Broken law, prorogation and much more

Family Law|Industry News|August 30th 2019

A week in family law, Twitter version

I had the idea to base this weekly review on the family law goings-on on Twitter rather than general family law news as, it being the week of the summer bank holiday, I didn’t expect there to be much family law news about. In the event, there was one big story, but more of that in a moment.

The first group of tweets I came across were under the rather depressing hashtag #thelawisbroken. I will give two examples (out of many) why lawyers think this is so. Firstly, this one, by a reporter for the Law Society Gazette:

“This is absolutely shocking: RCJ [Royal Courts of Justice] lift broken. One lawyer, who is paralysed down one side and uses a wheelchair, was forced to climb the stairs to get to the courtroom. Another disabled lawyer (same case) couldn’t get to the room.”

This is typical of the tweets I have seen about the state of our court estate. To see that such things are happening at our premier civil court is quite shocking.  The second example is this tweet, from an experienced family lawyer:

“Chasing Bury St Edmunds regional divorce centre about a Decree Absokute. This is its automated response showing the usual appalling delays, most notably that consent orders lodged 3 MONTHS AGO are waiting to be considered by a District Judge! 3 MONTHS!”

This is not, of course, the first time that we have heard horror stories about the Bury St. Edmunds Divorce Centre – see, for example, this post I wrote in June last year.

Moving on, the general news story about the increase of ‘parental mortgages’, whereby parents help their children onto or up the property ladder, was picked up by a well-known Twitter barrister, who tweeted this:

“The parents need to be clear if it’s a gift or a loan and have clear documentary evidence, signed by all concerned (preferably signed as a deed).

Otherwise it can be an expensive bag of rats to sort out if the person with the benefit of the money subsequently gets divorced.”

And another very well-known international family lawyer responded:

“There are now so many of these disputes in past decade as parental help has increased. Too often too easily categorised as soft loans or gifts and so ignored on divorce balance sheet. But that’s not fair on parents and other sibs. Parents: get advice before you lend or give”

Excellent advice.

The same lawyer was also involved in a Twitter exchange regarding the recent Moher case, which I wrote about here on Wednesday. He said:

“This appeal had to fail. Imputing an approx level of assets for non-disclosing or uncooperative spouse is vital for family justice. Surprisingly few other countries can or will. To insist imputation is spot on accurate is then counter-intuitive to failure to engage initially”

He went on:

“He, Mostyn J, is also trying to create some logic and consistency in the fair resolution of divorce financial claims. This is a multi million pound industry which cannot (any longer & in reality for many past yrs) function on an intuitive, wholly discretionary approach.”

To which Baroness Deech, who is trying to reform the law, replied:

“Mostyn J, F. Shackleton & I are trying to drag this law into the 21st century & stop the waste of assets on costs. Copying nearly every other country in the western world.”

Who says Twitter is for trivia only?

The last specific tweet I want to mention comes from the parental support organisation @OnlyDads, who tweeted:

“Another email with a mum looking to ask the court to insist her ex spends time with the children.

Not sure why some dads feel they can walk away from their children completely? Most dads contacting us fight tooth and nail for the opposite. Strange situation.”

It can seem a strange (not to mention sad) situation, but it is certainly not unique. I remember when I was practising a number of parents asking if the court could force their ex to see the children. The answer, of course, is that it cannot (although it may certainly encourage them to do so).

And finally, the big news of the week was, of course, the prorogation of parliament, the implications of which haven’t escaped the notice of the family law Twitterati elite. You see, prorogation halts all parliamentary business, with bills that are still going through parliament likely to fall away, unless they are specifically carried over to the next session. And there are two very important family law bills currently going through parliament: the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will, amongst other things, prohibit cross-examination in person in family proceedings in certain circumstances, and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aims to introduce a system of no-fault divorce. Let us just hope that this vital legislation is carried over.

Have 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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