Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Removal from the Jurisdiction

I am also constantly asked about the UK family law relating to taking children to live abroad so I have written an article on Removal from the Jurisdiction published on Family Law Week and on 4 Brick Court's website I have posted a very comprehensive batch of removal case summaries. The articles also deal with cases where the courts have been asked to deal with the possibility of the children being moved within the UK. In this day and age it can be more difficult and expensive to get to Cornwall than Paris or Malaga!

Parental Responsbility

I am constantly asked questions about law on Parental Responsibility, who has it and how to acquire it. I have posted an article about parental responsibility on my uk family law wiki. There is also a good article on parental responsibility on the Families Need Fathers website

Monday, 25 June 2007


There are some fab comedy court sketches on Youtube!
The Monty Python sketch where the jury gets the rest of the court to guess the verdict .
Another Monty Python court scene
Eric Idle as the apologetic mass murderer

A custody battle!
Not the Nine O'Clock news - the deluxe model!

Information underload: Parental Responsibility

Parents are often unclear about what exactly it means to have and share parental responsibility. There is a detailed article on parental responsibility on my uk family law wiki. What the Children Act does not make clear is the extent to which decision making about a child should be shared. It would not be practical to have too many hard and fast rules about it as family living arrangements are so varied. Generally, the parent or other person with whom the child is living will make most of the day to day decisions. The court can be asked to make an order if there is something really important that the parents do not agree about such as where the child should go to school. The trouble is that much depends on one parent telling the other about their plans and ideas before anything happens. There is perhaps an expectation - but no more than that - that information will be shared. This is the sort of thing that could be included in a parenting plan agreement.

Foreign marriage

Apart from the carbon footprint issues about international travel it brings with it a number of family law issues. A common question is whether or not UK family law recognises a foreign marriage. Generally speaking the answer is that if the marriage was legal in the country where it took place it will be recognised as legal in the UK. What you may need to do is to get evidence from the country where the marriage took place to show first of all that it took place and secondly that it was legal. If you are not sure that your marriage will be recognised and you want it to be then it may be advisable to go through a civil ceremony in the UK. Unfortunately a lot of people only ask the question because they want to end the marriage and / or marry someone else. This is one situation where you are likely to need specialist legal advice and the online quickie style divorce will not do.

Norman Mailer

"You don't know a woman until you've met her in court"

Sunday, 24 June 2007

Parent power: dealing with social services

Generally speaking it is assumed in UK family law that parents are the best people to look after their own children. So take heart. You may have run into problems - this does not mean that your children will be taken away from you for ever. Even if you lose them for a while at the beginning of the case it does not mean, however bad it may look for a while, that you won't get them back. The fact that social services are involved does not mean you are a hopeless case or a hopeless parent - it just means things are not fantastic right now. You can do a lot about that and often it is very simple. Try not to get upset and defensive and listen to what you can do. Ask your lawyer for help. At the same time question what is expected of you by social services if you don't agree. If you already have a lawyer just say to the social worker that you want to talk to your lawyer before you agree to anything you are not sure about.

Lying social worker

You may be convinced that the social worker is lying. But think very carefully about that word. It is complicated. Someone may say something that is not true and so on one level they are lying ie not telling the truth. But are they deliberately trying to deceive? Just like you they ar often reporting what they have been told and either believe or are not sure about. In other words they may be mistaken without trying to pull the wool over anyone's eyes. When a parent says something they base that often on what they have been told or believe. They may be wrong. Just occasionally a social worker is really careless ie they don't check whether what they are told is true or might be wrong. We all take things on trust. The trouble with court cases is that they pitch everyone into a battle. Just remember that in the heat of war mistakes are made and you need to step back with your advisors and look at all the possible explanations. If you do that and you are right you will be much more powerful.

I hate the social worker: can I ask for a new one?

You can always ask! However, in UK family law the court has no power to force the local authority to change the social worker. Think about why you are not getting along. Social workers have a very difficult job to do - and they have to say some unpleasant things to parents. Will it really make any difference if it is someone else? Will they say anything different? If you succeed in getting a new social worker it is another change for your child and this is not necessarily good. At some point we all have to deal with people we don't like and make it work anyway. Then there is the devil you know argument. The next one might be worse. Get a critical friend and your lawyer to help you think this through. It is never easy hearing someone say your house is in a right state and you don't look after your children well - especially when you don't beat them or deliberately mistreat them. But sometimes what you do is just not good enough even with the best will in the world. So check it out with an independent person before you carry on banging that drum.

Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird: don't be put off this fantastic book and film starring Gregory Peck by the fact that you had to study it at school - it really is a classic!
Fantastic books to read:

Anything by Henry Cecil such as Brothers in Law, Daughters in Law, Fathers in Law and pretty much anything else he wrote.

Henry Cecil was a Judge in the County Court many many years ago: his books have an old-world charm but help anyone to understand the social ins and outs of the practice of law in the uK.

Still nothing changes!

When two people decide to get a divorce, it isn't a sign that they don' understand one another, but that they have, at last begun to.


Nothing new under the sun

A Roman divorced from his wife, being highly blamed by his friends, who demanded, 'Was she not chaste? Was she not fair? Was she not fruitful? holding out his shoe asked them whether it was not new and well made. 'Yet' added he, 'none of you can tell me where it pinches me.'

Samuel Butler

Family quarrels are bitter things. They don't go according to any rules. They're not like aches or wounds; they're more like splits in the skin that won't heal because there's not enough material.

Ugo Bettie

I think the family is the place where the most ridiculous and least respectable things in the world go on.

They might as well be speaking double Dutch!

When you do any job you fall into habits. Family lawyers use a special kind of language and work with the same judges regularly and after a while it all just seems like the way it has to be or is. If you don't understand - and why should you - just ask. Family lawyers do not want to make it difficult to follow or understand but we don't always remember what is difficult for the newcomer to a legal case to understand. So please just ask. If you need more help there is a jargon buster on the wiki at http://familylawfaqs.pbwiki.com/JargonBuster

My lawyer just doesn't understand me ....

You may be asking your lawyer for advice and feel that they are just not getting you. Of course, you might be right! But what a lawyer always has to do is to imagine what the court will make of the situation. And they also have to test out what you are saying and this can feel like they are not on your side. But they won't be doing a very good job if they don't prepare you for what will happen in court and check out whether you have really thought things through. The lawyer will generally have a good idea what the court will be looking for and that is why they put you through your paces. Don't jump to a conclusion. Ask if the lawyer thinks you have a good point and ask them to tell you whether you might be barking up the wrong tree. Then check it out with family, friends and organisations. Tell your lawyer what you are worried about and see if they can explain. We do sometimes get it wrong and we do sometimes jump to conclusions. Help your lawyer to help you.

My child does not want to go to contact

Don't they? Are you sure? Are you sure you are not influencing the situation?
Parents often feel that because they are not telling the child not to go then they are not exercising any influence. But your child picks up on what you say, what you don't say and the expression on your face when you say or don't say anything. If your child is old enough they may well have worked out how to get the most out of the situation - that does not mean they are lying but they might be stretching a point! We've all been there. An example. The child has a good time at contact but does not think mum wants to know this so they say they were bored and all they did was watch tv. They don't say they pestered dad until he let them watch the Incredibles which they were quite happy watching rather than doing all sorts of other things such as learning their spelling or talking about stuff. Mum hearing this latches on to the 'boredom' - she thinks she is doing the right thing to make sure child has a good time and it feeds her image of dad not making much of an effort. Children may not lie deliberately but they can be easy to influence and parents have such power over them. Your situation may be different but it is important to think it through.

Tape recordings

Social workers keep detailed records by writing notes whenever they speak to or meet with family members and they are often making those notes during the conversations. Family members can also do the same thing. Social workers rarely tape record or make videos and they should not do so without permission. It is now very easy to tape people and take photos using mobile phones. But you are warned - most professionals hate it being done unless you ask permission and although the court might allow you to put a tape recording into evidence a dim view is taken - it is seen as a very hostile act. You may not mean it that way but that is how it will be seen. So, first think about whether you really need to do this - written notes may be good enough. Then think about whether it is worth the aggro - and if in doubt, talk it through with your own lawyer. Always ask permission - imagine how angry you would be if someone did it to you without you knowing. Then think about your own behaviour - if you are getting angry and bad-tempered this will be obvious too. Don't do it unless you really have to!!

Dealing with social services

This may seem obvious and coming from a lawyer it may seem biassed but the first thing to do if social services are telling you they have serious concerns about the way you or anyone in your family is treating a child - GET SOME LEGAL ADVICE.

Many people do not realise that they can get legal advice even before a court case is started - but you can and you may find it very helpful. A lawyer can help you to understand the procedures, come with you to important meetings and give you practical advice. You may well be able to get this sort of help without paying out any money and it doesn't hurt to ask.

Here is some practical advice :

* Look on the internet or get someone who is good at this to do it for you
* find out if there is an organisation that particularly tries to help people in your situation, for example, parents of children with a learning disability or physical disability, or mental health issue, or from a particular ethnic group or lesbian parents, or parents in your local area: the list is endless
* take notes, keep a diary, make records
* keep all letters and pieces of paper given to you by social workers
* ask for help - you may be having a very rough time financially or emotionally - there are people out there willing to help
* get as much of an understanding about who does what in social work terms, legal terms etc
* try not to get too upset with professionals - they have a job to do - they get it wrong sometimes but that does not mean they are all bad.
* watch supernanny etc - maybe you are not the perfect parent!!! Think about whether professionals might have a point. It is all too easy to blame them for not offering support or blame our own parents and partners - ask around your sensible friends - how have they dealt with crises.
* most important - take it seriously - burying your head in the sand and hoping it will go away generally doesn't work - take some action! Social workers must act to protect children quickly and cannot afford to hang around finding out whether they have everything exactly right if they think the risk is immediate. That's why you must talk to them and see what you can do together with them to make things better for you child.

Information about UK law

Legal starting points:

The Law Society

Delia Venables

Families Need Fathers

Women's Aid Federation

4 Brick Court

That's all for now......

Websites on uk family law

Good starting points:

Family Rights Group




National Children's Bureau

Where do I begin?

Many people in the UK simply do not know where to start working out what they can and cannot do both in terms of what their legal rights are in a family situation and in terms of their responsibilities. There are a vast number of websites out there and you just need to find your way around them. If you are involved (or suspect you will be soon) in a court case about children you need to do some research - start with organisations like the NSPCC, Childline, NACAB and you will begin to get the idea. In my next post there will be some links to good starting points for the research.


In parallel to this blog there is a UK family law wiki: most of the entries so far on the wiki deal with care proceedings but material is gradually being added on all sorts of issues such as the role of grandparents, residence and contact orders etc.
The wiki will contain more technical information and less commentary.

Feedback on and requests for content on either this blog or the wiki will be welcome.