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Parliamentary research briefings: a useful resource

These days the first point of call for basic legal knowledge for most people is, of course, the internet. The problem, though, is finding information that is accurate, and that you can therefore trust.

There is plenty of legal advice available on the internet, but comparatively few places where you can find detailed expositions of the law, similar to what you would find in a legal textbook. One such place is parliamentary research briefings.

The research briefings are produced by the House of Commons Library, the House of Lords Library and the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology, and are primarily intended to get MPs and members of the Lords up to speed with topics with which they are not familiar (although reading or listening to parliamentary debates one sometimes wonders how many MPs actually read them!).

The briefings cover a huge range of subjects, including family law, and related matters.

As the briefings are not written solely for lawyers they are particularly useful for the general public. They are authoritative, clear, concise and fully referenced, including having many links to primary and other sources.

Here are a few examples that readers may find useful:

“No-fault divorce”, published last October, which “considers the current basis for divorce, arguments for and against the introduction of “no-fault” divorce, and the Government’s consultation paper, Reform of the legal requirements for divorce”. You can find a link to this briefing here.

Children: residence and contact court orders and related matters for parents, grandparents and others, published in November 2017, which “looks at child arrangements orders for residence and contact under the Children Act 1989.” Note that it still uses the old, and perhaps less confusing terminology ‘residence’! You can find a link to this briefing here.

Children: Enforcement of child arrangements orders relating to contact, published in June 2014, which “outlines the powers of enforcement available to the courts when a parent does not comply with a child arrangements order regulating contact.” You can find a link to this briefing here.

Financial provision when a relationship ends, published just last month, which “deals with the law in England and Wales and relates to the division of a couple’s property and income when their marriage or civil partnership breaks down.” You can find a link to this briefing here.

Child maintenance: income in the CMS formula (including why gross income is used, and annual reviews), published last December, which “sets out how the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) uses, collects and reviews the income of the non-resident parent under the 2012 statutory child maintenance scheme.” You can find a link to this briefing here.

“Common law marriage” and cohabitation, published in June last year, which “provides general information about how the law applies to cohabitants, the number of cohabiting couples, and about the Law Commission’s proposals for reform.” You can find a link to this briefing here.

And that is just a very small sample. All currently available research briefings are accessible from this page.

I suppose I should urge a note of caution for non-lawyers using the briefings. They may be very useful and informative, but they do not make you an expert. In particular, there is a huge difference between knowing the law and being able to apply it to a given set of circumstances. And trying to apply just a limited amount of law, as you will find in a briefing, can be especially dangerous. In short, there is no substitute for proper legal advice from a trained lawyer.

And on that note there is one other briefing that I would like to mention, that is definitely of direct use to non-lawyers. If you want to find legal help and advice, the House of Commons Library has produced a paper Legal help: where to go and how to pay, published in June last year, which “provides information about sources of legal help and advice, and how to pay for it”. You can find a link to this briefing here.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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