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

Children|Divorce|Family Law|Industry News | 13 Dec 2013 4

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The constant outpouring of news from the Government doesn’t even stop at the weekend any more. Last Sunday the Department for Work & Pensions issued a press release announcing another ten projects that will receive funding “to help separated couples resolve grievances and agree financial and parenting arrangements”. The release told us that: “The projects, worth £3.4m, will test new ways for separated parents to overcome conflicts that may have become entrenched over many years, as part of a £10m investment through the Innovation Fund.” It all sounds very impressive but it’s less than one hundredth of the sum that was cut from the legal aid budget – as I’ve said before, nothing more than another sticking plaster that will do little to cover the gaping wound left by the abolition of legal aid.

On similar lines, Monday brought the news that the Ministry of Justice is aware of the huge drop in mediation referrals since the abolition of legal aid, and is “working with the Family Mediation Council and legal profession to address it”. I mentioned this issue in my first post here. I’m sure the Family Mediation Council are eager to stop mediators from going out of business, but quite what the legal profession can do I’m not sure – after all, the abolition of legal aid has ‘taken them out of the loop’. Still, there is a grim sense of amusement watching the Government scrabble to resolve the obvious consequences of their ill thought-out policies. Not that that will give any succour to the victims of this particular debacle.

As was reported here, an adoption agency has been criticised for advertising children in local newspapers. Now, I know that there is a backlog of children waiting to be adopted, but I tend to agree with other family lawyers that this does seem somewhat distasteful, to say the least. I have not seen the original adverts, but I understand that they included ‘unblurred’ photographs of the children, unlike the images included in reports of the story in national newspapers. If so, this not only treats them as if they were second-hand goods, it also has legal implications regarding identification of the children. Hopefully, the media interest in this particular issue will do some good and discourage any further advertising along such lines.

The announcement by Equalities Minister Maria Miller that the first same-sex weddings can take place from the 29th of March next year, rather earlier than expected, was welcomed in many quarters. Ms Miller also said that she was “working hard” to ensure that those who wanted to convert civil partnerships into marriages would be able to do so before the end of next year. On that point, I suspect that the take-up of civil partnerships after next March is likely to be minimal. If so, then one has to wonder whether there will be a continued place for them.

Also welcome was the news from Cafcass that the number of both care applications and private law children’s cases has fallen. After a period of sustained increases in both, this will hopefully bring some relief to an over-stretched system.

On Thursday the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) issued a press release informing us that the number of parental child abduction and custody cases has more than doubled over the last decade, with almost two children being abducted abroad each day, according to new figures released by the FCO and charity, Reunite. This doesn’t come as a surprise, given the increasingly international nature of family life. It is, however, a worry, particularly as child abduction cases can be the most difficult and emotive cases to deal with, and not just for the parties involved.

And that’s it for another week. Please don’t let any government press releases spoil your 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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    1. Paul says:

      Restorative justice in family law? Who’s going to come and say “sorry” to me, the judge or the ex?

    2. Anonymous says:

      Where abduction is concerned, we can reasonably say that the legal industry has created this problem. Over the last several decades, it has conspired with twisted politicians, shoddy academics and angry misandritists, and worked hard to turn the notion of children into possessions. It has normalized the idea that mothers are sole owners of these ‘living properties’, and normalized the idea that a mother who does not have full ownership of her children is somehow a failure. It has pit mothers and fathers against one another like animals, and fed on the blood of the children at their feet. Where a mother feels she is likely to have to share, she is given incentive to abduct. Where a father feels that he is likely to be treated like a piece of trash, he may be likely to abduct.

      The lawyer or judge who stops bootlicking, and steps up to the plate to address the problems that the industry has created, will go down in history. The hacks that support the current system will be condemned.

    3. Stephanie Bamberger says:

      The controversy over the adoption ads is interesting – the Washington Post has a weekly column describing a child in foster care looking to be adopted that has been running for years with no controversy. In various cities around the U.S. (including Sacramento), there are photo exhibits around Valentine’s Day with professionally done photographs of children waiting to be adopted that are displayed in a gallery. These children are often then placed with a permanent family for adoption as a result of the publicity.

    4. Paul says:

      The way abduction works within the jurisdiction is this. Mother absconds with child, her solicitor interposes and father is left fighting in court to see his son. He climbs an ascending ladder of contact. It might take years. Now reverse the situation. A father leaves with his child. Mother phones the police, makes allegations, father is arrested and child is handed to mum. Case proceeds to court. Upshot is residence order to mother, prohibited steps order against father with supervised contact in a gulag if he’s lucky.

      A lawyer or two could always come on here and tell me it just ain’t so. I don’t think they’ll be many takers though.

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