‘Fake news’ is the expression of the moment, both literally and figuratively. We come across fake news everywhere: in the media, on social media, and even in personal conversations. It is of course nothing new, having since time immemorial been the tool of choice for those who wish to push their agendas, irrespective of where the truth may lay.
What is new, though, is the ease with which fake news can now be disseminated to vast swathes of society, at the click of a mouse button. This means that we are now faced with it at every turn, making it very easy to allow the odd snippet to slip under the guard of even the most critical listener or reader.
For the most part, this is not too much of a problem, but what if the fake news you have just fallen for relates to a personal family law problem that you are dealing with? It could then be a very serious matter indeed, clouding your judgement when it comes to making important choices about how you deal with that problem. If, for example, you are wrongly led to believe that the law works in a certain way, then you are likely to base your decisions upon that misconception, especially if, as is all the more likely nowadays, you don’t have the benefit of a lawyer’s guiding hand. The consequences could be disastrous for your case.
So how does the unsuspecting litigant protect themselves from the dangers of fake family law news? Well, I’m afraid I can’t offer a magic bullet that will protect you from every instance of fake news, but hopefully the following might assist.
The first, and obvious, point is always to consider the source of the news. This is not to say that, for example, only ‘highbrow’ newspapers should be trusted – the ‘tabloids’ can be sources of useful information, and the ‘highbrows’ are just as capable of getting things wrong. The important thing is the purpose behind the story – is it intended just to be informative, or is there an agenda behind it? The agenda may be as a simple as selling newspapers, by ‘sensationalising’ the story. Or it may be pushing some narrative, such as that the family justice system is biased against mothers/fathers/wives/husbands, as the case may be, or that it is corrupt, existing to line the pockets of greedy lawyers. Any news from such a source must be treated with the utmost caution.
But then, it is not always easy to determine which sources of family law news are trustworthy. To help, here are a couple of specific examples of family law news stories that should be approached with a healthy degree of scepticism:
- Firstly, any story that obviously gets the law wrong. Prime examples are the myths of the ‘quickie divorce’ and the ‘common law marriage’. There is no such thing as either, and anyone who suggests that there is more likely not to know what they are talking about.
- Secondly, as indicated above, anything suggesting bias on the part of the law, or the judge. The law isn’t biased, and whilst some judges may be (they are only human), the incidence of judicial bias is extremely low. The story may be trustworthy, but it is likely to be written with an agenda.
Generally speaking, government sources can be trusted to get things right, although even here there can be an agenda. For example, the Ministry of Justice regularly promotes mediation as a panacea to resolve all family law disputes (it’s not), thereby saving the taxpayer the cost of the court having to resolve those disputes. Much of the news from the Department for Work and Pensions regarding the current child support scheme is designed with the agenda of showing off the scheme (and therefore the government) in the best light, despite the scheme still failing thousands of families.
So where else do you go to find the truth when it comes to family law news? Well, it’s not rocket science. As you would expect, the best people to consult are the experts: the family lawyers. They usually know what they are talking about (self-evidently), and can usually be relied upon to avoid peddling fake news. If you want to find out what really happened, listen to or read what an expert family lawyer has to say on the subject.
Where might you find the views of an expert family lawyer? Well, you might find them quoted in a piece in the mainstream media (or appearing on TV). You will find them in serious family law journals and websites, and you will find them on reputable law firm blogs, such as the one you are reading now. But the best source of all is of course the law report – if you really want to know what happened in a case, look at the report, which will contain the judgment of the court. It may be heavy going, but you will be surprised how often the judgment differs from some report of the case in the mainstream media.
But you can’t trust lawyers, I hear you say. Lawyers have their own agenda, which is either to sell their services, or to support the corrupt system from which they profit. OK, I’ll give you the former, but consider this: a lawyer who gets the law wrong isn’t going to sell their services. As to the latter, if that is your view, then you’ve already fallen for fake news from those with an anti-family justice system agenda.
Image by Judith E. Bell via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence