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

The week began with more bad news for supporters of mediation. A Freedom of Information request from the Ministry of Justice revealed a continued decline in publicly funded family mediation, following changes to legal aid in April 2013. There were 665 mediation starts in November 2013 compared with 1173 in November 2012, a fall of 43 per cent. During November just six claims for payment for ‘help with mediation’ (legal advice in parallel with mediation) were lodged by family lawyers with the Legal Aid Agency. Meanwhile, the number of people attending Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) fell by 58% year-on-year. All of this yet more evidence that the government’s policy to encourage mediation is unravelling.

Mrs Justice Pauffley’s judgment in J and K (Children: Private Law) caused some headlines, in particular due to her suggestion to the parents that they sit down around the kitchen table and have a cup of tea. All very British. The case concerned a dispute between the parents over the arrangements for their twin boys, now aged twelve and a half. The dispute had dragged on for more than ten years, and concerned various issues, including parental responsibility, contact and even the boys’ last names. Between June 2003 and November 2013 there had been no fewer than twenty-four hearings. The judgment explains how, against the odds, the parents managed to resolve matters by agreement, and concluded with Mrs Justice Pauffley approving a shared residence arrangement.

Congratulations to the five new family law QCs appointed in this year’s round of Queen’s Counsel appointments. They are: Nicholas Goodwin of Harcourt Chambers, Charles Hale of 4 Paper Buildings, Elizabeth McGrath of St Phillips Chambers, Kathryn Skellorn of St John’s Chambers and William Tyler of 36 Bedford Row. The new ‘silks’ will be sworn in before the Lord Chancellor at a ceremony on the 14th of April.

In a speech at the Medico-Legal Society in Belfast, Supreme Court Justice Lord Wilson backed gay marriage, saying that he thought it would strengthen marriage rather than destroy it. He also suggested that divorce may have its benefits. He claimed that it “precipitates many more remarriages and in their wake come many more step-families and relationships of the half-blood.” So, he said, “the blended family now often replaces the nuclear family”. He continued: “I am not convinced that it is a bad thing: might it not be healthier for children to learn at a very early age to cope with relationships in a mixed and wider family group?” I’m sure these views won’t meet with universal approval, but I certainly agree with them.

And finally, a survey has shown that nearly one in ten British fathers harbour doubts over the paternity of their children. In some parts of the country, the figure rises to one in five men. Apart from location, other factors such as age of the parents, occupation and marital status were found to have a bearing. Are the results of the survey an interesting comment upon relationships in modern Britain, or just confirmation of something that has always been the case?

While you ponder that, I’ll wish you 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. Pam Arrowsmith says:

    Shakespeare was right all those years ago when he penned: “It’s a wise father who knows his own child”

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