About the Family Law Week blog
The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.
Friday, 30 July 2010
Thursday, 29 July 2010
The report is summarised as concluding:
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) could have responded more quickly and cost effectively to the large and sustained increase in care cases from local authorities following the Baby Peter tragedy, had it fully resolved known organisational challenges, according to a report today by the National Audit Office. But Cafcass’s management could not have predicted the sustained increase in care cases from November 2008. In April 2009 they realised that the flow of care cases was not slowing and that they had to act.
Cafcass had to deal with an extra 200 new care cases each month from November 2008 – around 40 per cent more. Simultaneously, the courts needed advice on hundreds more children involved in family breakdowns. Consequently, the allocation of dedicated family court advisers to children’s cases slowed, and delays in providing advice to the courts increased. Between November 2008 and July 2009, the number of children involved in care and other public law proceedings without a dedicated family court adviser grew from around 250 to 1,250. Delays in allocating family court advisers can cause stress to children and families.
Cafcass was not well placed to respond efficiently and effectively because it had only partly resolved known organisational challenges around management information, IT systems and staff engagement by the time demand started to increase.
Cafcass increased its capacity and, between August 2009 and June 2010, reduced the proportion of children without a family court adviser, from 10 per cent to 2 per cent in care cases and from 34 per cent to 5 per cent in family breakdown cases. The Department allowed Cafcass to bring forward £4.6 million from the 2009-10 and 2010-11 budgets and gave Cafcass an extra £4.8 million. The cost increases do not represent a failure of value for money.
Cafcass continues to face enormous challenges in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and has responded with a major rethink of how it manages their cases. It is now implementing a £10 million transformation programme that should allow it to improve how it deals with future fluctuations in demand. In order to be successful, these changes will require greater organisational cohesiveness and improvements in staff morale.
The Solicitors Journal summarises Mr Justice Munby's views on the subject given at the Hershmann-Levy Memorial lecture delivered to the Association of Lawyers for Children. The complete text can be found here
In the spirit of openness many will be pleased to see that Birmingham City Council has published the full report of the Serious Case Review in relation to the death by starvation of Khyra Ishaq. The story is full covered by the BBC and the page links to the full 180 page report. I understand John Hemming MP (for Birmingham Yardley) was on Radio 4 not so long ago trying to make an argument that closed family courts were at the root of the problem in this case??
Interesting post on a author Heather Brooke's blog about 'open justice' and records of hearing
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Sadly we are both heading towards Margate!
Thursday, 15 July 2010
The website contains a large amount of helpful free information about divorce and related issues on the front end of the site, which visitors find useful in any event as an information resource. This content enables potential clients to make an informed decision as to whether or not they are entitled to a divorce, and whether justdivorce.co.uk is right for them. If a client decides to go ahead she (or he) then registers for free, and completes an online questionnaire which captures the information we need to prepare the court papers etc. The questionnaire also contains further helpful guidance as to what details are required, and can be completed at a pace which suits the client. A free guide to divorce will be given to all clients who register to use the site.
After completing the questionnaire the client then orders and pays for the service, and so there is no financial commitment until that point. The lawyers at Josiah-lake Gardiner then begin work on the file. They prepare all of the required court forms and all letters to the court, from issue of proceedings to the final divorce decree. They make full use of technology so that these documents can be drafted very efficiently, and then checked by the client via the internet. The forms and letters can then be downloaded, printed off and sent to the court by the client from anywhere in the world. A full explanation of what is required is provided.
Justdivorce.co.uk also provides other related services such as Financial Clean Break Orders, Divorce Decree Searches, and Marriage Certificate Translations. If a client’s situation is too difficult or complicated to be handled online, then they can offer expert in-house advice on a more traditional basis via Josiah-lake gardiner. They promise not to farm work out to third party solicitors for referral fees.
Much of the above comes from the description Bryan sent me but I have checked out the site - it is very user friendly and easy to negotiate, has a useful glossary and understandable explanations of basic information about divorce. it struck me as a great marketing initiative which also offers helpful free content to the lay client. I look forward to seeing the promised developments to the site.
Tuesday, 13 July 2010
I am grateful to Peter Ryder, solicitor, for the following thoughts on residence, parental responsibility & relocation. He writes:
"I do think we family lawyers need to start connecting the court's power to make orders under s. 8 CA 1989 with judicial unwillingness to link those powers to the imposition upon non resident parents of responsibility as parents. In the case of T v B  EWHC 1444 the court recognises that, in a case where unmarried parents jointly enter into an AID programme which results in the woman (or one of the women in a same sex situation) giving birth to a child, it lacks the power to treat the mother's former partner in that joint endeavour as a parent despite having earlier made a joint residence order in favour of that former partner. The net effect is that the mother with the child is left to provide for the child and the ex partner with joint residence escapes all contributory financial responsibility, at least in law. No ordinary person would see that as justice and neither should we.
The problem encountered in T v B can only be resolved by legislation but not so other, similar situations.
The same disjoinder of the law and justice can also apply to opposed relocation cases, whether within or outside the jurisdiction. The case law on relocation is generally silent on the question of whether or not the parent who objects to relocation has been providing child support to the best of (usually) his ability. This is, of course because the courts have imposed a de facto embargo on that issue being raised in cases where s. 8 orders are sought. I have encountered numerous cases where a non contributing father's opposition to relocation inside the UK was listened to with great sympathy by the courts whilst the mother's evidence on her economic struggle became a source of judicial irritation when the father's failure or unwillingness to provide child support was raised. Mothers in such situations may feel entitled to conclude that the court favours the interests of the feckless freeloader over those of the working parent.
Since it is nearly always the mother whose relocation is opposed I wonder how long it will be before someone argues that fettering her right to live where she chooses is discriminatory of women. After all there is no reported case of an absent parent being refused permission to relocate even though there must be some cases where a child has suffered as the result of a cherished father deciding to live drop out of his or her life."
A timely thought - Clare Renton in her as usual excellent article on Relocation clearly identifies a certain sea change in judicial thinking on relocation with courts showing slightly more support for the non-resident parent. I don't suggest that the sea change is wrong but I am involved in advising a mother with regards to relocation where the father is on benefits (for reasons which are not clear he seems not to have worked for a very long time and is on DLA but not somehow having any difficulties managing contact etc) and making no contribution to the child's maintenance (although he somehow seems to manage to pay for flights and related costs to get to contact) and is also therefore entitled to legal aid. The mother has relocated partly for work prospects having lost a job and needing to requalify which she could not do where she was originally living. She has been a student teacher for the last year but is now qualified and hopes to have a job soon which will impact on her qualification for legal aid. The court has allowed her to change location but will not yet confirmed that the permission is permanent and the father keeps pushing the case back into court requiring her to take time off, travel to the hearing with associated costs and make complicated arrangements for the care of his child as well as her other older child. As Peter suggests she is often at least impliedly rebuked by the courts if she raises any issues about money and is left feeling that the court considers her relocation to be in the lifestyle choice category rather than as she sees it an economic imperative if she is to provide her children with a stable and comfortable home environment.
Of course, the courts attempts to separate money and children are admirably well-intentioned. Some non-resident parents are genuinely unable to better their financial position and obtain employment and it cannot be right therefore to hold it against them that they cannot make a contribution. Equally some resident parents are in the same position and the courts are rightly reluctant to say that the fact that one parent can offer a higher standard of living to the child is a reason for depriving the less well off parent from looking after the child. It may, of course, present advantages in that a non-working resident parent can offer the child full-time care. It may be heresy to say this out loud but the truth is also that parents who know that litigation is looming with regards to children (not to mention divorce) deliberately place themselves in a position where they are not in employment in order to qualify for legal aid (obviously if they do so obviously we would have a duty to the public funding authority to spill the beans but most parents who do this are clever enough to do so without making it obvious). How often have you been in a case where the Judge will say with a sigh when dealing with a particularly irritating contact dispute which he might have expected to settle by agreement - and I suppose both parties are in receipt of public funding? Experienced and sensitive judges will take on board that the fact that they are not supposed to pay too much attention to financial contributions in cases involving children does not mean that it is necessary unreasonable for one parent not to view the other one as 'responsible' when they are not making a financial contribution or to refuse to make financial contributions when they are not being allowed contact for no good reason. The trick, of course, is to work out the difference between the genuinely can't pay as opposed to the not willing to pay for all the wrong reasons.
The following factors should not be taken to justify the court refusing to permit a litigant receiving such assistance:
(i) The case or application is simple or straightforward, or is, for instance, a directions or case management hearing;
(ii) The litigant appears capable of conducting the case without assistance;
(iii) The litigant is unrepresented through choice;
(iv) The other party is not represented;
(v) The proposed MF belongs to an organisation that promotes a particular cause;
(vi)The proceedings are confidential and the court papers contain sensitive information relating to a family’s affairs.
A litigant may be denied the assistance of a MF because its provision might undermine or has undermined the efficient administration of justice. Examples of circumstances where this might arise are: i) the assistance is being provided for an improper purpose; ii) the assistance is unreasonable in nature or degree; iii) the MF is subject to a civil proceedings order or a civil restraint order; iv) the MF is using the litigant as a puppet; v) the MF is directly or indirectly conducting the litigation; vi) the court is not satisfied that the MF fully understands the duty of confidentiality.
I would add to that list that the McKenzie friend may be a witness in the case or may be proposed to be involved in contact facilitation or is the new partner of one of the parents (and the other one objects for proper reasons which may include the potential witness point) or where there is a particularly hostile relationship between the McKenzie friend and the other party.
The guidance also deals with the circumstances in which it may be desirable to allow the McKenzie friend to have rights of audience which the court should be slow to grant.
Monday, 12 July 2010
The court is supposed to make a directions stating by when a Guardian should be appointed, taking account of the timetable for the child and the specific needs of the case (for example, as to when welfare issues may be before the court). I would comment that firstly, many courts do not seem to be aware that this is what they are being encouraged to do and secondly, it does not make much difference because the workload of many Cafcass Officers is frankly overwhelming. Often a named officer will have been allocated but because of their individual case load they will not actually be able to complete any useful work.
The plan for the blog is to move away from a news item based approach since there are news item on the main Family Law Week site and on many other blogs including Family Lore to develop more analytical and practical content. This will include the development of some new series of posts, for example, tips for beginners, reviews of family solicitor websites, mini case libraries & questions & answers etc. And on a more frivolous note - Shopportunities (thanks to my sister for this word) when I will tell you about great shops near far flung courts.
It would be really great to have contributions from others - it is now much easier to post comments so if you were previously defeated come back and have another try. If you have any ideas for posts as a one off you could email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or if you would like to become a more regular contributor let me or Lucy Reed know.