Monday, 29 November 2010

IT'S SNOW COVER FOR INFIDELITY


All this snow reminds me of the alleged story of the woman who put her husband’s pyjamas in the freezer, because he had been unfaithful to her. I have no idea whether or not it is a true story but certainly icy conditions and heavy snow seem to lend themselves to matrimonial mischief. Certainly I recall a client once upon a time confessing that the great thing about winter wasn’t just the handsome postman who delivered the Christmas post but also the fact that the snow immediately covered all her visitors’ footprints, so her husband never knew how many people she sipped coffee with during the course of his working day. Unfortunately for her the snow was so heavy that, on one occasion, her husband was unable to get to his office and so returned home unexpectedly. Footprints or no footprints, he still found one of her visitors in shall we say a compromising position with his wife, and divorce proceedings ensued.

Friday, 26 November 2010

ALL RISE


Mr Justice Coleridge made a speech this morning to the Association of Lawyers for Children. In it he expressed his concern that there is a creeping tendency towards disrespect for court orders in family proceedings especially in so far as they relate to contact with children. As we might expect from Mr Justice Coleridge he wasn’t shy in putting forward innovative solutions to this disturbing trend. Whilst Judges re-donning their robes might sound like a backwards step and removing carpets and houseplants from courtrooms would suggest he hasn’t visited my local County Court, his “three breaches and the child transfers place of residence” could have a certain resonance. He also criticised the extent to which the wishes and feelings of the children themselves are taken into account reminding the audience that the court, not the child, must make the decision.
“Times demand more open discussion and debate,” he insisted.

I do believe that the learned Judge has a point. So,if a suggestion box is called for and we’re aiming for a nostalgia trip, let’s start it off here and now:
  1. On the basis that Parenting Information Sessions are being increasingly embraced, let’s add to them with defaulting parents being asked to do detention and copy out “lines” from their last session.

  2. If the excuse used for a lack of contact relates to the child suffering from a cough, cold or other minor ailment, three spoonfuls of cod liver oil sounds like an appropriate remedy; for the parent that is and not for the child who will of course have made a miraculous recovery, once the due hour for collection has passed.

  3. If men in suits, or even Judges’ robes aren’t deemed frightening enough, let’s add open court hearings with a baying public gallery, horsehair wigs and even gavels for sound effects.

  4. Oh and what about throwing away the cushioned seats and bringing back all those hard wooden benches that used to adorn our courts? Especially useful if we return to waiting 3 or 4 hours for a case to be called.

  5. Scope for deportation to one of our former foreign colonies on the other side of the world? Maybe not, after all the line will have to be drawn somewhere.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

WHICH COUNTRY?




  • In which country do at least 1 in 4 women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime?

  • In which country do almost 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault in their lifetime?

  • In which country do 1 in 5 women experience being stalked in their lifetime?

  • In which country have some 66,000 women had their genitals mutilated?

Sadly the answer is the UK, according to data collected.

Today was prescribed as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Theresa May, the Home Secretary, took the opportunity to confirm that £28 million for frontline support services will be protected for 4 years as she confirmed a cross-government commitment to end violence against women and girls. The Government also announced that Domestic Violence Protection Orders will be introduced next year when police forces in Greater Manchester, West Mercia and Wiltshire will pilot powers to protect victims after an attack where there is potentially insufficient evidence to prosecute. They will be able to exclude an alleged perpetrator from the home for 48 hours (sufficient time to allow the victim to obtain an injunction if necessary) with scope to go to court for an extension of up to 28 days.

Small steps perhaps, but they are in the right direction.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

CHRISTMAS IS COMING


Guess what? Christmas is coming again! How on earth have I sussed out this amazing fact before anyone else? It must be something to do with being a divorce lawyer I guess and not at all because of the tinsel and flashing lights that have begun to adorn Darlington not to mention the Santa Clauses in the shop windows. Sadly it’s that time of year when solicitors’ offices are besieged by enquiries from estranged parents about Christmas contact. It may shortly be the season of goodwill but there’s a surfeit of malice and vindictiveness in the air when one parent seeks to deny the other contact with their children without good cause. Contact with both parents is the right of every child and it should only be curtailed or severed where, in the most serious of circumstances, this is necessary to protect the child. How many times do we hear people say Christmas is for the children? So come on let’s all have a very happy yuletide, stop the bickering and let them enjoy quality time with each of you.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

DING DONG THE BELLS BEGIN TO CHIME


It’s a sign of our cynical times I suppose but no sooner is the engagement announced than I receive a call asking if I will pop into the local radio station on my way home from work and make a comment or two. It’s a strange request of a divorce lawyer.

“Will it be good for business?” No, I can’t have heard correctly. Does the presenter think I’m actually a man of the cloth licensed to undertake wedding ceremonies or is she anticipating that a swift divorce will follow the happy nuptials? Will Prince William and Kate Middleton (no relation) set a trend and will more happy Darlington couples follow suit only to land at my doorstep in a few years time?

Nobody goes into marriage thinking it will end and if anyone hedges their bets believing that if it doesn’t work out they can get a divorce easily, they will be disappointed. Divorce is amongst the most traumatic events you can endure and is only for those for whom there is no alternative. Far better, as I know my clients have done, to work hard at your marriage and try your best to save it. At the point of no hope my doorstep is there but it is very much a last resort.

P.S. The presenter was actually alluding to pre-nuptial agreements.

Monday, 15 November 2010

A PYRRHIC VICTORY


So the Law Society’s victory in the courts against the Legal Services Commission a few weeks ago was a Pyrrhic victory. The LSC as you will recall had sought to cut dramatically the number of solicitors’ firms offering a family law legal aid service. Its action was rendered unlawful and in the interests of access to justice was reversed. However, today proposals announced by the Lord Chancellor Ken Clarke once again put thousands of vulnerable people at risk and deny justice to countless families, as Resolution has warned.


The proposals mean that the only private law family cases that will still get legal aid for court are domestic violence or forced marriage proceedings. The only option available to separating couples going through divorce or separation will be to attend mediation, which does not work for every family, or to represent themselves.

David Allison, Resolution chair said: “Families need legal aid for a whole range of reasons. Suggesting, as these proposals do, that couples in dispute about contact arrangements for children or financial issues are simply wasting taxpayers’ money by unnecessary squabbling ignores the reality that 90% of couples already reach agreement outside of court. Those that do need legal aid usually do so for good reason – intimidation by one partner over another, or an imbalance of financial power in the relationship. Resolving a financial dispute through legal aid can prevent a vulnerable spouse from becoming dependent on the state.”

David Allison continued: “We are deeply worried that mediation is being seen as a universal panacea. Whilst mediation has a real and useful role to play there are real dangers in this approach, which ignores the range of non-court options. Family disputes are complex. There cannot and must not be a one size fits all approach.”

Sunday, 14 November 2010

RUB A DUB, DUB


On Friday a judgment was handed down by The Honourable Mr Justice Moylan in the High Court in which he carefully analysed the evidential value of hair-strand testing for alcohol. “While hair analysis for the use of drugs other than alcohol has been used for many years, hair testing specifically for alcohol use is a relatively recent and developing science, at least in the field of forensic toxicology,” he said. “It is clearly particularly important when new scientific tests are being used for forensic purposes that they have a sound basis which makes it appropriate for the results to be used in court proceedings and which is sufficiently explained so that the court and the parties have a full understanding of the evidential basis both of the tests themselves and of any opinions based on the interpretation of the results of such tests.”

The tests have been designed to establish a pattern of drinking over a period of time but are not conclusive because ethanol is present in all hair, even that of teetotallers. Indeed traces can be the product of the environment, or the body’s metabolism and can result therefore from certain foods and cosmetics.

All of which reminds me of a case I was involved in once upon a time when Mrs Hardened Drinker’s contact with her children was severely limited because of allegations that they were at risk in her care. Hair strand testing was suggested by her husband’s lawyer as a means of satisfying both her husband and the court that, contrary to his client’s assertions that she even kept a stash of beer and brandy in the bathroom cabinet, she was not an alcoholic. Mrs Hardened Drinker was keen to prove her innocence and readily admitted the store of alcohol in the bathroom claiming not that it was medicinal, but that she used it to wash her hair. I have to admit that whilst she had a tendency to sway and slur her words when she came to see me, her hair was always glossy.

Inevitably hair-strand testing was deemed unlikely to be conclusive in the circumstances and much to Mrs HD’s chagrin she was asked to take a series of blood and urine tests instead. When the results were known, she was again able to explain them with reference to her bathing techniques. Apparently she didn’t just wash her hair in an alcoholic cocktail, but was accustomed to filling the bath with the beer and liquor before lying back to gloss her hair and occasionally and accidentally swallowing some of the alcohol that surrounded her. It was unfortunately clear from the results of those tests that she must have been taking more than the odd sly sip.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

ALL'S FAIR IN LOVE AND CHATTEL SHARES


This week a large part of my spare time has been spent making inventories of house contents for a property that I am involved in the letting of. It’s a tedious task, especially when you get down to the minutiae of the cutlery and lamp shades; it is however a job that many separating couples have to undertake before determining a split of their possessions. However making a list is only the beginning; next, one has to agree the division. During my time as a family lawyer, I have come across various bizarre proposals for the division of chattels including the notorious physical and equal division of everything, with the use of a saw of course. It’s not to be recommended and anyone going down that route can find themselves severely penalised when it comes to dividing the proceeds from the house sale or cash at the bank.

Less commonly, however, I recall the couple who once upon a time agreed that one would have the contents upstairs and the other those from downstairs. There was a certain logic to this in that both were surveyors and agreed that the floor areas up and down were identical. Their solution was, however flawed when they couldn’t actually agree on who would have which floor.

Then once upon a time there was the occasion when a Judge suggested to my client that she prepare two lists of contents, one for each of them. One might have expected the client to unduly weight one list in her favour but the Judge stalled this by indicating that the each list should be put in a separate unmarked envelope and then drawn as if from a bran tub with neither husband nor wife knowing which list they would get!

More frequently there is the regular threat by the court that if the couple can’t agree then everything must be sold and the proceeds divided between them. With second-hand goods selling for a fraction of new, that has to be an incentive for commonsense to prevail. After all chattels are just that, only things.