Friday, January 30, 2015

News from NFM: New government mediation report tells us little that’s new


The largest of provider of family mediation in England and Wales says a new Ministry of Justice (MOJ) report outlining the findings of a family mediation research programme, “doesn’t tell us a huge amount we didn’t already know.”

Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) and mediation in private family law disputes: Quantitative Findings, was published by the MOJ on 29 January.

National Family Mediation’s Chief Executive Jane Robey said: “This new report could prove a useful addition to the body of evidence being collected by government as it seeks to increase the take-up of family mediation. In truth, detailed statistics aside, it doesn’t tell us a huge amount we didn’t already know.

“The finding that self-referrals to MIAMs and mediations have become more common than referrals through solicitors confirms our own previously-published research. As we have previously stated, the source of referrals to family mediation have flipped on their head since the legal aid cuts, and we now have more people coming to us of their own accord than those referred by a lawyer.

“People are increasingly researching their options for themselves once they’ve decided to separate. There is no doubt that legal aid cuts have led to many people shunning the ‘traditional’ route of heading off to the solicitor’s office – instead they are trying family mediation first.

“We have seen the evidence of this shift: visits to our website and phone calls to our national office from people seeking advice have more than doubled since the legal aid cuts were introduced.”

“The number of people coming through the doors of many non-profit NFM services each month is greater than nationwide numbers suggested by this report, which take private profit-making mediators into account. As the original family mediators, established over 30 years ago, and having led development of the profession since then, we are not surprised by this.

Engaging with respondents as well as applicants

“Interestingly the report refers to the need for respondents as well as applicants to be willing to engage with mediation. Whilst we frequently offer guidance to applicants whose ex is initially unwilling to take part in mediation – and have published some online information - the government will need to continue to consider measures that would make it compulsory for the respondent to take part in mediation.

“As the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, NFM maintains its own statistical records of MIAMs, conversions, settlement rates and so on. We look forward to continued collaboration with the government on all aspect of the drive to ensure more couples and children reap the benefits of family mediation.”

The MOJ study is available here:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/399573/miams-report.pdf

It was designed to estimate the national use of privately funded MIAMs and mediation, and to examine the proportion of parties, both publicly and privately funded, that have used MIAMs and mediation before applying to court.

Judges and practitioners urged to stay vigilant over Public Law Outline


The Public Law Outline (PLO) is achieving its objective of cutting the length of care proceedings to six months, but its continued success is dependent on judges and lawyers ensuring that corners are not cut, the Head of the Family Team at 9 Gough Square has warned.

Senior barrister Tim Parker said that so far the main concerns expressed in advance of its introduction – such as having insufficient expert evidence and adherence to procedure trumping justice – have not materialised.

Under the new regime, cases involve fewer experts, with greater reliance upon the expertise of social workers and children’s guardians. This led lawyers’ groups to fear the courts would not have the right evidence before them.

Tim Parker, who is the general editor of 9 Gough Square’s recently published book, The PLO Explained, said: “The PLO has introduced a rigour that did not exist 18 months ago, and it has generally been a positive experience. There is more emphasis on active case management, but the Family Court and specialist lawyers have met the challenge of providing the right evidence in a manageable timescale.

“There is pressure on the lawyers involved to keep a close eye on the quality of the evidence too. Parents are relying on the courts and practitioners to get this right. In essence, the success of the system is in the hands of those within it.”

Tim Parker added that family judges have allayed concerns that the PLO would introduce the type of hard line on compliance seen in the civil courts with the Mitchell ruling. In February 2014 Mrs Justice Pauffley urged that “justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed”, a view later endorsed by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division.

“Ultimately judges will require the parties to adhere to the new rules and timetable, but they are prepared to work with complicating issues as and when they occur.”

Even I can be wrong sometimes...


It doesn't happen very often, but even I can occasionally be wrong about something. I'm big enough to admit it, as with my first post this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog. Of course,I am absolutely right in everything I say in the other three posts:

Clare’s Law: I take it all back (well, some of it) - Whilst I am of course happy that the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme appears to be working, I do still have some reservations about it.

Government spin on child maintenance fails to tell the whole story - The DWP can't hide the true scandal of £2.9 billion of 'uncollectable' child support arrears.

Piecemeal reform continues unabated - The Financial Remedies Working Group tinkers with, well, financial remedies.

Adverse inferences - As in the recent case Rabia v Rabia.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

When liability for child support ends


A very quick note on NG v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions & Anor (Child support : receipt of benefit) (CSM) [2015] UKUT 20 AAC (15 January 2015), which concerned the issue of the correct date on which liability to pay child support ends.

Liability of course ends when the child ceases to be a 'qualifying child' under section 55 of the Child Support Act 1991. Essentially, they remain a child if they are under the age of 16, or if they are under 19 and receiving full-time education. However, they may also remain a child if those conditions are not met but child benefit continues to be payable for them: paragraph 1A of Schedule 1 to the Child Support (Maintenance Calculation Procedure) Regulations 2000, as amended by regulation 4(2) of the Child Support (Miscellaneous Amendments) (No 2) Regulations 2009. In other words, liability then ends when the child benefit is no longer payable.

The point decided by NG is that 'payable' means 'properly or lawfully payable'. Accordingly, it must be considered whether the child benefit was properly or lawfully payable, not simply whether it was actually paid. In NG the Tribunal only considered whether the child benefit was actually paid, and therefore the case was remitted to be re-heard by a different Tribunal.

As to when child benefit ceases to be payable, see here.

Friday, January 23, 2015

An outsider looks in


No longer practising, I am now an outsider to the legal profession in general, and the family justice system in particular (I sometimes feel that I was always an outsider). Accordingly, perhaps I might occasionally say what insiders might not. Whether that was the case in any of the posts I wrote for Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog this week, I will leave you to judge:

Child contact centres: an essential resource - Contact centres are closing. It is essential that we save them. The NACCC has launched a National Awareness Campaign.

What is family law for? - Well, someone had to ask the question.

We must still oppose these fee increases - Despite the fact that the Government has decided not to proceed with the divorce fee increase, we must still oppose the Government's other fee increase proposals.

Enforcing contact orders - With reference to the case H-R (Children).

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Publication of judgments guidance in action?


A quick post to say that I've just noticed how many cases I posted last year on Family Lore Case Digest. The total was 734, massively up from the 2013 figure of 476 and the 2012 figure of 308. It seems reasonable to conclude that this was at least in part (and probably in large part) due to the increase in the number of published judgments last year as a result of the President's transparency/publication of judgments Practice Guidance.

(I post links to most of the family law reports I find on Family Lore Case Digest. The main exception is county court judgments, unless I think they are of particular interest.)

@familylaw: Ten thousand followers surely can't be wrong?

Well, perhaps they can, but at least the followers of my @familylaw Twitter feed are keeping up with all the latest happenings in the world of family law, and there are now over ten thousand of them:

 

For those who don't already know, @familylaw feeds all news items, cases and articles from Family Lore Focus on to Twitter, thereby providing a convenient way to stay up to date.

You can also keep up to date by subscribing to the free weekly Family Lore Focus Newsletter here - all that is required is your name and email address. The Newsletter will will stop you missing anything that you didn't catch on Twitter, and other things.

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

In short, Family Lore Focus, @familylaw and the Newsletter provide a one-stop (OK, 3-stop) gateway to keep you updated with all the family law developments you need, without having to search different sites for them.

If you would like to advertise on Family Lore Focus, the blogs or the Newsletter, see here.

[Post again shamelessly copied from earlier ones, with minor amendments.] 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

9 years...


...since I began writing this blog. Much has changed in the world of legal blogging in that time, not all of it for the better. Still, that is the way of things for all of us, I suppose. I certainly don't think I envisaged Family Lore lasting this long when I began all those years ago, but I shall celebrate its survival today with a slice of virtual cake accompanied, no doubt, with a not-so-virtual glass of wine.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A fantasy story, dubious advice on mediation, and other things


This week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog  was largely about bad or, at best, dubious ideas:

Socially engineering the family - A fantasy story about marriage, featuring the brave knight Sir Coleridge.

Enforcing domestic violence orders in the EU - The new EU Regulation “on mutual recognition of protection measures in civil matters” (this was not a bad idea).

Protecting social workers from the effects of transparency - Are social workers being sacrificed in the drive for transparency?

The limits of mediation - In particular, whether it is a good idea to go straight to a mediator, without taking any legal advice first.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Internet Newsletter for Lawyers January/February 2015


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

In this issue
  • Access to Justice – Timothy Hill of The Law Society considers how technology is improving access to justice
  • Information law – Judith Townend introduces the new Centre for Law and Information Policy at IALS
  • Practice technology – Paul Richmond of Richmond Chambers describes the technology supporting his barrister-only ABS
  • Websites – Catherine Bailey of Bar Marketing helps us get to know the Google Analytics service
  • Social media – Mark Gould on how he uses social media for professional and personal development
  • Cloud computing – Allan Carton and Frank Manning of InPractice explain the options for cloud computing
  • Mobile computing – Alex Heshmaty of Legal Words describes the most useful apps for lawyers
  • Plus information on The Big Advice Survey and CPD changes for 2015
  • In an online feature Glenda Harding of Kaplan Altior describes the new undergraduate level legal apprenticeship

Access the Newsletter online

Marital Bliss


‘Milestone tax breaks’ idea for married couples who stay together longer - The Telegraph, 10th January 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015

300th Edition of the Family Lore Focus Newsletter


Today I published the 300th edition of the Family Lore Focus Newsletter.

For those who don't know, the Newsletter is a free weekly email sent to subscribers, containing links to all the top family law news stories, cases, legislation, articles and blog posts that were reported on Family Lore Focus that week. The links come from across the web (unlike other similar emails, that only contain links to one site), and are all free to view.

You can subscribe to the Newsletter here.

If you wish to advertise in the Newsletter, see here.

Friday, January 09, 2015

All quiet here...


Been a little quiet here this week on Family Lore. That's because I have said everything I wanted to say (at least about family law matters) over on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog, including the following:

Divorce Day: Think before you rush to court - A little advice, whether or not there is indeed such a thing as 'Divorce Day'.

The limits of appeal - As in McHugh v McHugh (and not just in the family courts, as the amended headline to this post suggests).

Stretching the argument for state-funded representation - A discussion of Judge Bellamy's decision in K & H (Children: Unrepresented Father: Cross-Examination of Child).

Domestic violence discussed in Parliament - Including the greater role played by the criminal justice system in dealing with domestic violence.

Have a good weekend.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Separating couples missing out on vital help during January ‘Divorce Month’


New start apart, but which way do you turn?

Thousands of separating couples across England and Wales are not getting the help they desperately need at their time of crisis because they do not know which way to turn, says a leading family charity.

With over 100,000 marriages ending each year, and signs that January’s traditional upsurge in separations will again occur this year, National Family Mediation (NFM) has released data which shows huge increases in calls taken by its specialist helpline staff. But it also show that each month in 2014 an average of 770 calls went unanswered because the charity does not have funding to employ more specialist staff to help families at their time of need.

“At a time of crisis, you need to know where you can turn for help,” says Jane Robey, CEO of NFM. “This January, as couples resolve to make a new start apart, there will be thousands of people rooting around for the advice and help they need to kickstart their futures.

“It’s easy to be seduced by the inviting fa├žade of the high-street solicitor, and the promise of achieving a courtroom ‘victory’ over your ex. But there are other ways to manage your separation that are better for the children and which allow you to keep control over your own destiny. There is no need to leave it to a court to make vital life-changing decisions.

“Without easy access to advice for your own situation, you can end up taking what’s become the default route towards an acrimonious and courtroom battle that you can ill afford and that will leave you and your children scarred for years.”

Jane Robey says the dramatic increase in demand for the charity’s specialist telephone helpline shows more and more people who face separation are confused about which way to turn.

“Our specialist staff have taken over 2,200 calls each month in 2014, a rise of 67 per cent on the year before. The nature of the calls has changed too, with increased confusion and bewilderment as people struggle to understand their options.

Justice Minister aware of rise in calls

“The number of calls our hard-pushed staff have missed, because they’ve been on other calls, is worrying. Tenacious couples ring back later, but too many will be falling through the net, exposing themselves to high-cost legal fees to settle their divorce when there are much cheaper and quicker options.

“We shared our figures and our fears with Justice Minister Simon Hughes when he visited us recently, and we are seeking funding that would enable more specialist staff to be recruited to provide the help these families badly need.

“Family mediation empowers separating families to reach agreements solutions on property, finance and children that are in their own interests. Its timescales are significantly quicker than court. It allows families to stay in control of their destiny, their finances and their new family relationships, because decisions are made by you, rather than about you. It is less confrontational than a court battle, and it has fixed costs with flexible payment terms - it remains free if you are eligible for Legal Aid.”

For more information about mediation go to www.nfm.org.uk. The website includes a facility allowing you to find your local non-profit professional mediation service by entering your postcode. Alternatively call 0300 4000 636.