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

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Well, not a lot, actually. Perhaps they were all too busy dealing with the post-Christmas surge in new divorce cases. Anyway, here is what I found:

The University of Exeter Law School has published research into the enforcement of contact orders. Amongst its findings are that adequate ‘punitive sanctions’ are already in place to enforce contact orders, and that there are actually very few cases of ‘implacably hostile’ mothers, intent upon thwarting contact at all costs. Certainly, this ties in with my own experience practising family law. In the light of this conclusion the researchers recommend that policy should “refocus somewhat away from the few implacably hostile cases requiring punitive sanctions and towards finding sustainable, safe and child-centred solutions to the full range of enforcement cases.” We will have to see whether policy in this area is, indeed, influenced by this recommendation.

The new Justice Minister Simon Hughes has wasted no time promoting mediation. In a press release timed to coincide with the January upsurge in divorces the Ministry of Justice reminds us of the ‘new law’ that ‘will keep separating parents and couples away from court’. The ‘new law’ is, in fact, the provision in the Children and Families Bill that will require anyone who wants to apply for a court order about a children or financial matter must first attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (‘MIAM’). This provision has, of course, been in the pipeline for some time, but any good Justice Minister will never miss an opportunity to sing the praises of mediation.

A survey by counselling charity Relate has found that six out of ten separated parents who have been through a split doubt that it is possible to have a ‘good’ separation. Further, more than half of them admitted that, despite their efforts to minimise the pain, the experience had had a negative effect upon their children. The survey also illustrated how protracted most separations can be, with only 40 per cent of those polled saying that they had completed the process within a year, and one in ten saying that it had taken more than five years. All pretty depressing stuff but not, perhaps, entirely surprising.

One survey per week is not, unfortunately, enough these days. Another one, commissioned by a certain legal services company, told us that only a quarter of couples who move in together actively see it as a step towards getting married. This is also not surprising. Nor is the finding that almost a third of those polled wrongly believed that couples who live together have the same financial rights as married couples, because of the widespread belief in the idea of “common law” marriage. This issue could, of course, largely be rectified by the Government, if only it had the will to reform the law by granting property rights to cohabitants.

Lastly, and I’m not sure this is really news, a story in a certain national newspaper (and elsewhere) tells us that a fifth of separating couples found deciding who gets the dog “as stressful” as who should care for the children. We are also told that in response to this “more and more dog owners are considering signing prenuptial agreements to avoid custodial battles over their four-legged friends”. Well, I suppose it’s all more work for the lawyers…

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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  1. Stitchedup says:

    More B.S. from the university of Exeter, their politics are well known by now.

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