Wednesday, 31 October 2007

There ought to be a word for it!

A particularly unprofessional pleasure you get at winning a case against a singularly obnoxious and difficult opponent who comes in for heavy criticism for the judge for the precise same things that you have found so obnoxious in the seemingly endless months you have been dealing with them before the case gets to a final hearing . It is unseemly to appear to take pleasure in winning family law cases where everyone is supposed to be a winner so this is best expressed by sneaking round the corner where no-one can see you and punching the air.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Paramount Principle

I am again delighted to have found another family law blog called the Paramount Principle (under section 1 of the Children Act 1989 the welfare of the child is paramount when the court is considering any issue to do with the upbringing of a child) written by barrister Sophia Cannon of Tooks Chambers who has also appears on This Morning from time to time. The blog seems to have started in May and then gone quiet again until October so there is not much there yet but what is there is useful and interesting and it will be a good blog to keep track of.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Possible orders the UK family courts can make in public law (social services) cases

Listed below are the main orders that the court can make about children in public law cases (cases involving social services), with a brief explanation & links to some other websites and articles, and then gradually add posts dealing with each of the orders and link them from this post. Orders in private law cases (cases between family members) are dealt with in a separate post. Some cases start off as one type and end up as another. For example, the court may be dealing with a contact dispute and find out something very worrying about one of the parents and decide to bring in social services, who may make an application for a care order. Or care proceedings might be started by the local authority but end up with the court deciding that the child should live with parents or grandparents and making a residence order.

Care order (interim & final): An order that places a child in the care of the local authority. As a result of a care order the local authority acquires parental responsibility which in theory it shares with the parents. In practice it puts the local authority in the driving seat about any decisions to be made concerning the child’s future and where they should live. Generally but not always this will involve the child being placed away from his or her parents. A final care order can last until a child’s nineteenth birthday unless the court discharges prior to the child’s nineteenth birthday.

Supervision order (interim & final): A supervision order places a child under the supervision of local authority or a probation officer. This local authority does not acquire parental responsibility. The supervisor's main duties are to advise assist and befriend the supervised child and to take such steps that are reasonably necessary to give effect to the order. A supervision order lasts for 1 year initially but can be extended for up to 3 years.

The main difference between the two orders is that when the local authority has parental responsibility under a care order, the local authority has the power to remove the child from the care of the parents (generally speaking they should only do so if the court has specifically approved removal or in an emergency) whereas the child cannot be removed from parents without their permission if a supervision order is in place. For more information on the difference between the two types of order see these case summaries .

The power to make care & supervision orders is found in section 31 of the Children Act 1989 and they can be varied or discharged under s 39 of the Children Act 1989 .

Education supervision order: An education supervision order may be made under a 35 of the Children Act 1989 if a child of compulsory school age is not being properly educated. In practice these orders are rarely made although some local authorities make more use of them than others. The order places the child under the supervision of the local education order but does not grant them parental responsibility. One of the specific requirements that is usually ordered is that the parent shall ensure the child attends school and failure to comply with such a direction is a criminal offence for which a fine can be imposed.

Contact or no contact order: contact to a child in care is dealt with by s 34 of the Children Act 1989 . The local authority is in any event under a duty to promote reasonable contact between children in care and their parents or carers (whatever reasonable means and note there is no statutory duty to promote contact to other family members such as siblings or grandparents). The Act gives the court power to allow parents & other family members to ask for an order for contact and to the ban certain people from having contact altogether. Contact between children who are in care and their family members is often supervised.

Placement order: under s 21 of the Adoption & Children Act 2002 the court can make a placement order giving the local authority permission to place a child with potential adopters. These orders are often made just after care orders have been made, if the court thinks that the best plan for the child is adoption.

Secure accommodation order: under s 25 of the Children Act 1989 the court can place a child in secure accommodation if they have a history of absconding and are likely to suffer significant harm if not put in secure accommodation or if they might injure themselves or others unless they are placed in secure accommodation. A child under 13 can only be placed in secure accommodation with the specific approval of the Secretary of State.

Recovery order: a recovery order can be made under s 50 of the Children Act 1989 when a child is unlawfully removed from the care of a local authority. A recovery order allows the child to be removed from whoever has the child and requires anyone in a position to do so to produce the child and to give information about their whereabouts.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Mosac: support for parents of children who have been sexually abused

The Guardian published an interesting story about a charity called Mosac which supports non-abusing parents and carers of children who have been sexually abused. Although the charity is based in Blackpool (which curiously has the highest rate of children on the Child Protection Register under the category of sexual abuse) it has a national helpline (and curiously an address in Greenwich). The charity has been in operation for 12 years and has recently won the Emma Humphrys Memorial Prize in recognition of its work.

Orders in private law children cases in UK family courts

In this post I will list the main orders that the court can make about children in private law cases (cases between family members as opposed to cases involving social services), with a brief explanation & links to some other websites and articles, and then gradually add posts dealing with each of the orders and link them from this post. I will deal with the less common private law orders and orders in public law cases in a separate post. Some cases start off as one type and end up as another. For example, the court may be dealing with a contact dispute and find out something very worrying about one of the parents and decide to bring in social services, who may make an application for a care order. Or care proceedings might be started by the local authority but end up with the court deciding that the child should live with parents or grandparents and making a residence order. The court has power to make most of the orders listed below at any time they are dealing with a child.

Residence order: an order which says where the child should live – this may be with more than one person ie a shared / joint residence order. Someone who has a residence order will also have parental responsibility for as long as the residence order lasts. Once a residence order is made the child’s surname cannot be changed nor can the child be taken out of the UK without the written agreement of all those with parental responsibility or the permission of the court (except that the holder of the residence order may take the child abroad for up to a month without permission).

Contact order: an order which says who the child should have contact with, either by spending time with them or by receiving or exchanging letters, emails & telephone calls. The contact order can require the person with whom the child lives to make the child available for contact and can deal with practical arrangements for who should collect and return the child.

Specific issue order: an order dealing with a specific aspect of a child’s upbringing such as where the child should go to school, what religion they should follow, by what surname they should be known, whether the child should have medical treatment, an order saying that the child should be returned to the care of one of the parents.

Prohibited steps order: an order preventing a particular action being taken with respect to a child without the court’s permission. Common examples include an order saying that the child may not be taken away from the person with whom the child lives or that the child may not be taken abroad. The only steps that can be prevented are those which could be taken by a parent in meeting their parental responsibility, for example, preventing a change of school.

Parental Responsibility order: an order giving responsibility to a father. PR also comes automatically when a residence order is made and is given to the local authority when a care order is made. There is a series of posts on the blog about parental responsibility - see the label on the sidebar.

Most section 8 orders last until a child is 16, although the court can make a longer order in exceptional circumstances. A residence order to a non-parent can now be made until the age of 18 (and the court's permission will be required to make an application to vary). Parental responsibility lasts until the child is 18 unless ended earlier by the court. A natural mother's PR cannot be terminated except on the making of an adoption order. The court has power to attach conditions to any section 8 orders and directions as to how the order is to be carried into effect. As an example, the court could order that a father or mother who is having contact is not to take the child to a certain place or bring the child into contact with a particular 3rd party.

The Statute Law Database sets out the up-to-date version of section 8 of the Children Act 1989 . Other websites may contain the text of the Children Act but you need to be aware that they may not be the most up-to-date versions and that there have not been any significant changes. For example, there is a new section inserted into the Act to enable PR to be granted to step-parent or civil partner. It is also important to look at other sections of the Act such as section 9 & 10 which contain other details about section 8 Orders (such as the fact that they last until age 16). Even the Statute Law Database is not infallible - at the time of re-writing this post the amendment giving power to make residence orders to non-parents last until 18 has not been added to the Act.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

There ought to be a word for it!

That slight embarassment when someone tells you something secret / confidential assuming you are in the know (eg impending judicial appointment) and you have to bluff that you knew all about it and have done for ages because you should have done – after all s/he is your closest friend even though you have not seen them for months.... You know who you are ...

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Prenuptial Agreements

I am honoured to discover that I have been nominated no. 15 in the top family law blog roll of Prenuptial Agreements, a somewhere in the US based blog about .....Prenuptial Agreements! Naturally this is entirely a reflection of the amazing wonderfulness of my blog and not just a jolly clever way of getting lots of links! Still, it is jolly clever so I shall return the favour and recommend
Prenuptial Agreements

Monday, 8 October 2007

DCFS Consultation Paper on Children's Plans: Time to Talk

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The DCSF has launched a Time to Talk consultation paper to inform the development of the new Children's Plans. But not much time to talk. The consultation period closes on 19th October 2007!

No going back!

According to the Mail on Sunday, poor old Alan Jenkins went and got a tattoo of his wife & 2 daughters all over his back only to discover that behind the self-same part of his anatomy, his 36 year old wife was having an affair with a 25 year old Latvian fitness instructor. Enough to get anyone's back up.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

Blawgrolls & other sandwiches

I feel privileged to have been nominated in Family Lore's top 10 legal blogs or blawgs as they are known and apparently I must now join in the tagging game by naming my top 10 this being how memes work (a blogging chain letter, if you ask me). This is going to get a bit circular as I do indeed have to nominate Family Lore right back. But also on my list would be Judith's Divorce Blog , Ruthie's Law , Charon QC , Baby Barista , Binary Law , Nearly Legal , the Magistrates Blog , Pink Tape and PC Bloggs .

Reader, Ruthie wrote a blog

I can't believe I forgot to include a link in my blogroll to Ruthie's Law . Ruthie says she is a solicitor advocate but I will not hold that against her. She is aided and abetted in her enterprise by VM and between them they write an elegantly charming and entertaining blog with a slight hint of raciness but always on the right side of decorous. It is mainly about criminal law when it's about the law at all.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Peaceful Protest???

The Manchester Evening News reports on the case of Jonathan Stanesby & a co-Defendant who handcuffed Government Minister Margaret Hodge when she appeared at a conference to speak about parents in custody battles (residence battles just doesn't have the same ring to it). Margaret Hodge is actually the Minister for Tourism but used to be the Minister for Children. Mr Stanesby says he has been pursuing contact with his child through the courts for 6 years. He attempts to justify his actions by saying that the family courts are corrupt and secret and it's just a money making exercise for the lawyers. He also argues that the tactics of having a tea and sandwiches approach to trying to influence change has not worked and that things have only started to happen since Fathers4Justice have been on the scene. Margaret Hodge described in the Telegraph being shocked and distressed at the experience. It was 20 minutes before she could be freed. The incident happened in 2004 and it is a bit of a mystery why it has taken so long to come to trial. I have got some sympathy with the claim that Fathers4Justice making a lot of noise has promoted a lot of interest in the rights of fathers but this particular action crosses the line for me. It seems particularly counter-productive to do something which is going to put people off joining in a public debate on what to do about the very problem F4J are concerned about. The action of handcuffing itself might not cause lasting damage but I can imagine that at the time it would have been very frightening as the victim would not know who was doing it and what else they might do.