it appears that this particular gravy train is likely to come to an end, with undefended divorce being dealt with administratively by the 'Family Justice Service'. It will therefore be even more important than now to ensure that all respondent clients defend divorce proceedings whenever possible.

Any further suggestions from staff members as to how to maximise client fees are, as always, welcome.

The Partners

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Something for the Weekend: Strahov Library



I found this just yesterday on Boing Boing. It is a 40 gigapixel panorama of the Philosophical Hall at the Strahov Library in Prague, said to be the world's largest indoor photo. You can either watch the video above or view the panorama yourself, here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

March Post of the Month

My Post of the Month for March 2011 is John Hemming MP: abuse of power, and privilege, written by Carl Gardner on his Head of Legal blog.

I don't propose to say anything here about the merits of the arguments Carl sets out in the post, or even the subject of the post. Instead, what I like about the post is that it contains much of the best of serious blogging: an important issue expertly analysed, followed by a lively discussion in the comments section, in which Carl fully participates.

Blogging is often dismissed as being 'lightweight' or inconsequential, usually by those who rarely if ever read a blog. Obviously, this can be true for many blogs, but the image of the whole genre sometimes seems to be tarnished by such misapprehensions. Hopefully, posts like Carl's will help to redress the balance, and show that good blogging really can make a difference.

Djanogly: Mediation isn't really that great after all

I have received the following press release from the Ministry of Justice:



NO COMPULSORY MEDIATION


Ministry of Justice, 1st April 2011: The Government has decided to cancel its plans to make mediation compulsory for all family law disputes.


Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said: "Having listened to those who know a lot more about these things than we do, we have realised that making mediation compulsory would be a big mistake. Mediation by definition requires the free cooperation of both parties, so making it compulsory was always a silly idea. In any event, mediation isn't really that great after all - few if any additional cases would be settled compared to the present system. In fact, you could say that mediation is not a panacea."

In the light of this decision, the Government is now considering dropping its plans to abolish legal aid for private law family matters. The necessary cost saving would instead be achieved by the compulsory redundancy of a certain Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice.