Tuesday, 29 January 2008

I don't want to talk about it

I much enjoy reading the blogs of BabyBarista who goes into entertaining detail about his pompous opponents, the crusty old Judge and the sexual shenanigans of various lawyers in his circle. I can only assume (and hope!) that much of what he writes is fictional even if it is inspired by real-life events and experiences. I am sometimes tempted to use this blog to talk about my days in court both in order to express my views and also to contribute to a greater understanding of the process. I admit that I am more tempted to do so when I am flush with forensic success but there are also moments when I feel an overwhelming sadness following a defeat in court, knowing as I do that while I move swiftly on to my next case, my client has to deal with the loss of a child or children.
As a lawyer regularly representing the parties in care proceedings I am limited in what I can report about my immediate experiences for all sorts of reasons. I am bound by various rules and laws to keep matters confidential and similarly by my professional rules. I admit also to a personal reticence for many reasons. I don’t wish to express my opinions about the behaviour of the other lawyers in a case or the Judge too publicly: I may have to do business with them in future and a good professional relationship will help my future clients (though if a Judge has done something that bad I have the option of a formal complaint or an appeal and the same goes for the other lawyers). I may not want them to know all the ins and outs of my thought processes and strategies or my personal opinion on aspects of the law or social work practice: this way it cannot be used against me in future. For example, if I express a view that a certain sort of assessment is generally a waste of time, it will be difficult for me to argue in a different case where they are what my client wants or the only hope open to my client, that they are in fact the best thing since sliced bread. I do not necessarily want to reveal what was really going on in the background which I have not for some reason spoken about openly. For example, parents in care proceedings do not necessarily say altogether complimentary things about social workers when speaking privately to their lawyers and may take some persuading to agree to any suggestion they may make if it comes from that fat f**** cow. Not an opinion which it is altogether helpful to share with the world.
There are other more personal reasons why I don’t always want to talk about it. Some cases may raise deeply personal issues or feelings for me or are simply very distressing. It may not be good for business to talk too much about cases where my clients have lost. It also hurts my pride to admit too openly that I do not always win and that there may be something in the implied accusation of those who call parent representatives professional losers. What particularly stings about that insult is the implication of a lack of compassion. When a parent who has just lost their child is sobbing inconsolably in front of me it is as much as I can do not to join in. About the only thing that stops me is the knowledge that I am not much good to them if I am also crying my eyes out. I also have a fear that I will be seen by other lawyers as unprofessional or as over-identifying with my client. But I will often have been working with that parent for months and months and have got to know them quite well, even if they don’t know me. We will have talked about a lot of deeply personal things for them. Many parents in these cases have had a wretched start in life or have personality difficulties and it is difficult for me not to feel sympathy. I know that long after I have gone away they will be dealing with the pain of losing their relationship with their child or children. Yes, I am doing a job and yes I am professional but maintaining professional detachment is sometimes impossible. I may be banking a cheque but I will not be laughing all the way to the bank. So I was particularly grateful recently when a member of court staff asked me if I was alright after I had finished dealing with the immediate distress of my client, a mother whose child had just been made the subject of a care order. She had been extremely considerate and helpful throughout the hearing and gone out of her way to make the process manageable and bearable for the mother. But thanks Julie, for noticing that I am not made of stone.

The case also gave me much food for thought about care proceedings and the way in which they are conducted but I will have to feed these thoughts into my blog under heavy disguise so that I avoid all the pitfalls referred to above. I will say, however, that I am heartily sick of the lack of availability of counselling / therapy for parents. I calculate that tens of thousands of pounds were spent on the case, including commissioning of three expert reports. At the end of many months, it emerged that mother needed counselling (which, frankly, was obvious from the outset). It is right to say that the reports made clear what sort of work was needed (and it was not two years psychotherapy but some 6-12 months of lower key counselling which would probably cost less than £50 per hour). If only it had been possible to get this sort of work with her organised a year ago the outcome might have been very different or at least we would have known that it would not make a difference. As it was the court concluded that planning for the child’s future could not wait any longer. My experience is anecdotal but fairly extensive. Local authorities do not generally fund counselling or therapy as they take the view that this is a health issue. Parents first have to approach the GP to get a referral for counselling (there are rare and exceptional voluntary sector resources that can be accessed in some areas but they are not nationally available). Even if the GP is persuaded (the trap for the unwary parent being that if they cannot articulate why they need counselling, the medical professionals may conclude that there is no point in a referral because there is insufficient insight into the need to change, whereas you might think that if they had the insight in the first place they wouldn't need the help) to make the referral there is usually a lengthy waiting list even to access a first appointment for assessment purposes. Many NHS psychiatric / psychology services will not accept that the need to make changes to parenting abilities is a proper criterion for providing a service. Those that do will often only offer a very limited number of sessions and will rarely commit to any programme of treatment on that scale. Very few parents in care proceedings can afford to fund such treatment privately. I know there are those who think that if it might take a year or two of talking therapy to fix the problem it is probably unfixable and that it is a painful and difficult process for which many parents are intellectually ill-equipped and will not complete. There are also many who think that the more modern approach to solution focussed therapies can bring about real change and counselling / therapy keeps being recommended in care proceedings. If it works let's give it a go - it would at least amount to some sort of effort to promote change. If it doesn't work then perhaps it could stop being dangled tantalisingly in front of the court as a way forward.

I think that's a rant!

Thursday, 24 January 2008

New Year: New Blogs

A couple of new blogs have sprung up in the last month. One is The Ancillary Actuary from legal actuaries Bradshaw Dixon Moore based in Littlehampton. Although this is primarily aimed at lawyers there is useful information in the blog about pensions on divorce.

Another great new blog is the Editorial with the ambitious aim of developing a comprehensive free resource on family law - mainly aimed at family lawyers but this sort of project can only be good for litigants as the more information which is available the more likely that sensible resolutions and agreements can be reached which will avoid the worst effects of bloody relations!

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Absence makes the heart grow fonder?

Apologies for the lack of posting recently - I have been away erm conducting research into bloody relations in Australia. Mr Blog has a large quantity of them being of partly Irish Catholic extraction. I hope you have missed me although I am sure you will have been well occupied considering divorce - the festive season apparently brings it on hence the nickname for the first working Monday back in the office for family lawyers being D-Day - divorce day as this Reuters article relates.

Nearly 2 million people consider divorcing during the Christmas period according to research from Inside Divorce . The research found that nearly one in five of all marriages (19%) are on shaky ground – with partners believing they could end up in the divorce courts.

Almost half (44%) of those surveyed say their sex lives have fallen flat – and a remarkable one in ten of all marriages are entirely sexless.

By far the biggest cause for divorce proceedings is the discovering of an infidelity – with the Christmas party season being the peak time for cheating. Around two in every five (42%) blamed a partner’s affair for them contacting a lawyer, with almost half of all women citing infidelity as the main reason for marriage breakdown.

Of those, more than half (54%) discovered the affair themselves, one fifth of unfaithful spouses confessed and 4% are told by their partner’s new lover.

The second biggest reason to split is abuse (34%), followed simply by boredom – cited by almost one in three (29%) of those polled. Lack of sex, financial disagreements and alcohol/drug abuse were the next biggest and most prevalent problems.

More research on divorce commissioned by solicitors Seddons is reported in the Telegraph which shows an even more alarming percentage of dissatisfaction within marriages of 56%.

No reason to explain the title of this blog!