Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Old John's Almanac 2015


Without further ado, here are my predictions for 2015:

January - There is general shock when Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes speaks an entire sentence without using the word 'mediation'.

February - The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby issues new guidance upon how to interpret the guidance to all of the other guidance he has previously issued.

March - Irate judges at the Central Family Court complain that the transparency drive has gone too far, after glass doors are fitted to the toilet cubicles in the judicial cloakrooms.

April - In a re-branding exercise aimed at getting rid of the stigma attached to it, the Child Maintenance Service is to get a new name. In future it will be known as the 'Child Support Agency' The Department for work and Pensions has promised '£0 million of new money' to improve the Agency.

May - Breakaway fathers' rights group The Even Newer Fathers 4 Justice stage a protest in the House of Commons on the 7th of May. Unfortunately, no one is there, as the general election is taking place.

June - The Marriage Foundation calls upon the new government to implement the Turn the Clocks Back to 1955 Act, because in 1955 no one cohabited and everyone was happily married.

July - In an effort to cut the cost of the family justice system the new government introduces 'Compulsory Agreement Mediation', whereby participants must not only attend mediation but will also be made to stay behind until they reach agreement.

August - The President decrees that his new Child Relations Arrangements Programme will not be known by its initialism.

September - With the number of lawyer-represented family litigants plummeting, the International Union for Conservation of Nature officially categorises the family law advocate as an endangered species.

October - Solicitor Cecil Snodgrass, representing a father seeking contact with his children, dies of shock after his client is granted exceptional legal aid funding.

November - Professional McKenzie friend Colin Vholes is unrepentant when the Supreme Court criticises him for ceasing to act for a former millionaire, after his client can no longer afford his fees.

December - Sir James Munby announces 'Divorce as an over the counter process', whereby all divorces will be issued and processed at the local post office.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Friday, December 19, 2014

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, unfortunately


Want to escape the horrors of Christmas, including all that shopping, all those awful parties and animated snow on websites? Then why not head over to Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog and read my posts there this week, which include:

Child Maintenance Options: success or failure? - Looking at the recent statistical report from the DWP.

Denying a father contact - As in Re P-K (Children).

Child relocation: the hardest decision - As described by Mr Justice Mostyn in NJ v OV.

Cohabitation rights: a question of fairness - Discussing Baroness Deech's thoughts on the Cohabitation Rights Bill.

Have a good weekend and, in case I don't post here again beforehand, enjoy your Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SS v NS: The principles on an application for spousal maintenance

Mr Justice Mostyn
SS v NS (Spousal Maintenance) [2014] EWHC 4183 (Fam) concerned a wife's claim for ancillary relief although, as the citation suggests, the main issue was spousal maintenance. This short post simply sets out the principles applicable to an application for spousal maintenance, as elucidated by Mr Justice Mostyn, rather than dealing with the facts of the case or the order made.

The judgment of Mr Justice Mostyn is interesting in that no fewer than 22 of its 69 paragraphs are taken up by a discussion of the law in relation to spousal maintenance. He brings the threads together in paragraph 46, where he sets out what he considers to be the relevant principles in play on an application for spousal maintenance, as follows:

i) A spousal maintenance award is properly made where the evidence shows that choices made during the marriage have generated hard future needs on the part of the claimant.

ii) An award should only be made by reference to needs, save in a most exceptional case where it can be said that the sharing or compensation principle applies.

iii) Where the needs in question are not causally connected to the marriage the award should generally be aimed at alleviating significant hardship.

iv) In every case the court must consider a termination of spousal maintenance with a transition to independence as soon as it is just and reasonable. A term should be considered unless the payee would be unable to adjust without undue hardship to the ending of payments. A degree of (not undue) hardship in making the transition to independence is acceptable.

v) If the choice between an extendable term and a joint lives order is finely balanced the statutory steer should militate in favour of the former.

vi) The marital standard of living is relevant to the quantum of spousal maintenance but is not decisive. That standard should be carefully weighed against the desired objective of eventual independence.

vii) The essential task of the judge is not merely to examine the individual items in the claimant's income budget but also to stand back and to look at the global total and to ask if it represents a fair proportion of the respondent's available income that should go to the support of the claimant.

viii) Where the respondent's income comprises a base salary and a discretionary bonus the claimant's award may be equivalently partitioned, with needs of strict necessity being met from the base salary and additional, discretionary, items being met from the bonus on a capped percentage basis.

ix) There is no criterion of exceptionality on an application to extend a term order. On such an application an examination should to be made of whether the implicit premise of the original order of the ability of the payee to achieve independence had been impossible to achieve and, if so, why.

x) On an application to discharge a joint lives order an examination should be made of the original assumption that it was just too difficult to predict eventual independence.

xi) If the choice between an extendable and a non-extendable term is finely balanced the decision should normally be in favour of the economically weaker party.

As I said above, I will not go into how Mr Justice Mostyn applied those principles to this case. However, I could not leave without mentioning another great Mostyn quote. At the beginning of his judgment he described the wife's income claim as 'speculative, experimental and unfeasible', a 'product of the great bitterness that the wife feels towards the husband' and said that: "Her section 25 statement is a most unhappy document and seems to have been written with a pen dipped in vitriol." Excellent stuff.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cohabitation law reform is at least a decade overdue says leading family charity

Jane Robey
The largest provider of family meditation in England and Wales has welcomed the passing of the Cohabitation Rights Bill’s Second Reading in the House of Lords.

National Family Mediation’s expert professionals help separating couples agree settlements on property, finance and parenting issues without the need for a courtroom drama. They achieve full agreement in over 80 per cent of cases.

The organisation’s Chief Executive, Jane Robey, says “Government recognition of cohabitation as being equal to marriage is at least a decade overdue, so the Cohabitation Rights Bill is a welcome step in the right direction.

“The disadvantages that exist for cohabitating people in lengthy relationships with children are profound, and have needed correcting for some time.

“The real difficulty in achieving reform in this area is that governments tend to step back from changing the law late in the game, for fear of being seen to undermine ‘the institution of marriage’.

“With the Lords Committee Stage of this Bill yet to be scheduled, and further subsequent steps in the Parliamentary process to be navigated, there is a worry that we could end up, a year from now, with no effective change having been brought about.”

The Cohabitation Rights Bill, which aims to give “certain protections for persons who live together as a couple or have lived together as a couple; and to make provision about the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant; and for connected purposes” passed its Second Reading in the House of Lords on Friday 12 December. The full text of the Bill can be found here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Blogging Bomb


If a bit of wind and rain can be called a 'weather bomb' then I shall call my efforts this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog a 'blogging bomb'. They include:

Preventing child abduction - With reference to the case C v K.

Sir James talks to FNF - A look at the President's speech to the fathers' rights group.

The importance of contact centres - As demonstrated by the case A-M (Children).

Rewarding a party who has acted unlawfully? - The case A v D & Others.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

R v R: Kafkaesque

Mr Justice Jackson
I remember when I was practising being concerned by the ease with which ex parte domestic violence injunctions could be obtained. Some solicitors seemed to advise all of their female clients to apply for one as an 'opening gambit', which could often determine the entire outcome of the proceedings, especially where an ouster order was made. After such an order the ousted party would find it very difficult to return to the property, and of course the issue of residence of any children would also effectively be decided in favour of the party remaining in the property. In fact, I was so concerned after one particular case that I recall writing to Family Law, where my letter was published.

That was all long ago, but clearly the problems, or at least some of them, remain. In fact, in R v R (Family Court: Procedural Fairness) an ex parte order led to such unfairness for the husband at the hands of the family justice system that Mr Justice Peter Jackson said that the husband could be forgiven for feeling like the hapless protagonist in Kafka's "The Trial":
"In a nutshell, on the evening of Friday 20 June 2014, Mr R returned from work as normal to the home at No. 23 X Street where he lived with his wife, Mrs R, and their six children. Soon afterwards, he was served with a Family Court order obtained by Mrs R that day which, amongst other things, forbade him with immediate effect from entering or attempting to enter X Street. The order had been made at a hearing of which he had no notice in proceedings of which he was unaware. Mr R duly vacated the property and, having done so, attempted over a period of months to challenge the order through proper court procedures. However, on the basis of an insignificant procedural failing, the court refused to hear his challenge. In the meantime, he was arrested for an innocuous breach of the original order to which he pleaded guilty without receiving legal advice and in consequence acquired a criminal record. And as if that were not enough, the effect of the original order was to deprive him of contact with his children for fully five months."
The situation leading up to these events was the typical scenario. The marriage had been in difficulties for some time and discussions took place between the couple about a separation that would involve Mr R moving out. At around the end of May 2014 , finding that Mr R had not moved out, Mrs R consulted solicitors. They applied for legal aid for Mrs R on the basis that she was a victim of domestic abuse. On 20 June, the solicitors issued an application for a non-molestation order and an occupation order and requested a without notice hearing. This request was contained in a Certificate of Urgency signed by a partner, certifying that the application was of such urgency that it must be heard expeditiously. The reason given was that the applicant was at risk of significant physical and emotional harm should the respondent be given notice.

Ms R's statement in support of her application referred to only one recent incident, an argument on 14 May 2014 about responsibility for a credit card bill, during which Mrs R alleged that Mr R was verbally abusive, shouting and swearing and calling her derogatory names. "If accepted by the court," Said Mr Justice Jackson, "Mrs R's evidence may well have justified a non-molestation order after a hearing of which Mr R had notice. It in no way diminishes her account, however, to say that the evidence scarcely justified the making of an order without notice."

The without notice application went before a Deputy District Judge on 20 June. The transcript indicates that she made clear at the outset that she was not going to grant an occupation order removing Mr R from 23 X Street, and remarked that Mrs R's evidence was in general old. She then went on to consider the draft order, noting that the family lived in X Street. She said that she would make a non-molestation order including all the provisions in the draft order, but only for a few days. Strangely, she then approved an order barring Mr R from the street in which the home was situated. Mrs R's lawyers did not point out this anomaly to the court. The order was expressed to last for a year. Mr R was at the specific behest of the judge given permission to apply to vary or discharge the order on 24 hours notice and a hearing was fixed for an early date, 26 June. It was stated that the court would then consider whether the order should continue.

The order was served by a process server on Mr R at 23 X Street at 8:15 p.m. "It is a sign of the reality of the situation", said Mr Justice Jackson, "that Mrs R agreed to him remaining in the property overnight. Mr R left in the early hours of 21 June to go back to work, taking little or no personal property with him. He has not been back to the property since."

After this, things went (even further) downhill for the husband. I won't go into the details, but for reasons that were at least in part beyond his control he was unable to file his statement by the 30th of June, as required by the court. He requested an extension of time, but the court responded by vacating the return date fixed for the 23rd of September, because of the husband's failure to file his evidence. Accordingly, if the husband opposed the continuation of the order, he would have to make a formal application himself, which he did on the 15th of July. His application was dismissed at a hearing on the 12th of September. He appealed.

Mr Justice Jackson granted permission to appeal and allowed the appeal, setting aside all previous orders, on the basis that each of the following steps in the process was wrong:

1. A without notice application should not have been made.

2. A without notice order should not have been granted on this evidence.

3. The order that was granted did not reflect the judge's intention.

4. The orders preventing access to the street and banning direct communication were unnecessary and disproportionate.

5. At the first hearing attended by both parties, the court did not review the without notice order to ensure that there were no obvious errors of the kind that existed here.

6. The date given for a contested hearing of Mrs R's application was too distant to be meaningful.

7. Mr R's request for extra time to file his statement should have been granted at the outset.

8. The hearing date for Mrs R's application should not have been cancelled.

9. The application for relief from sanction should have been considered on paper and granted.

10. The date given for a contested hearing of Mr R's application for relief from sanction was again too distant to be meaningful.

11. The District Judge did not correctly apply the rules governing relief from sanction. Had she done so, she would have concluded that there was no good reason for refusing to admit Mr R's statement.

Returning to the beginning of his judgment, Mr Justice Jackson said that the case highlights the following important principles, applicable to all such cases:

(1) The default position of a judge faced with a without notice application should always be "Why?", not "Why not?" As has been repeatedly stated, without notice orders can only be made in exceptional circumstances and with proper consideration for the rights of the absent party.

(2) The court should use its sweeping powers under the Family Law Act 1996 with caution, particularly at a one-sided hearing. Where an order is made, it is the responsibility of the court (and, where applicable, the lawyers) to ensure that it is accurately drafted. This consideration applies with special force when a breach of the order will amount to a criminal offence.

(3) Extra injunctive provisions such as exclusion areas and orders prohibiting any direct communication between parties should not be routinely included in non-molestation orders. They are serious infringements of a person's freedom of action and require specific evidence to justify them.

(4) The power to penalise non-compliance with case management orders should be used firmly but fairly, in a way that supports the overriding objective rather than defeating it. The court should apply the rules (here specifically FPR r.4.6) with that aim.

(5) The court should be on guard against the potential for unfairness arising from the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, whereby the applicant is entitled to legal representation as a result of unproven allegations, while the respondent is not. In this case, the fact that one party had no legal advice at any stage was critical to the outcome.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Christmas single released by Kids in the Middle charity as nearly one in two children in the UK now live in separated families



- Recent report published by family lawyers group on the devastating effects of divorce on young people
- Recent Government report finds that children’s voices are not being heard
- Kids in the Middle, launched in September 2014, to give a voice to children and young people in separating families
- ‘Christmas at my mum’s house’ composed by Yuval Havkin, written by Kate Ingmer and sung by Asha Banks (11 years old)

A Christmas song has been released called Christmas at My Mum’s House which draws attention to the nearly 1 in 2 children in the UK who now live in separated families.

Composed by Yuval Havkin, written by Kate Ingmer and sung by 11-year-old west end performer Asha Banks, the song highlights how difficult Christmas can be for children whose parents have split up, and how they can feel torn emotionally between the two and responsible for the happiness of each parent.

Two recent reports have been published that reveal the effects of divorce on the UK’s young people:
· In November the association of family lawyers and mediators, Resolution, published a report on the experiences of children in separating families, widely reported in the media. Each year over 100,000 under 16s experience family separation and the report links the experience to poor exam results, drug and alcohol misuse and eating disorders.

· The Government has set up a “Voice of the Child” working group following a Government commissioned report showing that children are easily marginalized during family separation. The report states that children and young people have a right to have their voices heard and very much want to be heard – but there is a culture that tends to exclude them.
Duncan Fisher, from Kids in the Middle, says, “The proportion of 16 years olds who have experienced the separation of their parents is heading for nearly one in two. Three on-line services to help these young people have closed down in recent years.

“We are releasing this single to raise awareness of all the work that is going on to listen to children and young people more and to ensure that there is great on-line information and support for anyone reaching out for some help.

“This time of year can be particularly difficult for children of separated families, as they struggle with many different emotions, and Yuval’s beautiful song communicates these feelings, while capturing the spirit of Christmas.

“We are launching a competition for young people to write, record, film and draw the story from the point of view of the kid in the middle. This song expresses this voice with a beautiful melody and will hopefully shine a light on this issue this Christmas time.”

The song is available online, and is in aid of the charity, which was originally set up through the fundraising efforts of a number of teenagers and family lawyers and mediators.

The charity provides advice and reassurance to children and young people from young people who have been through the experience, and links to a wide choice of support services for young people.

The song is available to download from iTunes, Amazon and Google Play.

AM v SS: The proper weight to give to valuable resources which do not belong to one of the parties

Mr Justice Coleridge
"The perennial and intractable problem of the proper weight to give to valuable resources which do not belong to one of the parties to the litigation but to e.g. a parent or family trust has dominated the debate in this case". So began Mr Justice Coleridge's judgment in AM v SS, handed down on the 31st of March this year. The following four paragraphs explained the position:
"In a nutshell the husband maintains that he has assets amounting to only a few hundred thousand pounds, including a flat in Maida Vale worth about £1m (but with equity of only about half that sum) and a reasonable salary of about £100,000 p.a. net. He says that is all there is and that is the whole story so far as the exercise of the court's powers is concerned.

The wife on the other hand says that the husband's assets are the merest tip of a huge family financial iceberg. She says that the husband's father has wealth in the stratosphere, measured probably in billions, and that he can reasonably be expected and predicted, given his past generosity, to make capital available to meet a reasonable claim by the wife based on the wealth at that sort of level. In short if I make an order against the husband, his father will meet it.

Accordingly, the wife aspired at the outset of this hearing to a lump sum of some £3m and a global income order of some £10,000 per month, plus a nanny and a maid full time. By the end of the hearing the wife, it is true, had moderated her claim to a capital payment of only £2m.

The husband has, on the other hand, offered to make available his flat in Maida Vale for the period whilst the child is a minor after which he says it should be sold and the wife should receive a small portion of its value absolutely with the balance being payable to the parties daughter. That is all he can afford he says. Accordingly, there is a huge divergence of approach and the court has to do the best it can to resolve it."
The facts of the case can be set out very briefly for the purposes of this post. The marriage lasted only about two years and there is one child, now five years old. The wife lived with the child in a rented flat. Apart from the husband's flat in Maida Vale there were few assets, and both parties had run up considerable costs. It was, however, conceded that the husband's father is very wealthy and that he is, and has been in the past, generous to his children and grandchildren. The issue of the husband's father's financial 'assistance' therefore dominated the case.

Mr Justice Coleridge set out the legal principles applicable to this situation. Firstly, quoting Waite LJ in Thomas v Thomas [1995] 2 FLR:
"There will be occasions when it becomes permissible for a judge deliberately to frame his orders in a form which affords judicious encouragement to third parties to provide the maintaining spouse with the means to comply with the court's view of the justice of the case."
And then:
"I ... collect, from the authorities to which I was referred, that the general practice or philosophy in this situation is that even if the court is prepared to proceed on the basis that a relative or trust is likely or can be reasonably expected to "backfill" to compensate for a share of the visible assets removed by the court order, it is very unusual indeed to make an order that the outside person or entity produce fresh money directly to meet an award to a former spouse claimant. In other words, the availability of these external resources may enable the court to be more generous with the visible resources if it has sufficient confidence that the hole thereby created in the payer's resources will be made up or "backfilled"."
He then set out his findings and conclusions, as follows:

1. The husband's father is hugely wealthy, probably worth in excess of £1bn. However, it would be highly dangerous for the court to proceed in this, or any other similar case, on the basis of crossing its fingers and hoping that such a rich parent would pay up more or less at any level.

2. The husband's father has indeed helped his son in the past, including by way of making considerable provision for his legal fees, to the tune of £250,000. The husband's father has also demonstrated his generosity and concern for his children and grandchildren by providing homes for them and paying generous allowances and school fees.

3. Taking into account all the evidence of past payments and the oral evidence which he heard, he was satisfied that the husband's father will help out, but only to the minimum necessary to relieve his son from visible financial hardship.

4. Accordingly, he ordered that the Maida Vale property be transferred to the wife, with the aim that it should be mortgage free either now or as soon as possible in the future (the wife was actually to have two-thirds outright and a life interest in the other third, which should then pass to the child).

5. The husband is to be responsible for redeeming the charges on the property, by way of a lump sum or lump sums: "That lump sum provision will be received, I conclude, either from the father or other members of the respondent's family. Failing that it can be discharged, absent receipt from those sources, by continuing to pay off the current mortgage or new borrowing up to the same amount on the same or a different property."

6. As to the 'assistance' of the husband's father, Mr Justice Coleridge said: "I think it is a reasonable estimate that when the dust has settled and the court orders are known, the husband's father will be prepared at the very least to lend his son the necessary sum to redeem those charges ... even if he requires his son to pay him interest at a reasonable rate. I think it is more than a fanciful possibility that he will in fact give him the money but I have not assumed that or proceeded solely on that basis."

7. The transfer of the flat was to take place within 3 months, after which the husband was to pay £4,000 per month maintenance, split 50/50 between the wife and the child.

8. If the wife, at the end of the 3 months, moves into the Maida Vale flat and the mortgages have not by then been redeemed, as hoped by the husband's father, the husband will have to continue to meet the monthly mortgage repayments by way of additional periodical payments. If in due course the wife decides to sell, there will be a lump sum payable to her of the amount of the outstanding mortgages, but which again the husband can discharge by way of meeting new mortgages up to that amount.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Brave


Sir James Munby gives Keynote speech to Families Need Fathers AGM, 16th November 2014

(I should add that he was clearly happy to give the speech, was eager to hear the views of his audience, and appears to have been well received.)

Friday, December 05, 2014

Better than Xmas shopping


Why not give yourself a break from the horrors of Xmas shopping? Sit down, pour yourself a cup of tea and read my rantings writings this week over on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog, which include:

The international complexities of family law - As in Ville de Bauge & Another v China.

Supporting litigants in person - The MoJ report into the experiences and needs of LiPs.

A successful Hague Convention defence - SP (Father) v EB (Mother) & Another.

And:

How not to conduct a financial application - As demonstrated in Thiry v Thiry.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Confused couples to be helped by new quality mark for family mediators


A new accreditation quality mark for family mediators will help reduce couples in crisis who are confused when considering their post-divorce options, says a leading family charity.

With family mediation becoming a more prominent way of resolving family disputes, it is now compulsory for separating couples to attend a mediation awareness meeting before they can apply for a court order to settle issues relating to finance, property and children. New Ministry of Justice funding will enable a compulsory accreditation scheme which all family mediators will have to work towards if they sell their services to the public.

Having long pushed for a single quality mark, the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, National Family Mediation (NFM), says the government funding represents a wise investment for separating couples and taxpayers.

“Family separation is traumatic enough, but when there are so many so-called ‘family mediators’ advertising their services, with no clear quality mark, the confusion means people tend to stick with what they know”, says Jane Robey, NFM’s Chief Executive. “Often that means they plump for solicitors’ high-cost legal fees instead of committing to quicker, cheaper out-of-court dispute resolution services.

“Government funding for a new single professional standard which all those calling themselves ‘mediators’ will have to work towards is a wise investment.

“Importantly it will make life a little simpler for confused couples because there will be a recognisable quality mark that will give people confidence when they are considering engaging a family mediator to help them reach a settlement.

“The traditional post-Christmas increase in divorce means more threatening clouds are gathering right now for families across the country. Whether you need a roofer, car mechanic or a dispute resolution expert, quality assurance is a key part of the decision you make. Most of us know what industry standards look like for other professions so why should it be different for other specialist services? When the storm breaks, you need to know you can count on the quality.

“Family breakdown costs the economy £46 billion per year, of which it is estimated nearly £8 billion is directly connected to issues that a more effective route into out-of-court dispute resolution services could alleviate.”

But she conceded that the initiative will not draw universal praise.

“There are those who lack skills and qualifications who might be thinking of setting themselves up as ‘mediators’. Quacks don’t add value, and families need to know where to look for the right qualifications before they commit to mediation,” she said

Establishment of the initiative is being funded by the Ministry of Justice, with responsibility for the scheme’s development being handed to the Family Mediation Council.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Family Lore Clinic: Can I disagree with an overnight contact order in court?


I suppose I should begin by explaining that, technically, there is no longer any such thing a 'contact order'. Contact orders (and residence orders) have been replaced by 'child arrangements orders' which deal with arrangements over 'with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person'.

OK, having said that the answer to the question is quite simple: if someone (presumably the other parent) is seeking to have overnight contact with your child (often referred to as 'staying contact') then, if you believe that such contact is contrary to the welfare of your child, you can object to it in court. Having said that, overnight contact is very common and is usually considered to be a good thing, provided that the other parent has suitable accommodation where the child can sleep. Accordingly, you really do have to have a good reason or reasons why overnight contact should not take place.

As usual, if you require further information or advice regarding this issue, you should consult a specialist family lawyer.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Offensive

Just came across this in my news feed, here. I'll leave you to form your own opinion.

A better way to divorce

I'm not quite sure if this video, created in connection with Resolution's Family Dispute Resolution Week 2014, does the job: it tells the viewer that there is a better way to separate, but doesn't say what it is, simply ending with a link to Resolution's website. It would have been nice if the viewer did not have to go to the site to find out the alternatives to court: negotiation, mediation, collaborative process and arbitration. Still, the message of how damaging divorce can be for all concerned, particularly the children, is powerfully put forward:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Mini Book Review: Financial Remedies Practice, 2015 Edition


Financial Remedies Practice, 2015 Edition

The @eGlance Guide

£99.95 - Published by Class Legal: November 2014

I'm afraid I don't have time at present to do a full review of this, the fourth edition of Financial Remedies Practice, so here instead is a quick 'mini review'.

For details of previous editions and what the book is about (the title is rather self-explanatory, even if one of the authors, Mr Justice Mostyn, insists (quite correctly) upon still referring in his judgments to 'financial remedies' as 'ancillary relief'), see my previous reviews here, here and here.

Key changes in the 2015 edition are listed on the back cover as follows:
  • a "major overhaul to bring the book up to date with the momentous changes wrought by the implementation of the single Family Court and the continuing flow of important cases";
  • the revised PD 27A relating to bundles and the restraints on pagination, extent and other matters now being vigorously enforced by the judiciary;
  • the ‘Statement on the efficient conduct of financial remedy final hearings’ now in operation when the hearing is before a High Court judge;
  • changing approaches to sanctions for breach of procedure in the wake of the CPR decisions in Mitchell & Denton;
  • media reporting of financial remedy cases and the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926;
  • ongoing changes to allow for family arbitration; and
  • the Commentary has been thoroughly revised to explain and clarify all aspects of the new Family Court procedures such as gatekeeping, allocation and routes of appeal.

Contradicting what I said in my review of the last edition, the book has actually shrunk from 713 to 665 pages. I'm not entirely certain how this has been achieved, as the coverage of the subject appears to be as comprehensive as ever. I don't know whether this is a case of 'less is more', but personally I find it somewhat a relief that a textbook has reduced in size.

Another obvious change is that the book, along with the updates at www.familyprocedure.com now seeks to cover one calendar year rather than straddling two, which I think is less confusing.

As I said above, this is not intended as a full review. However, my short time with Financial Remedies Practice 2015 confirms what I said in my last review: "if you specialise in financial remedies ... then FRP certainly seems to be approaching the status of 'essential', as claimed on the back cover."

Financial Remedies Practice is available from Class Legal here. As with the last edition, a £20 discount is available if it is purchased along with Class Legal's @eGlance electronic toolkit and resource for money cases.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Take your mind off the by-election


No doubt many of you will be disappointed at the by-election result. Still, I'm sure Hairy Knorm Davidson will get another chance. Meanwhile, why not take your mind off of things by reading my posts this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog, which include:

Relentless litigation... again - As demonstrated by the case Lindner v Rawlins.

Completing the circle - Confirming the obvious: those who provide legal advice will have to be trained, regulated and insured.

Breaking the cycle of incessant litigation - A few ideas that might help.

The complexities of modern family relationships - As demonstrated by the case C v S.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Lunar Mission One: Get involved

Nothing whatsoever to do with family law, but for a child of the Apollo era who has long been disappointed by the subsequent loss of public interest in space, here is something that will hopefully re-invigorate the older generation and inspire the younger:



For more information about Lunar Mission One, go to the website, here. To make a pledge towards the project, go here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Family Lore Clinic: Enforcing a consent order after the other party has died


As usual, the term 'consent order' is taken here to mean the order setting out the agreed financial/property settlement on divorce. In fact, what follows applies equally if the settlement order is not made by agreement, but imposed upon the parties by the court.

So long as the divorce has been finalised, the death of either party will generally have no effect upon the terms of the order, and those terms can therefore still be enforced. The exception to this is any maintenance order, which will terminate upon the death of either party (although any unpaid arrears of maintenance prior to the death should still be recoverable). Other orders, such as orders requiring one party to pay a lump sum of money to the other, can still be enforced.

When a person dies their financial affairs will be handled by their personal representative, who will administer the estate and apply for probate. It will be their responsibility to discharge any liability of the deceased party under a consent order. Accordingly, if you want to enforce an order against a deceased party, you should contact their personal representative. The personal representative will usually be a close relative of the deceased, or their lawyer. If probate has been granted, you can find out who they are by searching for a will or probate record here, although you may need to act before probate is granted, as the deceased's estate can be distributed once probate has been granted.

If you require further information or advice regarding enforcing a consent order where the other party has died, you should consult a specialist family lawyer.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Costs Cap


Mostyn J calls for fixed pricing in ancillary relief cases - Family Law Week, 17th November 2014

(I hasten to add that the above is not directed specifically at Mostyn J, whose views on costs caps prior to being appointed to the Bench are not known to me.)

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Committal judgments should be published

John Hemming MP
A summary of Justice for Families Ltd v Secretary of State for Justice [2014] EWCA Civ 1477 (14 November 2014).

This was essentially a challenge to the decision of Theis J in London Borough of Ealing v Connors to commit Margaret Connors to prison for 28 days for contempt of court, for breach of a collection order. The challenge took the form of an application for a writ of habeas corpus. Collins J refused to issue the writ, describing the application as being "hopeless" and "entirely misconceived". The matter was then appealed, and the President, giving the leading judgment in the Court of Appeal, agreed that the application was devoid of merit.

The application for the writ was issued by campaign group Justice for Families Ltd, whose Chairman is John Hemming MP. Mr Hemming appeared before Mr Justice Collins, but did not fare well, as this extract from the transcript indicates:
"MR JUSTICE COLLINS: … there is no possible remedy through habeas corpus because habeas corpus only goes to whether there is a lawful sentence and there is a lawful sentence. And there is a right to appeal, an absolute right to appeal.

MR HEMMING: Yes.

MR JUSTICE COLLINS: For which legal aid is granted. She was represented by counsel and solicitors at the hearing before Mrs Justice [Theis]. You come along without any instructions, without having contacted her, without even knowing who she is --

MR HEMMING: Without the ability to contact her. That's right.

MR JUSTICE COLLINS: You know nothing about the background to the case. And I am afraid this is an interference which is totally unnecessary because her interests are protected by her representation. She may have purged her contempt for all I know.

MR HEMMING: Yes, we don't know, do we.

MR JUSTICE COLLINS: No, we don't

MR HEMMING: And that's the difficulty of the situation of people in prison in secret --

MR JUSTICE COLLINS: You could easily have got a copy of the committal order from the clerk of the rules.

MR HEMMING: So that's what you recommend, basically.

MR JUSTICE COLLINS: Well, you can get it but I am afraid habeas corpus is hopeless --"
Sir James Munby P
In the appeal the President began by considering two preliminary points. Firstly, the issue of representation of a company at trial by an employee - Mr Hemming had failed to comply with the rules, but the court agreed to hear the appeal "as a matter of indulgence". Secondly, the issue of the locus standi of the appellant, upon which the President concluded: "In my judgment, this is not a case in which the appellant had any business applying for a writ of habeas corpus."

Moving on to the grounds of appeal (which can be found listed in paragraph 11), the President found that there were two very simple reasons why the appeal was quite hopeless:

Firstly, habeas corpus does not lie to challenge a sentence of imprisonment imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction. The proper remedy in such a case is appeal.

Secondly, the mother had been discharged from prison on the expiry of her sentence before the application for habeas corpus was made. Since the only issue on an application for habeas corpus is to determine the legality of the detention, habeas corpus will not lie if the detention has already been brought to an end.

In the circumstances, the appeal was dismissed.

That, however, was not the end of the matter. As the President pointed out, Mr Hemming's wider complaint related to the fact that, according to his own investigations, many committal judgments have not been published (on BAILII), as required by the practice guidance. "This, if true," said the President, "and every indication is that unhappily it is true, is a very concerning state of affairs." The President therefore reiterated the guidance, and gave further gudance regarding the listing of cases where there is no committal application before the court.

The President did, however, add one final observation:
"I would not for myself want to give any credence to the proposition that a failure to sit in open court or a failure to list the case properly [these were other arguments put forward by Mr Hemming] or a failure to publish the judgment, suffices of itself to invalidate an otherwise proper committal for contempt, let alone that such a failure can entitle the contemnor to release on a writ of habeas corpus. Mr Hemming has produced no authority in support of the proposition and in my judgment it is fundamentally unsound."

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jamboree bag*


Another mixed bag of topics pontificated upon by yours truly this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog included:

The liability to support children - And the consequences for failure to do so.

Reaching a conclusion from the wrong direction - The issue of McKenzie Friends, particularly those who charge for their services.

Running up costs… and paying them - A look at the cases J v J and SB v MB.

Challenge to Scottish named person scheme - And my views on the scheme.

Have a good weekend.
__________________

*For those too young to understand the reference in the title, Jamboree bags were bags of mixed sweets and toys purchased by children in my youth - you never knew what you got until you opened them. Happy days.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

J v J: Something must be done

Mr Justice Mostyn
In J v J Sir Nicholas Mostyn, clearly exasperated at yet another case with disproportionate costs, has proposed that two measures be taken to address the problem:

Firstly, fixed pricing for cases. Sir Nicholas  referred to two quotes from Lord Neuberger's 2012 lecture to the Association of Costs Lawyers:
"Hourly billing at best leads to inefficient practices, at worst it rewards and incentivises inefficiency. Moreover, it undermines effective competition in the provision of legal services, as it 'penalizes . . . well run legal business whose systems and processes enable it to conclude matters rapidly.' It also penalises the able, those with greater professional knowledge and skill, as they will tend to work at a more efficient rate. In other words, hourly billing fails to reward the diligent, the efficient and the able: its focus on the cost of time, a truly moveable feast, simply does not reflect the value of work."
and:
"That no-one has suggested a viable alternative is something which needs to be remedied, and the sooner the better. An approach to litigation costs based on value-pricing rather than hourly-billing is one which urgently needs to be worked out and applied. Rather than treating time as the commodity which is being sold, we should be adopting an approach where skill and experience are the commodities which are sold."
Sir Nicholas envisages fixed pricing for all types of cases, but so far as ancillary relief (he still uses the term) is concerned he suggests a fixed price for each of the three phases of an ancillary relief case namely (1) Form A to First Appointment, (2) First Appointment to FDR and (3) FDR to trial.

The second measure is "for the court in ancillary relief proceedings to be able to impose at the very beginning of the case a costs cap on what may be charged by the lawyers to their client for each of the three phases of the case." "Naturally", he says, "this cap would be variable if circumstances change but the change of circumstances would have to be a big one for a variation to be allowed."

Mostyn continues:
"In my opinion only if these two steps are taken will the grotesque leaching of costs, such as has occurred in this case, be arrested. It might also have the beneficial consequence that the present volume of self-representation deriving from the wholesale withdrawal of legal aid from private family law cases is reduced. If a litigant on the cusp of self-representation knew at the start of the case how much it was going to cost for each phase then he may well opt for representation. The benefits of representation are too obvious to spell out extensively. Far more cases with the benefit of representation settle, with the resultant avoidance of the legacy of heartache that contested litigation engenders. Those cases that do fight will be on rational and properly pleaded justiciable issues. The lengthy delays in the court system caused by the explosion in self-representation may be reduced."
Difficult to argue with that.

For those lawyers worried about these proposals, he returns to Lord Neuberger:
"The drive for lower legal costs should represent an opportunity for forward thinking lawyers. If litigation is cheaper, elementary economics suggests that there will be more of it. Rather than charging high in a few cases, and driving away those with valid claims from the courts, lawyers should be able to charge realistic fees, and encourage many more clients to instruct them to fight their case. So, significantly lower legal costs should not lead to less money for lawyers, but it should lead to better value for money, and should give to our citizens what so many are currently denied, namely access to justice."
In an effort to prevent his words from simply adding to the dusty pile of "something must be done" rhetoric, Sir Nicholas stated that he would be bringing his judgment to the attention of the President, with a view to him raising 'this pressing matter' as a matter of urgency with the Family Procedure Rules Committee.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Internet Newsletter for Lawyers November/December 2014


The latest issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers is now published.

In this issue
  • Marketing – Chris Davidson of Curated Media explains how to generate business through content marketing
  • Document drafting – Ann Hemming of LexisNexis on how web technologies can improve document production processes
  • Customer reviews – Daniel Kidd shows how to set up customer review services and incorporate them on your site
  • Chambers websites – Natalie Hearn of Matrix Chambers describes the new Matrix International brand and website
  • Privacy – Paul Bernal reviews where we are 6 months on from the Google Spain ruling
  • Technology – Alex Heshmaty looks at wearable technology and how it can be used by lawyers
  • Resources – Delia Venables on international legal resources
  • A brief update on BAILII

Access the Newsletter online

Friday, November 07, 2014

Cases, cases...


This week my efforts on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog included discussion of four cases:

Justice denied - As explained by the President in D (A Child).

Callous and cruel - Mrs Justice Hogg's description of a father's behaviour in H (A Child).

Arrangements following marriage breakdown should be handled like a family funeral - The excellent advice of Mr Justice Weir in the Northern Ireland High Court case O'H v O'H.

Staying the course for contact - Better than what the father did in F (Children; Contact, Name, Parental Responsibility).

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

There should be no order for costs in children's proceedings absent unreasonable behaviour in the conduct of the litigation

Lady Justice Gloster
A summary of L (Costs of Children Proceedings) [2014] EWCA Civ 1437, handed down by the Court of Appeal today.

This was an application by the appellant mother for permission to appeal against three paragraphs of an order made in private law children proceedings. Two of those paragraphs related to the transfer to the father of two trust funds for the children, but it was conceded on behalf of the father that the mother's appeal should be allowed in respect of those paragraphs. I will only therefore consider here the mother's appeal against the third paragraph, which ordered her to pay the father's costs of the proceedings, amounting to some £25,000.

Briefly, the history of the matter was as follows. The parties married in 1997 and had two children, a daughter TL who was born in April 2000 and a son, BL, who was born in June 2003. The marriage ran into difficulties in 2007 and in December 2007 the mother and children moved to rented accommodation. After the breakdown of the marriage, there were years of litigation between the parties involving, amongst other things, Children Act applications. Lady Justice Gloster, giving the leading judgment in the Court of Appeal, takes up the story:
"Until February 2013, TL lived with the mother and had made it clear that she did not want any contact with her father. There was thus no contact between TL and the father from 2009 until 2013. Litigation between the mother and the father focused on the son, BL. A previous residence application relating to BL was concluded at a final hearing before DJ Willis on 15 May 2012. By an order of that date he ordered that BL was to reside with the father and to have contact with the mother. Whilst this proposal was supported by the then allocated CAFCASS officer, a Mr B, the decision was apparently contrary to the repeated and recorded wishes of BL, who stated he wanted to live with his mother and sister. In the light of the history of the case, DJ Willis prohibited both parties (pursuant to s91(14) of the Children Act 1989) from applying for an order under s8 in respect of BL without the leave of the court for a period of 5 years."
Following this:
"The contact arrangements as ordered by DJ Willis broke down on a number of occasions when either BL refused to return to the father's care after contact with the mother and TL, or he refused to go to school on occasions when he was due to be collected from school by the father. This prompted the father to seek to make applications on 19 November 2012 to vary the contact order made by DJ Willis and prompted the mother to seek to apply for a residence order in relation to BL. At a hearing on 27 November 2012, DJ Willis gave leave for both parties to make applications in relation to BL and transferred the case to the Bournemouth County Court."
There then followed a significant change of circumstances. Early in 2013 TL, having had various arguments with her mother, recommenced contact with the father, and within a week of doing so, expressed a wish to live with the father. Following this, the Guardian reported, proposing that both children should primarily live with the father.

In the light of this, the mother's solicitors wrote to the father's solicitors proposing that a consent order be drawn up withdrawing her application, granting residence of TL to the father, leaving her contact with the children undefined and vacating the final hearing listed for the 25th of March 2013. The father refused, saying that he wanted the question of contact to be resolved at the final hearing.

That hearing therefore went ahead. However, as she had conceded residence of both children and did not seek any order for contact in the light of her express wish that this should be done on informal basis, the mother did not attend and was not represented.

At the hearing residence orders were made in favour of the father in respect of both children although, significantly, no formal contact order was made. The father sought, and was granted, an order that the mother pay his costs since the order of the 15th of May 2012, on the basis that her conduct of the litigation since then was unreasonable.

The mother appealed, on two grounds: firstly, that she had been given insufficient notice of the father's application for costs and secondly submitting that the judge erred in failing to follow the presumption that there should be no order for costs in children's proceedings absent unreasonable behaviour in the conduct of the litigation justifying such an order.

The mother succeeded on both grounds.

There was no indication in the correspondence that the father would seek costs and there was no evidence before the judge that could have provided him with any confidence that the mother, by then an unrepresented litigant in person, anticipated that the issue of costs was going to be raised contentiously on the 25th of March 2013. At the very least, the judge should have afforded the mother an opportunity to make representations to the court, but he did not.

As to the second ground of appeal Lady Justice Gloster said:
"In my judgment there was no basis in the present case for the judge concluding that the conduct of the mother in the conduct of the litigation since May 2012 was in any way unreasonable or reprehensible. Certainly there was nothing in her conduct that justified an adverse order for costs against her contrary to the normal principles in child care proceedings."
The mother had been granted specific leave by DJ Willis on the 27th of November 2012 to make an application for a residence order in relation to BL - DJ Willis had a detailed knowledge of the parties, the children, the case and the history of the proceedings and yet he considered it appropriate to permit the mother to file an application for residence in relation to the father's application for change in contact. Lady Justice Gloster:
"Although the judge was informed of the order dated 27 November 2012 allowing both parties leave to make their applications, the father's application for costs was argued on the basis that the mother's repeated application for a residence order in relation to BL was an unreasonable application from the start and for that reason she should pay the costs. But that simply was not the case. The judge appears to have given no weight to the fact that the mother's application had been assessed and determined as having sufficient merit to justify leave being granted by DJ Willis. Indeed the mother's cross-application was, at the time it was made in November 2012, clearly in accordance with BL's wishes and feelings..."
Further:
"Until February 2013 the evidence clearly suggested that the correct place for BL's residence was a finely balanced issue notwithstanding that the issue had been litigated previously. The true position only really emerged clearly in February 2013 when TL stated that she no longer wished to live with her mother for various reasons. What only then became clear was that it was BL's wish to live with his sister that was the driving force behind his wish to live with either his father or his mother, as the case might be. I therefore accept ... that it was incorrect of [counsel for the father] to suggest ... that the most recent proceedings were "essentially re-litigating for the third time matters which had been resolved [in] two previous proceedings with no substantive change in circumstances." That was not the correct characterisation of the proceedings."
She went on:
"...in reality, and in a difficult situation where the mother was clearly having problems with both TL and BL, she acted in accordance both with the conclusions of the professionals and the change of views held by her children. I agree she took all reasonable steps to avoid the need for a final hearing."
She concluded:
"In my judgment there is nothing in the mother's conduct of the proceedings that could be characterised as unreasonable or reprehensible. She was faced with extremely difficult problems relating to the residence and schooling of her children; the fact that she may have had inadequacies as a mother in dealing with her children was no reason for visiting the costs of these proceedings on her. When it came to the point, she reacted proportionately and fairly and sought to save costs. The fact that she is not currently having contact with the children but hopes to do so in the future once emotions have settled, is in itself no reason for visiting the costs of these unfortunate proceedings on her. Accordingly I conclude that it was wrong in principle and on the facts for the judge to have made an order for costs against her."
Lord Justice Kitchin and Lady Justice Black gave concurring judgments. Accordingly, the mother was granted permission, her appeal was allowed and the offending paragraph of the order was replaced with no order for costs.

Family Lore Clinic: Am I still able to claim half of my ex's pension if he remarries, as we don't have a clean break agreement?


OK, I will assume that by 'clean break agreement' the asker of this question means a court order including a clean break, i.e. dismissing all (further) financial/property claims by either party against the other. Obviously, once such an order has been made neither party can make any such claims against the other.

Before the clean break order is made, however, all financial claims, including pension claims, can still be made, irrespective of whether the other party has remarried. The answer to the question is therefore 'yes'.

To give a little more detail, the asker of the question was probably concerned about the so-called 'remarriage trap', whereby a party to a divorce cannot make a financial claim with reference to that divorce after they have remarried. This does not, however, affect the other party's right to make a claim, and nor does it prevent the party who has remarried from proceeding with a claim that they commenced before they remarried.

All of the above simply means that the asker of the question can claim half of their former spouse's pension. Whether that claim would be successful is, of course, another matter, and depends upon the facts of the case.

If you think that you may have a claim against your former spouse's pension (or, indeed, any of their property) then you should seek the advice of an expert family lawyer.

Monday, November 03, 2014

As true now as it was in January...

I make no apology for posting this again:


Separating couples get vital new tool to resolve post-separation futures - without a courtroom drama


A new initiative to provide free family mediation will give many couples in England and Wales a vital new tool to resolve their own problems after they separate, rather than relying on high-fee divorce solicitors, says the largest provider of family mediation.

A new government-funded scheme, effective today (Monday 3 November) will fund a free mediation session for both people involved in a separation even if just one qualifies for legal aid. Previously only the legally aided person was entitled to have the session for free, and the other person had to pay.

“We know from 30 years’ experience that family mediation works and provides lasting solutions, with full agreements being reached in seven out of ten cases – without the need for a courtroom drama,” says Jane Robey, Chief Executive of National Family Mediation (NFM).

“Getting people into the mediation room with open minds can be amongst the biggest challenges,” she adds. “Confidence in the process blossoms as people start to understand and accept that family mediation can help them shape their family’s future in an affordable way.

”This new scheme can help thousands of people across England and Wales take a vital first step to unlock an understanding of what family mediation can achieve. Mediation puts families in control of their post-separation future instead of handing it over to family courts. It’s a much quicker, less confrontational and a more cost effective way of settling family breakdown.

“Separating people are often reluctant to pay for family mediation, especially so when they know the other person – their ex – is getting it for free. They rarely understand exactly what they will be paying for and, are quite apprehensive about coming since mediation is usually an unknown quantity, they are unsure it will work.”

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes met NFM mediators during a visit to its head office last week and to hear how the new scheme means demand for the service is likely to increase.

Simon Hughes said: "We know mediation works and we are committed to making sure more people use it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of court. That is why we are funding single mediation sessions for both parties if one of them is already legally aided.

Demand for the NFM telephone helpline has soared during 2014, taking an average of 2,300 calls per month since April, when a change in the law made it compulsory for people who are seeking a post-separation court order to first attend a mediation awareness meeting.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Munby puts the boot in...

Government ‘washing its hands’ of legal aid problem for vulnerable parents - The Guardian, 31st October 2014

Of ornithology and omnibuses


This week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog I spotted a bird and some buses, but I couldn't find any sign of a plan:

It's called planning - Or rather lack of it - the government's shambolic handling of the legal aid debacle.

An unusual and surprising case - AA v TT, as described by Mr Justice Holman.

Sacrificing fairness (and a parrot) on the altar of certainty - Considering the recent speech by Sir Nicholas Mostyn to Jordan's family law conference.

Definitely not a dull day... - Especially if you fancy a bus trip. Or, a day in the life of a family law reporter.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Justice Minister visits largest mediation provider as new ‘free mediation’ scheme is set to begin

Simon Hughes and Jane Robey prepare NFM information leaflets for despatch

Justice Minister Simon Hughes met mediators and helpline staff during a visit to the head office of National Family Mediation (NFM), England and Wales’ largest provider of family mediation.

With a new government scheme to fund more free mediation sessions set to begin on 3 November, the Minister heard how NFM expects a further rise in demand for its family services.

Mr Hughes helped Chief Executive Jane Robey prepare some of the charity’s information leaflets for despatch to families to help them learn more about what family mediation can offer (see picture above).

The new government scheme will fund a free mediation session for both people involved in a separation even if just one qualifies for legal aid.

“We expect demand for mediation services to further increase during November,” said Jane Robey. “This new scheme can help thousands of people across England and Wales take a vital first step to unlock an understanding of what family mediation can achieve. Mediation puts families in control of their post-separation future instead of handing it over to clogged family courts. It’s a much quicker, less confrontational and a more cost effective way of settling family breakdown.”

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said: "We know mediation works and we are committed to making sure more people use it rather than go through the confrontational and stressful experience of court. That is why we are funding single mediation sessions for both parties if one of them is already legally aided.

"I was extremely pleased to visit NFM in Exeter and see and hear about the great work they do in helping separating couples resolve disputes about children or money. I was also delighted to hear that the number of people contacting their helpline has soared since we introduced compulsory mediation in April."

Child-inclusive mediation

The Minister also outlined plans to ensure children themselves are given a far greater role in shaping arrangements that affect their own future following a family breakdown.

“Too often post-divorce family arrangements pay scant attention to the needs of children themselves, especially where these arrangements are handed down by a court,” said Jane Robey. “This is one of the main reasons the first NFM mediators, over 30 years ago, developed the practice. We very much look forward to being involved in the Ministry of Justice’s future plans to promote child-inclusive mediation and having the opportunity to share our unique expertise in this area.”

During the afternoon visit (28 October) Mr Hughes met NFM mediators and staff who answer calls on the NFM telephone helpline, demand for which has soared during 2014. The 0300 4000 636 helpline has taken an average of 2,300 calls per month since April, when a change in the law made it compulsory for people who are seeking a post-separation court order to first attend a mediation awareness meeting.

Other issues covered during the meeting included:
  • The challenges faced by mediators over the past 18 months following changes to legal aid entitlement
  •  
  • the successful ‘in-court mediation’ pilot project being run by NFM in Herefordshire, Berkshire and West Yorkshire 
  •  
  • NFM’s unique ‘Gold Standard’ training and accreditation programme
Commenting further on the new free mediation scheme, Jane Robey added: “Separating people are often reluctant to pay for family mediation, especially so when they know the other person – their ex – is getting it for free. They rarely understand exactly what they will be paying for and, since mediation is usually an unknown quantity, they are unsure it will work.

“Getting people into the mediation room with open minds can be amongst the biggest challenges. Confidence in a previously-unknown process usually blossoms as people begin to understand and accept the potential of family mediation to help them shape their family’s future in an affordable way and with agreements being reached in seven out of ten cases that is proof enough that mediation works.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

As a divorce lawyer, I could not possibly approve of this shampoo commercial

Well, that's not a headline I ever expected to write. In China, however, a commercial that ambitiously attempts to sell shampoo whilst simultaneously reducing the divorce rate there has reportedly been viewed more than 40 million times in the past month. Glad I never opened that Beijing branch office...

If you can bear four and a half minutes of sickly romance, here's the ad:

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce

It was with great sadness that I just learned of the passing of the great Jack Bruce. As my small tribute, here he is playing one of my favourite Cream songs:

Friday, October 24, 2014

Bad ideas, and other things


No, I'm not referring to my post ideas this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog, which included:

A couple of bad ideas - The parenting presumption and making recipients of child support account for how they spend the money.

There’s more than one way to settle a dispute - Mediation is far from the only way.

Momentous and difficult decisions - As made, for example, by Mr Justice Mostyn in D (A Child).

Imprisonment for a debt - Looking at the judgment summons decision in Prest v Prest.

Have a good weekend.