Thursday, December 31, 2015

Charity adapts traditional carol to promote family mediation for divorcing couples

A leading family charity is giving a twist to a traditional Christmas carol in a new year as it promotes family mediation as the most positive way to make post-divorce arrangements.

“12 Days of January” will see National Family Mediation use social media to promote 12 key reasons, one per day, why families facing divorce and separation should consider family mediation. The campaign adapts the words of “The 12 Days of Christmas” giving it a unique family breakdown perspective. It begins “On the first day of January, mediation offered me… control of our family’s destiny.”

January traditionally sees a rise in divorce and separation as families emerge from the Christmas period battered by pressures on finances and relationships that have endured for some time but have been thrown into focus during the holiday.

“Christmas proves the final straw for many strained relationships,” says Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation.

“Calls to our 0300 4000 636 helpline increase in January, as does use of our website as people make searches related to family breakdown.

“We want to encourage separating couples to open their eyes to the advantages of family mediation – a process used to settle finance, property and parenting issues through negotiation, rather than battling it out in court.”

The 12 Days of January campaign will feature visuals on Twitter @natfammediation and on the charity’s Facebook page.

Anyone wanting to know more about family mediation can visit or call 0300 4000 636 to find their nearest professional non-profit family mediator.

Old John's Almanac 2016

Without further ado, here are my predictions for 2016:

January - To general amazement, 'Divorce Day' passes without a single law firm using it to advertise their services.

February - In a speech to Women's Aid Family Justice Minister Caroline Dinenage tells her audience that "domestic violence really isn't a very nice thing."

March - Sir Paul Coleridge of the Marriage Foundation gives an interview to The Times, in which he explains that marriage can solve global warming, defeat ISIS and cure cancer.

April - As part of the transparency drive the President of the Family Division announces that all family proceedings will in future be conducted by Judge Rinder on ITV.

May - The President of the Family Division issues new Guidance "to cover all the bits that weren't covered by previous guidance".

June - Fathers' rights group the Real Families Need Fathers4Justice stage a protest somewhere, apparently.

July - As the child support debt reaches £1 trillion, the Government announces new reforms to the child support system that "really will work this time, honest."

August - The world of family law is in shock as Suesspiciousminds fails to write a post about one of the cases reported this month.

September - The Ministry of Justice announces that it is increasing the fee on a divorce petition to £10,000, as people getting divorced "must continue to play their part in the national effort to reduce public spending, eliminate the deficit and reduce the national debt."

October - Caroline Dinenage MP is sacked from her position as Family Justice Minister after she fails to mention the word 'mediation' in an interview with the media.

November - Work at the Bury St Edmunds divorce centre grinds to a halt as the production line breaks down.

December - There is incredulity amongst family lawyers as Christopher Booker actually gets a story right.

Happy New Year!

Friday, December 25, 2015

The show must go on

Despite the flu being followed by a chest infection, I got back to posting on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog this week, where my efforts comprised the following:

Whilst I was away: Babies in care, family court stats and a Form E error - A look at the (significant) family law news that cropped up whilst I was out of the game with the flu.

Platitudes and banalities from the Family Justice Minister - Caroline Dinenage's speech at the launch of Relate's report looking into family justice reform Breaking up is hard to do.

A personal view of the year in family law, Part 1 - The first part of my review of the year.

A personal view of the year in family law, Part 2 - You guessed it, the second part of my review of the year.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, December 21, 2015

News Essentials: 21st December 2015

A brief summary of the essential family law news and cases from the last two weeks:

Court of Appeal clarifies law on internal relocation
The only principle is that the child’s welfare is paramount. Full story: Family Law Week. See Re C, below.

Examination of experts in family law published by MoJ
A new report from the Ministry of Justice shines a light on how experts are utilised in the family court, and the contributions they make to cases upon appointment and consultation. Full story: Family Law.

Revealed: divorce software error hits thousands of settlements
Exclusive: Ministry of Justice urgently examining extent of Form E fault which miscalculated spouses’ financial worth. Full story: The Guardian.

Mediation starts in the last quarter up by 19%
The Ministry of Justice has published the latest legal aid statistics for July to September 2015. Full story: Family Law.

Support for families going through divorce and separation must improve
Relate report calls for national helpline and single point of access. Full story: Family Law.

Financial remedy applications up 4%
Slight rise noted in this quarter's family court statistics. Full story: Family Law Hub.

Outdated marriage law in need of reform, says Law Commission
‘Law of marriage is out of date, inconsistent and overly restrictive’. Full story: Family Law Week.

Failing children’s services will be taken over
High-performing authorities, experts and charities to be brought in. Full story: Family Law Week.

'Huge rise' in newborn babies subject to care proceedings
There has been a "huge" rise in the number of newborns who are subject to care proceedings in England, according to figures compiled for the first time. Full story: BBC News.

Guidance given on allocation of international surrogacy cases in which parental orders are sought
Russell J hears case involving surrogacy arrangement made in India. Full story: Family Law Week. See Re Z, below.

Private law funding for DNA paternity testing
From 23 November 2015, funding has been re-introduced to cover the cost of paternity testing in private law cases in the family courts that involve children. Full story: Family Law.

Care applications in November 2015
In November 2015, Cafcass received a total of 1,020 care applications.  This figure represents a 15% increase compared to those received in November 2014. Full story: Cafcass.

Cafcass private law demand
In November 2015, Cafcass received a total of 3,462 new private law cases.  This is a 12% increase on November 2014 levels. Full story: Cafcass.

Re C (Internal Relocation) [2015] EWCA Civ 1305 (18 December 2015)
Appeal by father against order permitting mother to move child from London to Cumbria. Appeal dismissed. Full report: Bailii.

E v M [2015] EWCA Civ 1313 (18 December 2015)
Application by father for permission to appeal against child arrangements order providing for him to have only indirect contact with child. Full report: Bailii.

W and F (Children), Re [2015] EWCA Civ 1300 (18 December 2015)
Appeal by a man against findings of abuse made against him in care proceedings. Full report: Bailii.

H (Mother) v C (Father) & Ors [2015] EWCA Civ 1298 (18 December 2015)
Appeal by mother against refusal of permission to take children to live in New York. Full report: Bailii.

NA (Dismissal of Application Under Hague Convention), Re [2015] EWHC 3686 (Fam) (11 December 2015)
Application by a father for an order for the summary return of his son to Belgium, where the state of Belgium would not permit either the child or his mother lawfully to enter Belgium and remain there. Full report: Bailii.

C-W (A Child), Re [2015] EWCA Civ 1272 (11 December 2015)
Appeal by mother against refusal of application for contact with child in Florida. Appeal allowed. Full report: Bailii.

Z, Re (Foreign Surrogacy: Allocation of Work : Guidance on Parental Order Reports) [2015] EWFC 90 (16 November 2015)
Applications for parental orders under s 54 of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Act 2008 in respect of twins born to a gestational surrogate in India. Full report: Bailii.

*      *      *

For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter, go here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Family court transparency charity publishes guidance on parents recording meetings with social workers

The Transparency Project has published guidance about the recording of social workers by parents where there is local authority involvement with the family. The guidance is intended to be used by parents and their advisers and representatives, and by professionals - who might include social workers, social work managers, independent reviewing officers and local authority lawyers.

Earlier this year, The Transparency Project sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all local authorities in England and Wales to establish whether there was a consistent approach when parents ask to record their meetings with social workers. This project was prompted by discussion generated at a conference organised by The Transparency Project in June, when the topic of parents recording their interaction with social workers was raised by participants. Parents may feel that audio or video recording may give them some protection at a time when they feel threatened and vulnerable. Indeed they may have been advised by others to do so.

The responses to the FOI requests demonstrated that the attitude and approach of local authorities varied considerably. Reasons given for refusing to permit recording were not always underpinned by a correct understanding of the law. In addition, there appeared to be some evidence of a culture of suspicion, fear or hostility by professionals towards parents who wished to record their interactions, particularly where such recordings were covert (or suspected).

Transparency Project Chair, Lucy Reed says :

"Our research suggests that the response of some local authorities to requests for recording or when suspecting or finding out that recordings are being made covertly, may be based on fear and distrust - professional anxiety appears to focus on the potential misuse of information or harassment of professionals. Our study suggested that social workers are not always assisted by clear policies or guidance as to the legal framework - and many local authorities did not have any written policy at all. 

We worry that the current lack of guidance on this topic has the potential to exacerbate misunderstanding between parents and social workers, and is not helpful in promoting good communication and constructive working relationships. 

There is a need for clear basic guidance so that professionals and parents can have informed discussions about the issue of recording and the underlying anxieties that may have led to the issue arising, so that appropriate arrangements based on the individual circumstances can be agreed. We hope that parents and professionals will use the document as a starting point or framework for their discussions about these issues."

The guidance explores the question of recording from the perspective of parents and professionals, and considers reasons for and against recording, including some common misapprehensions about what law does and does not apply. It includes general information about the potential issues arising from use of any recording, for example the distribution of a recording on the internet or the use of it in evidence at court.

A number of responses to the FOI requests indicated that particular local authorities were intending to review or develop policies in this area, and a small number indicated that the request itself had prompted them to give this area some thought. It is therefore hoped that the guidance will generate discussion and lead to some greater consistency of approach than appears to currently exist.

The guidance can be found here.

Monday, December 14, 2015


I appear to have caught a rather nasty dose of the flu. Consequentially I will not be publishing my newsletter this week, or doing much else, until I feel vaguely human again. Apologies for any inconvenience.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Justice, and its enemies

My posts this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog centred around the search for justice:

Three critical points about ADR - Thoughts arising from the recent research warning of the dangers of Sharia courts.

Avoiding obligations - It is not enough simply to agree a matter, there is also the requirement to honour the agreement. The Northern Ireland case Whiteside v Whiteside.

Delay is the enemy of justice - As in the case EJK and VJK (Children).

The international nature of family law, Part 2 - As demonstrated by cases published in the previous seven days.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, December 07, 2015

News Essentials: 7th December 2015

A brief summary of the essential family law news and cases from the last week:

Gay couple's international child custody battle to be ruled on by Supreme Court
The Supreme Court will consider the complex issues of habitual residence, the definition of parenthood and the power of the English Court to make orders about British nationals resident overseas at an important hearing next week. Full story: Family Law.

Woman, 50, wins right to refuse life-saving treatment because her 'sparkle' has gone
Mr Justice MacDonald said although many would be horrified by the woman's decision, she had the mental capacity to refuse treatment. Full story: The Telegraph. See Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v C & Anor, below.

Concern for special guardianship support as figures show 1 in 4 new orders has supervision order attached
A rise in the number and proportion of special guardianship orders being made with supervision orders attached reflects family courts’ lack of trust that local authorities will provide adequate support to families, according to experts. Full story: Community Care.

Sharia courts in Britain lock women into 'marital captivity', study says
Sharia courts in Britain are locking women into “marital captivity” and doing nothing to officially report domestic violence, according to an academic who gained unprecedented access to Islamic divorce hearings. Full story: The Independent.

Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v C & Anor [2015] EWCOP 80 (30 November 2015)
Application by NHS Trust for a declaration that a patient lacks capacity to make decisions about her medical care and treatment. Full report: Bailii.

H (Children), Re [2015] EWCA Civ 1216 (01 December 2015)
Appeal by father against, inter alia, the making of no order relation to contact and decision not to enforce an order for indirect contact. Full report: Bailii.

RS, Re (Forced Marriage Protection Order) [2015] EWHC 3534 (Fam) (03 December 2015)
Application by local authority for forced marriage protection order. Full report: Bailii.

*      *      *

For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter, go here.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Life and death

My posts on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog this week comprised discussions of life, and death, in the family courts:

Should children be seen as well as heard? - Baroness Hale’s speech to the Association of Lawyers for Children Annual Conference 2015.

Judges have bad days too - Is His Honour Judge Robert Stephen Dodds the rudest judge in Britain?

Over his or her own body and mind, the individual is sovereign - The sad case of Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust v C & Anor, in which the CoP found that a woman had capacity to refuse life-saving medical treatment (she has since died).

Lessons from an acrimonious children dispute - In Re H (Children).

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

MPs need to get behind no-fault divorce tomorrow if they’re serious about reducing family conflict

Tomorrow (4 December) MPs are due to debate the introduction of no fault divorce, as Richard Bacon MP’s No Fault Divorce Bill has its second reading. Leading family law organisation Resolution is urging MPs to support the principle of no fault divorce if they are serious about reducing family conflict and the ongoing impact of divorce.

Resolution chair Jo Edwards says:

“We know that our current fault-based divorce system achieves nothing besides escalating conflict during divorce. It does not act as a deterrent, nor does it help couples to salvage their marriage. The latest data from the Office of National Statistics shows that 114,720 people divorced in England and Wales in 2013, despite fault-based petitions.”

“We are pleased to see Richard Bacon’s bill having a second reading. If MPs are serious about reducing family conflict and the trauma that can be caused by divorce, I would urge them to support the bill as a welcome step towards removing the requirement of fault from divorce.”

“Removing the blame from divorce, as proposed in Richard Bacon’s bill, would help couples who both wish to bring their relationship to a dignified conclusion and move on with their lives without the need for accusatory mud-slinging. This outdated system needs urgent revision – a civilised society deserves a civilised divorce process.”

Recent research published by Resolution shows that the fault-based nature of divorce in England and Wales, which requires one person to accuse the other of adultery or unreasonable behaviour to have their divorce granted within two years of marriage breakdown, is driving over a quarter (27%) of divorcing couples to make false allegations to the court.

Resolution’s research, carried out by YouGov (June 2015), found that:
  • 52% of divorce petitions were fault-based alleging either unreasonable behaviour or adultery
  • 27% of divorcing couples who asserted blame in their divorce petition admitted the allegation of fault wasn’t true, but was the easiest option

Resolution has campaigned for many years for the introduction of no-fault divorce, which was provided for in the Family Law Act 1996 but never implemented.  Resolution has produced a briefing on no fault divorce which has been sent to MPs ahead of tomorrow’s debate.

Resolution’s Manifesto for Family Law, endorsed by leading relationship and legal organisations including Relate, One Plus One, Only Dads and the Family Law Bar Association, calls for the removal of blame from the divorce process, bringing England and Wales into line with other modern jurisdictions including the United States, Australia and Spain.

Prison visit rules risk keeping thousands of families apart – Barnardo’s

  • Family visits increasingly cut to just basic two hours a month; children are missing out as prisoners are disciplined
  • Intrusive searches see breast milk sniffed and children’s hairbands removed
  • 17,000 children make visits each month in England and Wales
  • Pockets of very good practice exists with prisons offering homework clubs, family days and child-friendly searches

The prison system is jeopardising thousands of children’s right to see their dads, Barnardo’s reveals today, as it calls for an end to family visits being  used to discipline prisoners.

Over 17,000 children visit prisons each month, Barnardo’s survey of the prison visiting system in England and Wales Locked Out reveals.  They are part of the estimated 200,000 children with a parent in prison.

Children have a right under the UNCRC  to contact with both their parents. For children with a parent in prison, visits are crucial in maintaining these relationships  and can help cut down re-offending by 39 per cent.

However visiting hours are increasingly being taken away to punish prisoners following changes to the ‘Incentives and Earned Privileges’ (IEP) scheme, leaving some children with just 2 hours a month to visit dad. This is not the case in women’s prisons where visits are separate from the IEP.

In fact the number of prisoners awarded just two hours visits ‘basic’ status has soared by 52 per cent since the scheme was changed in 2013 (around 900 more prisoners 2012-14). Meanwhile those awarded the ‘enhanced’ status of four or more visiting hours has fallen by 16 per cent (around 5,900 fewer male prisoners 2012-14).

Weekend visiting rights and family visit days – available largely only to enhanced prisoners - are also routinely being taken away under this system, making it extremely difficult for children to spend quality time with their fathers.

Meanwhile intrusive searches see items such as breast-milk sniffed, hair searched and personal effects such as hair decorations taken away. Despite no clear evidence existing that parents use children to smuggle drugs, one boy reports ‘Feeling like you’ve done something wrong’.

The report also finds that  pockets of extremely good practice exists, with some prisons offering family days, homework clubs, child-friendly searches and good play facilities in visiting areas.

Children with a parent in prison face early trauma with little support, which tragically can lead to a much higher risk of mental health issues and offending than their peers.

Barnardo’s is calling for a ‘sea change’ in the way children of prisoners are treated in England and Wales, to put the child first. This includes effectively banning using visiting hours to punish and reward prisoners in male prisons, by separating visits from the IEP scheme – as it has been in woman’s prisons.

Meanwhile, the charity is also calling for searches of children and babies to be made more child-friendly and proportionate to the security risks posed.

Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan says: “Children with a parent in prison are the innocent victims of someone else's crime.  They struggle with the heart-break of having their parent suddenly taken away, and often don't understand why. Intensifying that loss by taking away precious hours with their parent, or making visits unnecessarily uncomfortable, will only punish the children.

 “Having a parent in prison can leave children more likely to develop mental health issues, underperform at school, and tragically go on to offend themselves.

 “It’s time for a sea change in the way these overlooked and isolated children are treated. Government and prisons must work together to ensure that the visiting system, whilst recognising the need for security, never punishes children. This includes banning visits from being used to discipline the prisoner, and ensuring that searches of families are proportionate.”

The charity is also calling on prisons to allow children to share their homework with their fathers, and to have access to age appropriate play facilities.