Friday, January 29, 2016

S (A Child): Tainted report not permitted on re-hearing of adoption application

Sir Ernest Ryder
A summary of S (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 1345 (3 November 2015), which concerned the re-hearing of a step-parent adoption in respect of an 8 year-old boy, 'S'.

In February 2015 the Family Court at Reading heard cross applications by S's father for direct contact with S and by his stepfather, his mother's second husband, for a step parent adoption. The court made the adoption order.

The father appealed. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal on the basis that the process that led to the adoption order being made was sufficiently flawed to amount to procedural irregularity because of unfairness. The unfairness was summarised as follows:
"(a) the court was misled about the involvement of the child and his representation in the adoption application and, given the issues in question namely adoption with no contact, it was inadvisable at the very least to discharge the child's guardian and remove the child as a party: it removed the child's voice from the process; 
(b) the limitation in the oral evidence that was heard, albeit caused by an agreement between the parties that cannot have been right, created a procedure within which the father's case was not put in any sufficient way, if at all, so that the process was unfair; 
(c) the evidence of the local authority social worker while apparently coherent and professional, did not deal with the issues of history relating to the the mother and was compiled by a professional colleague of the mother so as to give rise to an unacceptable perception of bias; and 
(d) the court did not deal with the significant issues of fact that had arisen about why contact had not occurred in the past and why the child's mother had not engaged with the previous proceedings."
The case was remitted for rehearing before a different judge.

A case management hearing took place before His Honour Judge Tolson, QC on 12 August 2015, at which the following directions were made:

(1) There be an independent social worker to address the issues of contact and adoption.

(2) Five issues of fact be considered, the determination of which would help resolve whether the father had been alienated from S by the mother and in any event, inter alia why there had been a cessation and non resumption of contact between S and his father.

(3) The annexe A report which was the subject of the Court of Appeal's criticism in the first appeal, remain as an admitted document, but an addendum be prepared by the same author to address the deficiencies identified by this court.

The father appealed against the third direction, on the basis that the existing annexe A report should not be relied upon and that the work should be undertaken afresh by a new reporter, unconnected with S's mother.

Three justifications were given for placing continuing reliance upon the original report and for asking the same author to write an addendum:

(a) The Court of Appeal did not find as a fact that the report's author was biased.

(b) The child was said to object to further questioning and assessment.

(c) The independent social worker and the children's guardian between them would, in any event, be independent of the annexe A reporter, so that full cross examination could take place on the latter's report and addendum.

Hearing the second appeal, Sir Ernest Ryder did not accept these justifications:
"First, this court decided that the annexe A report was fundamentally flawed. The court did not deal with the question of whether that was because of actual bias by the author, a failure to understand the reason why lack of contact between father and son was a key issue that on any basis required investigation, or both. It remains surprising that an annexe A reporter would not deal with an issue that important when considering whether the potential adopter is suitable and the mother who is the wife of that potential adopter is the only person other than the child who knows why contact did not take place. 
Short of the court deciding that there was no bias and there was an innocent reason for the failure to examine an issue that was so important, the report remains fundamentally flawed and no reliance can be placed upon the same. 
In an appropriate case, but probably not this case, it would have been open to the case management judge to have heard evidence at the case management hearing on the question of bias and the reasons for the fatal omission, so as to come to a conclusion that it was in the interests of the child to allow continued reliance to be placed on a report.  But that process did not occur in this case. The asserted justification is accordingly based on an assumption that is, in the context of this court's earlier conclusion, insufficient. 
Second, the child's apparent objection to any further discussion and/or assessment is part and parcel of the key issue in the case. The court needs the opinion of the children's guardian about that, uninfluenced by a tainted report. Whether the children's guardian and the independent social worker see the child once or more than once should have been left to the professional skill and expertise of the children's guardian. Insofar as that guardian may disagree with the independent social worker, one or other of them can bring the matter back to Judge Tolson. 
Third, the independent social worker will report on adoption and contact, but neither she nor the children's guardian are required to report or advise on the mandatory fields that comprise an annexe A report as set out in PD 14C. If the court wants alternative annexe A advice, it must say so; otherwise it will be by no means certain that there will be detailed material upon which cross examination of the annexe A reporter can be based."
Sir Ernest concluded:
"The report of an annexe A reporter is an important welfare protection for a child who is the subject of an adoption application. The court has already decided that it is tainted.  Reliance upon it, on the facts of this case, should not be permitted. The report should be removed from the bundle, as should the father's statement associated with it ... A new annexe A report should be undertaken by the independent social worker who should be directed to address the PD 14C criteria and that reporter should be permitted to see the child more than once, provided the children's guardian does not disagree."
Accordingly, Sir Ernest allowed the appeal. Lords Justices Sales and Richards gave concurring judgments.

LiPs, fees and child support

Child support, the state and future of the family justice system were the themes of my posts this week on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog, which included:

Litigants in person briefing: nothing new, but it does bear repeating - Looking at the House of Commons Library briefing paper on the rise of the self-represented litigant in civil and family cases

Company car not income for child support calculation - The case KM v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Child support : calculation of income).

Sir James talks to the Justice Committee on fees, and more - What the President had to say to the House of Commons Justice Committee this week.

An update on the 2012 child maintenance scheme - Looking at the latest statistics for the 2012 scheme.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

An invitation to make your voice heard

Family law organisation Resolution is conducting a survey and would like to hear from anyone working in the area of family law. The survey offers the opportunity to help make a difference and change the shape of family law.

Resolution wants to gain the insight of family law professionals, including those who are not actively involved in Resolution. This feedback will enable them to better support their members and, more importantly, the families they help in their day-to-day work.

By completing the survey you also have the chance to win £220 to spend on any Resolution service such as training or publications; or an iPad mini.

Make your voice heard

Monday, January 25, 2016

News Essentials: 25th January 2016

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

New CAP Orders released by the President
The President has released a set of overhauled orders to be used under the Child Arrangements Programme. Full story: Family Law Hub.

Family Justice Written statement to Parliament
Update on investigation into faulty online form used in divorce proceedings. Full story: Ministry of Justice.

Length of High Court financial remedy case skeleton arguments to be reduced
The recent drive to ensure court documents are kept concise is continuing, with Mostyn J revising his guidance on the efficient conduct of financial remedy hearings allocated to a High Court Judge. Full story: Family Law.

President issues consultation on draft adoption guidance
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has today sent around for consultation a draft proposal for guidance to replace the President’s Guidance: Listing Final Hearings in Adoption cases from 3 October 2008. Full story: Family Law.

President publishes consultation on proposed amendments to Bundle PD - PD27A
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has today (19 January 2016) published a Memorandum proposing amendments to the Bundles PD - PD27A. Full story: Family Law.

Ismail v Choudhry [2016] EWCA Civ 17 (22 January 2016)
Appeal against declaration that a marriage which took place in Pakistan was valid and therefore recognised in this jurisdiction. Appeal allowed. Full report: Bailii.

P (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 3 (20 January 2016)
Appeal by mother against care and placement orders. Appeal dismissed. Full report: Bailii.

D (A Child), Re (No 3) [2016] EWFC 1 (14 January 2016
Care proceedings. Application by local authority for placement order, in case where both parents suffer learning disabilities. Full report: Bailii.

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For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter (which includes links to all of the week's top family law news stories, cases, articles and blog posts), go here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

The show goes on

Whilst this blog enters its eleventh year, the show goes on over at Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog, where my posts this week included the following:

Wardship: When nothing else will do - As in the case Re S (Wardship).

A misconceived application - The Northern Ireland Magistrates’ Court decision Jones v Ivors.

Should civil partnership be available to all? - Looking at that topical question.

Protecting children from perpetrators of domestic abuse - Looking at Women’s Aid’s Child First campaign. See also this post.

Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

‘Nineteen Child Homicides’: Women’s Aid launches new report and campaign to protect children in the family courts and prevent further avoidable child deaths

Women’s Aid launches ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’ report and Child First campaign
“No parent should have to hold their children and comfort them as they die”
Claire Throssell, mother to Jack and Paul, both killed in 2014 by their father

The national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has today launched a major new campaign, ‘Child First’. The campaign calls on the family courts and the Government to put the safety of children back at the heart of all decisions made by the family court judiciary. Child First launches alongside the report, ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’. The report tells the stories of the cases of nineteen children, all intentionally killed by a parent who was also a known perpetrator of domestic abuse. These killings were made possible through unsafe child contact arrangements, formal and informal. Over half of these child contact arrangements were ordered through the courts.
Key Statistics from ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’
● 19 children killed from 12 families
● 2 mothers killed
● 2 children seriously harmed through attempted murder
● For 7 out of the 12 families, the contact had been ordered through court

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
“There is a misguided belief within the family courts and among judges that, because a relationship has ended, so has the domestic abuse. Survivors frequently report to us that they and their children are re-victimised and traumatised by their abusers, even after separation, through the family court process. This trauma makes it extremely difficult for the non-abusive parent to advocate clearly and effectively for the safety of their child. In the criminal courts, there are protection measures in place to give victims fair access to justice. This is not the case in the family courts. For example, it is common for victims of domestic abuse to be cross-examined by the perpetrator. This must end.

“The desire by the family courts to treat parents in exactly the same way, and get cases over with quickly, blinds them to the consequences of unsafe child contact. As the report ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’ shows, these consequences can be fatal. The culture of, ‘contact with the child, no matter what’, must end. Less than 1% of child contact applications are refused[i], but we know that domestic abuse features in around 70% of CAFCASS caseloads, and in 70-90% of cases going to the family courts[ii]. Clearly, the system is failing. The best interests of children should be the overriding principle of the family courts, but far too often this is simply not the case."

Claire Throssell, mother to Jack and Paul, both killed in 2014 by their father, said:
“No parent should have to hold their children and comfort them as they die, or be told that their child has been harmed in an act of revenge or rage. Having experienced the family court judicial process and its protocols, the tragic outcome that occurred - whilst court proceedings were still ongoing - exposes flaws and malpractice within family law.
 “All too often children’s voices are not heard or acted upon. Attending court is an emotional, frightening and at times a traumatic experience which nobody decides to initiate lightly - but does so to protect their children’s physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Women’s Aid urges the Government and family courts to  undertake two key recommendations from ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’, in order to protect children and their non-abusive parent, and stop further avoidable child deaths. These form the two campaign asks of ‘Child First’:

1)      Further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children first in the family courts - as the legal framework and guidance states.

Ensure that domestic abuse is identified and its impact fully considered by the family court judiciary. Child contact arrangement orders must put the best interests of the child(ren) first and protect the well-being of the parent the child is living with, in accordance with ‘Practice direction 12 J Child arrangements & Contact order: Domestic violence and harm’. There is an urgent need for independent, national oversight into the implementation of Practice Direction 12J.
2)      Make the family courts fit for purpose through the introduction of protection measures for survivors of domestic abuse
Ensure survivors of domestic abuse attending the family court have access to protection measures, similar to those available in criminal courts. Survivors of domestic abuse should always have access to a separate waiting room or area, and judges must ensure there is time for the non-abusive parent to leave court safely before releasing the perpetrator.  
Professor Evan Stark, Ph.D, MSW, Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University, said: 
“Nineteen Child Homicides describes one devastating consequence of the Family Court’s failure to make safety a priority in contact orders.  But child deaths from unsafe contact are only the most tragic outcome of the huge gap that separates the justice for abused women and the failure of the Family Court to protect children and the non-abusive parent.  Child First aims to close this gap.”
Sarah Forster, family law barrister and Deputy District Judge, said:
“I am supporting Child First to help drive the culture change needed within the family courts to keep children safe. There must never again be a report such as ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’. Everyone within the family court system must work together to stop avoidable child deaths. It can, and must, be done.”
John Bolch, solicitor, family law blogger and writer, said:
“As a former family lawyer with over 20 years of experience, and having seen all too many such tragedies reported, I wholeheartedly support this campaign."

“It is, in my view, high time that the Family Justice System abandoned any reliance on the proposition that a man can have a history of violence to the mother of his children but, nonetheless, be a good father.”[i]
Lord Justice Wall, 2006

To find out more about the campaign and download the report, go to
To sign the Child First petition go to

For more information or to arrange interviews with Child First spokespeople or case studies, please contact Alice Stride in the Women’s Aid Press Office on 0207 566 2511/ 07807 218687 or

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

‘Divorce Month’ January is not a media myth, says family charity

Jane Robey
Staff at a leading family charity say the idea January is ‘Divorce Month’ is alive and kicking after calls to its specialist helpline and website visits went through the roof in the first two weeks of 2016.

Statistics from National Family Mediation (NFM) show that whilst visits to had reached an all-time high in January 2015, this month’s figures have so far seen an increase of some 40 per cent even over last year’s peak. And calls to the charity’s 0300 4000 636 dispute resolution hotline have risen in January by 26 per cent compared with a year ago.

“Our analysis shows the idea that January is “Divorce Month” is no media myth, but a proven phenomenon,” says Jane Robey, NFM’s Chief Executive.

“Our experts are helping more families in crisis than ever before and it’s a challenge to meet the soaring demand.”

NFM is England and Wales’ largest provider of family mediation, enabling couples to find an alternative to the ‘traditional’ post-divorce route of a courtroom battle.

Although the most recent figures from Cafcass showed a small increase in private law cases coming to the courts, Jane Robey believes the soaring approaches to National Family Mediation reflects the changing way couples approach their divorce.

“People are increasingly self-researching their options, cogitating, calculating and considering the most productive next steps, rather than heading straight to a lawyer,” she says.

“Research shows family mediation is cheaper, quicker and produces better outcomes than using the legal route. Families can keep control of vital day-to-day arrangements for finance, property and parenting, agreeing long-term solutions that are based on the family members’ unique circumstances, rather than being determined by a family court judge.”

National Family Mediation’s expert professionals achieve full agreement in over 80 per cent of cases.

People who want to find out more about how family mediation can help them after divorce or separation can call 0300 4000 636 or visit

For more information or to arrange an interview contact Richard Wyatt, NFM PR & Marketing Manager by replying to this email or by phone  0300 4000 636 (usually available weekday mornings)

Internet Newsletter for Lawyers January/February 2016

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

In this issue

  • Publishers – Paul Magrath describes how ICLR are developing their service by expanding coverage online only
  • Resources – Delia Venables looks at the most important sites for free current awareness legal resources online
  • Conveyancing – Matthew Lancaster of Pracctice tells us about Free2Convey, the new free conveyancing portal
  • Marketing – Gavin Ward of Moore Legal Technology provides his ten top tips for effective content distribution
  • Technologies – Alex Heshmaty of Legal Words on driverless cars, their relevance to lawyers and the legal issues
  • Resources – Rosalind English describes the background and current activities of UK Human Rights Blog
  • Documents – Nick Holmes offers guidelines for working with documents sourced via the internet

Access the Newsletter online

Monday, January 18, 2016

Ten years man and blog

Today marks the tenth anniversary of this blog. There will be no party, although I may sup a glass of wine later...

Meanwhile here, in no particular order, are ten highlights/memories/bits of trivia from the last ten years:

1. As an indication of how old the blog is, the first real post I wrote referred to the alleged plot by Fathers 4 Justice to kidnap Prime Minister Tony Blair's youngest son Leo (who, incidentally, was the first legitimate child born to a serving Prime Minister in over 150 years). Fathers 4 Justice denied any involvement and the whole thing quickly fizzled out. Leo is now 15.

2. I am actually only a co-author of this blog. My other co-author is Muhammad the cat, named in honour of the Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case in 2007. Muhammad helped me write a series of posts here starting in 2007 but, being a very sensible cat, he retired from blogging in 2009.

3. The blog has also been greatly supported by the country's top family law firm, Venal & Grabbit. Never shy of an opportunity for cheap publicity to promote the image of family lawyers, Senior Partner Edgar Venal was a regular contributor here, at least until he bought was granted a peerage, since when he says that he "hasn't had the time to deal with the little people".

4. Edgar Venal was also the central character in one of the most pleasurable things I have written on Family Lore, the 'novella' Bleak Spouse. In fact, I so enjoyed writing it that I followed it up with three other stories: The FirmThe Rainmaker and And Justice For None. I've no idea how many people read the stories (see point 9 below), but they were a light relief for me from the nitty gritty of family law in the real world.

5. I effectively stopped allowing comments on the blog about three years back. The reason for this was that about 90% of the comments comprised spam, requests for free advice and people using this blog as a platform for their tedious 'corrupt family courts' mantra. There was very little that could be called reasonable debate. Having dealt with the nonsense for about seven years I decided that I had better things to do with my time.

6. The 29th of July 2009 was a momentous day, when I left practice. I vowed never to return, and have kept that vow. Instead, I have since been working as a freelance writer on family law, here and elsewhere (see point 10 below). I can honestly say that I have not for one moment regretted my decision.

7. For nearly four years I awarded a Post of the Month Oscar to the best law blog post I came across each month. The feature seemed to be quite popular (at least with the award winners), but it really belonged to a time when law blogs were personal things, rather than commercial tools, as most now are. The feature therefore seemed to lose relevance and I consigned it to blogging history in 2012.

8. The most popular post in the blog's ten years was probably Consent Order Conundrum, I have no idea how many pageviews it has received in total (see next point), but it attracted 105 comments. In the end replying to the comments was simply taking up too much of my time (see point 5 above), and I had to stop allowing comments on the post. Despite dating back to October 2006, the post still apparently receives a fair few pageviews each month.

9. I have long since stopped worrying about stats for the blog, However, at some point Google (who own Blogger, the platform that the blog uses) started providing some basic stats. Those show that since that point the blog has had over one and a half million pageviews. The total number of pageviews for the blog is therefore something in excess of that figure. Exactly how much, I neither know nor care.

10. Finally, since 2013 I have been writing daily (well, weekdays at least) for the excellent Marilyn Stowe Family Law & Divorce Blog. Marilyn saw something in my writing (I'm not quite sure what) and I will be eternally grateful for her giving me the opportunity to write for her. Hopefully, the posts I have written, or at least some of them, have been of interest.

News Essentials: 18th January 2016

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

Law will be changed to increase adoptions, government announces
Education secretary Nicky Morgan unveils measures to prioritise permanence and therapeutic care in placement decisions for vulnerable children. Full story: Community Care. See also this DfE press release.

Care applications in December 2015
In December 2015, Cafcass received a total of 1,092 care applications.  This figure represents a 17% increase compared to those received in December 2014. Full story: Cafcass.

Cafcass private law demand
In December 2015, Cafcass received a total of 2,991 new private law cases.  This is a 12% increase on December 2014 levels. Full story: Cafcass.

Interim Civil Courts structure report published by Lord Justice Briggs looks towards a more modern justice system
Lord Justice Briggs yesterday (12 January 2016) published an interim report concerning civil court structures and judicial processes as a whole. Full story: Family Law.

S (wardship), Re [2016] EWFC B1 (06 January 2016)
Proceedings concerning a 12 year old boy whose mother lacks capacity and whose father resides in Poland. Full report: Bailii.

Maughan v Wilmot [2016] EWHC 29 (Fam) (13 January 2016)
Application by husband to set aside child maintenance order on the basis that it had invalidly provided that it should be served upon him by email in Turkey. Application dismissed. Full report: Bailii.

Raani v Charazi [2015] EWFC B202 (24 August 2015)
Application by Queen's Proctor to set aside Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute and to dismiss divorce petition, on the basis of fraud. Full report: Bailii.

Li Quan v Bray [2015] EWCA Civ 1253 (04 December 2015)
Application by the wife for permission to appeal against order in financial remedy proceedings declaring that assets held in a trust were not a resource of the husband. Permission granted. Full report: Bailii.

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For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter (which includes links to all of the week's top family law news stories, cases, articles and blog posts), go here.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

News Essentials: 11th January 2016

A brief summary of the essential family law news and cases since my last News Essentials post on the 21st December:

Irish High Court judgment changes understanding of priority of proceedings under EU Brussels II
A recent High Court judgment in the Republic of Ireland may significantly affect the practices of international divorce lawyers across Europe. Full story: Family Law Week. See MH v MH, below.

DoE publishes findings of special guardianship review
Report highlights need for proper assessment at the start of each case. Full story: Family Law Week.

Judge criticises council over boy cared for by convicted paedophile
Social services staff have come under fire after a family court judge heard how a boy spent at least two years living with a relative who was a convicted paedophile. Full story: The Guardian.

Controlling or coercive domestic abuse to risk five-year prison term
CPS given new powers to bring charges if evidence is found of repeated offences within intimate or family relationships. Full story: The Guardian.

MH v MH [2015] IEHC 771 (2 December 2015)
Irish High Court case concerning a divorce race between the wife's petition for divorce made at the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre and the husband's application for judicial separation in Ireland. The judge found that the English court was first seised. Full report: via Family Law Hub.

B (A Child) [2015] EWCA Civ 1041 (15 September 2015)
Application by mother for permission to appeal against order transferring residence of 3 year old child to father. Permission refused. Full report: Bailii.

B (Children), Re [2015] EWCA Civ 1302 (21 December 2015)
Appeal by father against order permitting the mother of his two children to re-locate from England and Wales in order to take up permanent residence with her new husband in Abu Dhabi. Full report: Bailii.

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For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

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

Friday, January 08, 2016

Family Mediators Association calls for better support for divorcing couples as survey shows huge gap in access to information

Family mediators are calling for more practical information and support for divorcing and separating couples. A recent survey by the Family Mediators Association revealed that couples are struggling to access the information they need to help them make informed decisions about their family and financial issues, with up to 38% of people unaware that there are more ways to resolve these issues than going to court or using a solicitor.

 The poll, conducted by YouGov in support of Family Mediation Week, revealed that people's satisfaction with the resolution of their issues is related to their access to information about their options - survey participants who were happiest with the outcome of their separation were those with the best access to information about the options available to them.

 Nationally, 49% of respondents reported that they felt positive about the outcome of their separation; this rose in areas where participants had the best access to information, but fell in parts of the UK where participants were unaware there were other options available. Nationwide, 15% of people were unaware that there were methods of resolution other than lawyers or court available, which rose to an astonishing 38% among younger respondents.

 Additionally, the survey revealed that almost a quarter of separating or divorcing couples pick a method for resolving their issues because it was the cheapest option available to them, but that few couples are aware how the costs of different resolution methods actually compare. Figures from the Ministry of Justice show that mediation tends to be far less expensive than many of its alternatives, but only 2% of respondents reported that they used a family mediation service compared to a total of 35% negotiating through court or solicitors, showing that couples aren't always aware there is a cheaper alternative.

 In light of these results, family mediators are calling for increased availability of practical information and support for separating couples trying to decide how to divide their assets or organise time with their children.

Beverley Sayers, chair of the Family Mediators Association, says: "This research reinforces what many of us in the mediation profession are experiencing on a daily basis. People simply aren't aware of the options available to them when they separate or divorce, but - as the research findings show - people who make informed decisions based on information and knowledge are generally happier with the outcome of their separation.

"That is precisely why we are supporting Family Mediation Week, which has a single aim: to increase awareness of the benefits of mediation for separating families, to help more people make informed choices about the resolution methods that are best for them and avoid having decisions imposed on them by the courts."

Running from January 11th-15th, Family Mediation Week aims to empower divorcing and separating couples to make the best decisions for themselves and their families through improving transparency, education, and availability of information. Throughout the week, family mediators will organise initiatives and resources for the public to help raise awareness of family mediation. These include blogs, videos and online resources on the Family Mediation Week website, as well as events and drop-in sessions run by family mediation professionals across the UK.

For more information, please visit:

Family Mediation Week

The Family Mediators Association

Ministry of Justice

Grandparents are the forgotten victims of ‘Divorce Month’, says charity

The plight of grandparents who lose touch with their grandchildren as a result of a divorce is being highlighted by a national family charity.

January is widely regarded as ‘divorce month’, as many couples emerge from Christmas with a new year resolution to kick off separate lives. Enquiries to family dispute specialists and divorce-related web searches traditionally soar this month.

But National Family Mediation says too little attention is given to the impact on grandparents, and the charity has made available a special free leaflet online and in hard copy to help guide grandparents who find themselves in this position.

“Too often grandparents take an unseen hit from divorce as they lose contact with the grandchild they love,” says Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation.

“The fact is that grandparents have no automatic right to be part of their grandchild’s life.

“Divorce can shatter grandparents’ lives as much as the couple involved, because it can mean contact with the grandchildren they love is suddenly blocked.”

As the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, NFM has made available a free leaflet aimed specifically at grandparents in this situation. Copies can be obtained by calling 0300 4000 636 or downloaded free online at

Recent data shows that seven grandparents a day make applications for a court order to see a grandchild after the divorce or separation of the child’s parents

“It’s understandable that anxious grandparents reach for the legal route, but making an approach to court should be used only as a last resort,” Jane Robey added. “Experience tells us the huge majority those applying for court orders know little about alternative ways to resolve family disputes, including family mediation, which is often the best way for grandparents to resume the contact they so badly want with family members.

“Grandparents who feel unable to contact the adults who care for their grandchild can approach a mediation service for help. Family mediators can discuss with them the best way of inviting their relatives to participate in a process which is usually quicker, cheaper and far less stressful than going to court.”

Legal aid remains available for mediation.

Hopes and fears

My posts on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog during this first week of the year included the following:

Happy New Year? My hopes for 2016 - Not that they'll come to fruition...

Is Divorce Day good or bad publicity for lawyers? - Or, think before you use it to advertise your services.

Changing residence to bring litigation to an end - The case B (A Child).

Putting the children first - A little advice for parents.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

New research on Resolution's Family Matters service shows a new way forward for work with separating families

A new research report based on Resolution’s ground-breaking Family Matters service, has revealed new insights into practice for professionals working with separating families. This research, conducted by Dr Christine Skinner from the University of York focused on understanding the experience of delivering this new experimental model of practice that aimed to work jointly with both separating parents. The Family Matters service was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions under the Help and Support for Separating Families (HSSF) programme.

The research report was unveiled at a launch event in London in December under the ESRC’s international seminar entitled 'Divorce and Separation: New Models of Professional Practice’, with a thought-provoking debate looking at different practice models, including the revolutionary Australian Family Relationship Centres.

The Family Matters service, which ran in Crewe, Newcastle and Oxford, employing trained lawyer-mediators to work as “Guides” for separating and separated families no longer eligible for legal aid since the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2013 removed most family legal aid. Over the course of 30 months of operation, the service managed to help 1,570 families in Oxford, Newcastle and Crewe, with 96% of clients reporting the support they received was beneficial.

Importantly, Family Matters Guides, while bringing their professional experience to bear in their work with parents, did not act as a lawyer or a mediator, instead they operated in a hybrid mode providing neutral legal information and support to enable them to work with both parents to help them move towards resolution in a non-adversarial way.

Dr Christine Skinner, Reader in Social Policy at University of York, says: “this was an exceptional innovation created by Resolution. It pushed the boundaries of traditional legal practice to explore how professionals might combine a set of skills to work with parents together in a neutral way to help them make their own agreements in the best interests of their children’. It has generated a lot of valuable knowledge about the challenges of engaging both parents in the process of resolution and it will continue to inform debates about the future of practice among family law professionals for some time to come.”
Family Matters trialled a new approach to practice, with research into the model finding many implications for professional practice with separating families:

· The unique, new approach of the Family Matters Guides, combining the roles of mediator and lawyer without the traditional professional constraints of either, allowed them to work more impartially and collaboratively with parents.
· The research identified a possible ‘early stage’ in the separation process or dispute in which parents needed intensive support to help them ‘move on’ to the next stage to resolution.
· The Family Matters Guides believed that the “neutral voice” they provided helped parents to minimise conflict during the separation process and enabled them to keep their relationship more stable while they decided their next course of action and, importantly, helped them to become ready for mediation.

Read the full report

Resolution’s Ida Forster, manager of the Family Matters service, says: “Resolution is proud to have provided the Family Matters service and supported separating families with help and guidance that, as this research shows, was truly beneficial in helping them manage their separation with less conflict. We hope that the insights from this research will be taken on board by Government and policy-makers in deciding the best way to support families dealing with divorce and separation in the post-legal aid landscape.”

Monday, January 04, 2016

"Divorce Day" should focus on finding solutions for separated families

Today (4 January) is what the media calls "Divorce Day", the day when enquiries about divorce to family lawyers are alleged to peak.

A poll of Resolution's family lawyer members taken at the outset of 2015 found that 82% did not report a spike in enquiries in the first week of January. However, we do know that there is a substantial increase in people searching for information online about family law and separation during January. This suggests that focus should be shifted from sensationalising "Divorce Day" to ensuring families have access to appropriate and balanced information about managing separation in a way that minimises conflict and the impact on children.

Jo Edwards, chair of Resolution, says:

"We do know that January is the time when online searches for information about divorce and separation reach their peak. The festive season can be difficult for many families, fraught as it is with expectations and obligations. Many may have already decided before Christmas that they wish to separate, but hold off doing so until the New Year for the sake of the family. But to dub today "Divorce Day" trivialises the very painful and difficult decisions couples make when they separate."

"In fact, 82% of Resolution members polled reported that they did not see any immediate spike in new cases or enquiries at the beginning of 2015, which suggests that most people are looking for information initially, rather than taking immediate action on 1 January."

"Many of these people may not go on to separate - some will benefit from counselling support such as that offered by Relate. For those that do separate, I would advise exploring a lower-conflict dispute resolution channel such as mediation, collaborative practice or arbitration, which can minimise the impact of separation on children and future relationships. If your New Year's resolution is to separate, there is a better way to do it."

Breaking point: New year divorce alert for family dispute specialists

Family dispute specialists at a national charity are preparing for their busiest fortnight of the year, as couples across the district make it their new year resolution to go their own separate ways.

Staff at National Family Mediation (NFM) are asking couples for whose relationships Christmas proved the final straw 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.

January sees a traditional rise in divorce and separation, as families emerge from the festive season having been battered by pressures on finances and relationships that have endured for some time but have been highlighted during the holiday.

"Our professional mediators are on new year alert, expecting a flood of enquiries,” says Jane Robey, NFM Chief Executive. “There will be many local couples who’ve decided for sure in the last couple of weeks to separate, but they’ll need more information about their options. It’s important they consider all the possible ways they can make arrangements for parenting, property and finance.

“Many couples think they must head off to a solicitor to prepare for a very expensive and protracted court room confrontation in which they can achieve a ‘victory’ over their ex. But there is a better way to manage your separation, and if you open your eyes to family mediation you’ll find it much quicker, much cheaper and much less stressful.

“Professional mediators are highly skilled third party negotiators with experience in helping families create long-term solutions that work well for their particular circumstances. Rather than leaving it to a court to decide who will live where, what happens to the money, debts and pensions, and arrangements for the children, mediation empowers families themselves to decide these things. It’s their future after all.

“You can head off to a family court for an acrimonious court room drama, or instead choose to talk with a professional family mediator who will help you agree on the vital things that need to be sorted for the future. Family mediation is a much, much quicker process, allowing you to remain in control of all the decisions affecting your family’s future,” she added.

Legal Aid remains available for family mediation.

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