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Rocket science

When I was a child growing up in the 1960s and early 1970s I was bitten by the space bug. I watched all of the Apollo launches, collected newspaper clippings and made models of the spacecraft. My enthusiasm may have dimmed somewhat in the years since as NASA’s budget was cut back but, as I have said here before, I do try to watch as many rocket launches as I can, now that most of them are broadcast on the internet.

So it was on Sunday afternoon, when I sat in front of my computer to watch the latest Falcon 9 launch by SpaceX. All went well initially, as the rocket climbed into the sky. Then, suddenly, something did not look quite right. I watched in horror as the rocket was engulfed in a cloud of smoke, which then dissipated to reveal a shower of smoking debris.

There followed various comments from experts on Twitter and elsewhere. This included some speculation about what may have happened, but the overwhelming sentiment was to remind readers that rocket science is hard.

To compare something to rocket science is a cliché we have all come across, and I’m sure I’ve heard it used in connection with family law. Lawyers from other areas of the profession consider that family law is easy – after all, it’s not rocket science.

They do have a point. In its essence, I suppose that family law is quite straightforward. There are only really a couple of major statutes, which set out the few basic principles that guide most of what family lawyers do, and most of those principles boil down to little more than common sense.

Yes, I can see why lawyers who have never done any family law work might think that it is easy. However, if they had actually done the work they would have quickly realised that its practical application can be anything but easy. The problem is that family lawyers have to deal with the whole gamut of human experiences – they come across every imaginable set of circumstances, and many that they could not imagine. Add to that the emotive nature of the work and suddenly the application of simple rules is not quite so easy.

The complexities faced by family lawyers can take many forms. There may, for example, be international complexities, particularly with modern families moving between different jurisdictions. Families themselves can be extremely complex, with multiple relationships and issues such as surrogacy. Or it may just be that the parties have entered into complex family arrangements, which then have to be unpicked by the lawyers.

Family law can also involve very difficult issues, particularly when it comes to sorting out arrangements for children, which could affect their entire lives. I have written here on a number of occasions about the difficult decisions that our family courts are regularly faced with, for example in this post.

So no, family law is not rocket science, but it can still be extremely challenging for all of those involved in it. Any budding lawyer who may choose it as an ‘easy option’ is likely to be sorely disappointed, and is also unlikely to make a good family lawyer.

Digressing a little, I also wonder whether this idea that family law is easy encouraged the government to virtually abolish legal aid for most family law matters. Perhaps they felt that family law cases are the sort of thing that people can deal with on their own, without the need for a lawyer. If this was part of the thinking, it was sorely misguided, and many thousands of litigants are now paying the price, not to mention the judges who have to deal with them. Family law is not easy.

So, if anyone ever tells you that family law is not rocket science, smile back at them and say: “No, and rocket science is not family law.”

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. Devil's Advocate says:

    Yes quite correct John; one rider.
    Family (Law) in respect of Private Law. *Responsible Parity of Parenting would help ease aspects of engagement with families where the best interest of children would be ensured.
    The Supreme Court in the USA has as has been reported to me outlawed parental alienation. Wow, what ever next; we just need the empirical behavioural science evidence to support this to enact that above at*.

  2. Wistilia says:

    Most cases are very simple in fact.

    However, common sense flies out the windows in the Family Courts, particularly when one or both parties are on Legal Aid.

    Hence why cases without Lawyers are completed far more quickly as the MOJ stats show.

  3. Nordic says:

    I agree. If rocket science was anything like english family law, we would still have to read Jules Verne to get an idea of how our globe looks from above.
    I also agree that English family law is extremely challenging, at least for the poor souls who find themselves within its all encompassing grasp. This complexity far exceeds that of other jurisdictions and is in many areas totally unnecessary. It is not made for families, but family law professionals and the end result is that we have something like 5 times more family lawyers per million inhabitant in this country compared with the Nordics.
    So, next time you bemoan the self made difficulties and complexities confronting the poor family lawyer, try to remember what an easy living it affords them.

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