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

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The instigator of a considerable number of conversations between lawyers this week was none other than ‘our own’ Marilyn Stowe, after her article ‘Magic pill’ mediation is wrong prescription was published in the Law Society Gazette on Monday. Anyone who has read my posts here will know that I agree with Marilyn’s assertion that mediation is not a cure-all for family law, as many, particularly the Government, would have you believe.

Her article has certainly stimulated a vigorous debate, with mediation’s supporters indignantly rejecting any criticism whatsoever of their ‘baby’, as they always do.

Amongst the various current trends indicated in the tenth annual Grant Thornton survey of UK family lawyers, the one that made the headlines was that the economy and legal aid changes are having an effect on divorce work. Half (49%) of respondents said they had seen a decrease in the number of divorces due to the recession while 79% of respondents considered that the recession has led people to delay commencing divorce proceedings. As the survey only canvassed the opinions of 85 of the UK’s ‘leading family lawyers’, I’m not sure how much store is to be given to these figures, although they do seem to confirm what we already knew.

A report by the research group the Tavistock Institute, funded by the Department for Education, has concluded that encouraging couples to go to marriage courses or relationship counselling sessions could ultimately save taxpayers billions of pounds a year, by reducing family break-up. Sounds good, but would getting couples to ‘try harder’ at their relationships actually result in that many more staying together? My experience as a family lawyer suggested that most couples do not break up for trivial reasons, without ‘giving it a go’.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that, in their response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on court fess, family lawyers’ association Resolution has said that there is “no justification” for government plans to increase the court fee for initiating divorce proceedings from £410 to £750. I suspect that there is hardly a family lawyer in the country who would disagree. The Ministry of Justice said in its consultation document Court Fees: Proposals for reform that it believed “that divorcing couples would be prepared to pay a higher fee”. Well, perhaps the better-off ones might be (although I doubt it), but I’m sure that most people of ‘ordinary’ means would not.

And finally, a lesson in how not to treat your ex. On Wednesday The Telegraph reported a rather unusual case in which the parties continued to live together for some years after they were divorced. Eventually, the husband met another woman and moved her into the matrimonial home. He then suggested to his former wife that she remain in the property “as some sort of housekeeper”. He couldn’t understand why she became “so aggressive” when informed of the new arrangements. I can think of a few women who could explain this to him…

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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