John Bolch on what family lawyers were talking about this week

Family Law|Industry News|May 2nd 2014

The Law Society Gazette has reported that an ‘early adopter’ of the new family court system has criticised the reforms, for causing delays and making it harder for the public to gain access. The ‘single point of entry’ meant that people could no longer go to their local court but had to go to the designated court, which could be an hour away, and the requirement to attend a mediation information and assessment meeting (‘MIAM’) was creating delay and expense, which could prevent a party from issuing proceedings where the other party refuses to co-operate. A Ministry of Justice spokesman is quoted as saying: “Our reforms will keep families away from the negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court they happen in the least damaging way.”

A professional poker player has won a legal battle to not have to use his winnings to support his children because his income is not from ‘gainful employment’. The Court of Appeal agreed that Tony Hakki’s poker playing was not organised enough to amount to a trade, business or profession and therefore did not fall within the regulations of child support. The former stockbroker has played poker for many years and is well known in the community as ‘Tony the Hitman Hakki.’

The family law sector will eventually be dominated by organised and self-regulated fee-charging McKenzie Friends (‘FCMFs’) and counsel, an industry observer has claimed. John Junk, managing director of self-representation advice service Family Court Support, said that the solicitors’ branch of the legal industry could suffer “severe detriment” as a result of the “inexorable rise” of FCMFs in family law.

The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has suggested that divorce could be taken out of the hands of judges and dealt with by a ‘registrar of births, deaths, marriages and divorces’. Where divorce is by consent and does not involve children, Munby said, other jurisdictions deal with it as an administrative matter. The same thing, he suggested, should be considered here. He also said that he is keen to tackle the injustice faced by cohabiting couples when they separate. Despite a call for change by the Law Commission, he said, ‘thus far nothing has happened’. The essential problem, he said, is that women whose wealthy partners have refused to marry them may have been in lengthy relationships and made the same career and financial sacrifices to look after children that married women have made, but as the law stands they are entitled to nothing when the relationship ends. I’m not sure exactly how he intends to tackle this problem, but let’s hope he does.

An independent evaluation of the pilot Family Drug and Alcohol Court (‘FDAC’) has found that parents who had been through the FDAC process, as opposed to ordinary care proceedings, were more likely to stop misusing substances and, if they did so, more likely to be reunited with their children. FDAC is a new way of dealing with care proceedings when parental substance misuse is causing harm to children. Unlike conventional care proceedings, parents in FDAC see the same judge throughout and meet with them every fortnight. They also receive support from a multi-disciplinary team, which helps them access substance misuse services and provides assistance in tackling other problems such as housing, domestic violence and financial hardship. The FDAC pilot ran from January 2008 to March 2012 at the Inner London Family Proceedings Court. The court continues to sit, despite recent concerns over its funding and the effect of the new 26-week time limit for care proceedings.

With that, another week draws to an end. Have a good weekend and Early May bank holiday.

Photo by  ex_libris_gul via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

Author: John Bolch

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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