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What family lawyers were talking about this week… by John Bolch

As I mentioned in this post, this week is the second Family Dispute Resolution Week organised by Resolution, the association of family lawyers. The aim is to raise awareness of alternatives to court for separating couples and their families, which is particularly appropriate now that legal aid is no longer available for most private family law matters. The week began with Resolution announcing the results of a survey which indicated a “worrying lack of awareness” and “ill-founded scepticism” amongst the public about ways to settle family disputes out of court, such as mediation. Unfortunately, as I mentioned in my very first post, an unforeseen side-effect of the legal aid cuts is fewer people going to mediation, which is likely to put many mediators out of business. Let us just hope that there are sufficient mediators available to deal with those cases for which it is appropriate.

The so-called “Clare’s Law”, also known as the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, is to be expanded to cover all of England and Wales. It enables people to check the police record of their partners. I hope that this will help reduce the scourge of domestic violence, but I have to say that I have always been dubious. How many people at the start of a new relationship with someone they are obviously fond of are going to stop and think: “Oh, hang on, I’ll just check with the police to see if they’ve ever been convicted of a violent offence”? They are only likely to check if they have suspicions, and if they have suspicions then they are likely to have already decided to ‘break it off’. And if they don’t break it off, a negative check may give them a false sense of security, and encourage them to carry on with the relationship, rather than rely on their gut feelings.

On Monday the Department for Work & Pensions announced that the new Child Maintenance Service was open to all new applicants. Just to clarify, this means that anyone wishing to apply for child support maintenance must now apply to the Child Maintenance Service, rather than the Child Support Agency. The Child Support Service will eventually replace the Child Support Agency, once the Agency’s caseload has been transferred. The ‘big idea’ behind this latest reform to child support is that the new Service will encourage more parents to come to their own arrangements, thereby saving the state the expense of assessing and collecting it for them. It is, of course, just more government spin, covering up a reduction in expenditure and pretending to deal with the horrendous failures of the past. The fact of the matter is that many parents already sort out child support/maintenance by agreement. Okay, a few more might be persuaded to do so in future, but the real issue has always been those who wilfully refuse to pay – all the new system will do is force those parents with care in such cases to have to pay for a service that was previously free.

Otherwise, I suppose the thing most discussed by family lawyers over their post-work glasses of Merlot this week must still be the decision in Young v Young, despite it being handed down at the end of last week. The judgment continues to be subjected to detailed analysis by learned jurists, even though the mainstream media has, for the time being at least, moved on to other juicy morsels. Whether this in-depth scrutiny will yield any profound insights remains to be seen but as has been pointed out on Twitter, in Dispute Resolution Week the case did stand out as an excellent advert for the merits of resolving disputes amicably!

And finally, I have only one thing to say about the lurid headlines this week involving a newly-divorced TV gourmand and an art collector: soiled garments are preferably cleansed in private.

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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