Thursday, 28 February 2008

Peace & conciliation

Scenes you seldom see between separating parents?

Excellent post by John Bolch of Family Lore on Agreeing Arrangements for the Children .

If you are trying to work together with a separated parent you might also be interested in using a Parenting Plan as a basis for discussion. You can find one here (as a pdf file) . You may also find it useful getting a mediator to help you get the conversation going. There are lots of different types of mediation. One professional body for accredited mediators is the College of Family Mediators . For more guidance on choosing a mediator see this this blogpost on Family Law Week's blog .

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

DNA testing

If you have been involved in any cases involving DNA testing you might be interested to see this post following a recent case on the Family Law Week blog .

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Are you a fool if you have yourself for a client?

Some interesting posts on various blogs about the question of representing yourself in family cases and the dangers of the pub lawyer.

Clare Dyer of the Guardian writes about the rise in self-representation, particularly in family cases and pitfalls and difficulties involved in doing so..

From Dads Divorce some advice about listening to professionals rather than your mates.

From Pink Tape some encouragement for the would-be litigant in person, as a counterpoint to DJ Gerlis's warnings in the Times against going it alone a la Heather Mills

Families Need Fathers have a huge number of useful articles about family proceedings and this one on Representing Yourself to help you decide whether you should / could go it alone.

It isn't just an all or nothing decision as the FNF article explains. You may be able to negotiate with a solicitor so that they will provide you with some advice to help you through the case without actually representing you or only representing you at a complex or final hearing.

You could also consider getting help from what is called a Mckenzie friend(explained here on Ask the Family Lawyer which has a number of explanations of legal jargon and some articles / posts about aspects of going to court which I will be adding to over time. FNF has a good article on this as well.

There is a Practice Direction on Mckenzie Friends issued by the President of the Family Division.

There are also advisors who charge for their assistance as McKenzie friends but at a much lower rate than most solicitors. Oliver Cyriax for example will give some free advice before charging a standard hourly rate when written work is involved.

There are a host of charities and support groups who may be able to advise depending on your circumstances or concerns such as Family Rights Group , the Citizens Advice Bureaux which even has a branch in the Royal Courts of Justice, numerous father's groups & equal parenting campaigners.

I thought Litigant In Person might be a useful website but it is still under construction - may be one to watch in future.

I am not aware of any good book on the subject - maybe another job to add to my list? Anyone got any recommendations?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Our Friends American

I have been very impressed by an American family law blog run by Indiana lawyer Sam Hasler
but obviously it is focussed on America and so not all of the specifically legal stuff is relevant in the UK. However, Sam keeps his eye on what is happening on other legal blogs and both he and they do sometimes have some universally helpful posts. One such post is Top 10 Things to Not Do During Your Divorce . Not a one that doesn't happily cross the ocean.

Sam himself has a good post on being a witness in which he adds his ideas to a couple of other blog posts from Virginian and Rhode Island on the subject which he links to.

Sam also came across the useful Paternity Testing Glossary - many of the words are relevant in the UK though not all of the legal stuff.

And Sam also put me on to Divorce Survivor a Scottish blog run by a divorcee who whilst not a lawyer had obviously got interested & herself provides interesting and useful links & posts.

So you might agree with me that it is a blog worth keeping an eye on even though it's over the pond!

Custody dispute

A man and his wife were in the throes of breaking up and arguing about the divorce settlement. In a fit of pique the man thew trifle at his wife. That's how she ended up with custardy.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Business Time

Flight of the Conchords are a New Zealand comedy duo I have recently discovered and this song made me laugh out loud.

Help! I Need Somebody!

The BBC Parenting site is packed with useful tips on parenting including a guide to the law .

Channel 4's Family website has a great parenting section with practical guides & top tips and another subsection on legal issues (Your Rights).

The Family & Parenting Institute is a campaigning charity which supports research and family projects as well as producing a number of good information leaflets and fact sheets which are available on the website.

Directgov has a good Parents Centre site with links to all kinds of resources and information on parenting.

Parenting UK is an organisation for people working with parents but on their website is a searchable database of parenting classes .

Parentline Plus is another charity with a great website and which runs a helpline 24 hours a day (0808 800 2222) as well as offering email and text support.

Family Rights Group

Family Rights Group are looking for parents / carers who are willing to take part in research on parents' views where professional concerns of non-accidental injury were not substantiated. The study, conducted by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, is funded by the Government and focuses on the work of paediatricians. It involves interviews with up to 30 parents. This is an academic piece of work, which is being conducted with strictest confidentiality (the researcher will take anonymous calls from parents). The Family Rights Group website has further information about this research.

The charity Family Rights Group advises, advocates and campaigns for families whose children are involved with, or require, social care services. We provide confidential telephone advice and support for parents and family members, including grandparents who are raising grandchildren who cannot live at home. We work to increase the voice children and families have in the services they use, and promote policies and practices that improve children's lives. The website is full of useful information and there are some particularly good advice sheets covering topics such as contact to children in care, special guardianship, adoption, family support services and family group conferences.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Flexibility is a principle too

It is a cliche of legal practice that there is nothing a lawyer likes more than a client who says that it's not the money, it's the principle (it's always the money). That client will not think straight about a court case and will fight to the bitter end whatever it costs. Most of the family cases that I deal with are not about money but that same stubborn clinging on to the principle is what lies behind an awful lot of court cases. There are certain things that human beings find it very hard to give up being right about.

If you find yourself in a court case or family dispute where all around you (including your own lawyer) are trying to tell you that you are wrong about something or that you should do something you don't believe is right, you may find yourself tempted to follow the thinking of President Roosevelt when he said : "Rules are not necessarily sacred, principles are". You may see yourself as David fighting for justice against Goliath but I would like to invite you to have a different conversation with yourself. As Charles Swindoll said: "A family is a place where principles are hammered and honed on the anvil of everyday living". A family is made up of a collection of imperfect human beings whom we do not necessarily choose to be related to, but we are whether we like it or not, warts and all. The more you cling to your principles, ironically, the more you may be likely to lose by backing everyone including yourself into a corner with everything being black and white, right or wrong.

So take a deep breath and try to give up the idea for a little while that you are right. Ask yourself what if you were wrong? Ask other people whom you trust whether they think you might be wrong and ask them to be really honest with you, not just say what they think you want to hear. Put yourself in the shoes of the other side or the judge or the professionals who are taking a different view and try to see it from their standpoint. Have a look at the arguments against your point of view or the research which goes in the other direction. Is there something about what they are saying that you don't understand (eg contact is important for the child's sense of identity -what?) Is there an expert or a social worker who you can talk to? Ask yourself why it is that no-one can see what seems obvious to you? If you find yourself just repeating 'it's just not right' or 'it's a question of principle' look for the fears and worries that you are hiding from yourself (that because the child loves someone else too, they will not love you too?). At the very least this should enable you to put into words what you are thinking so that other people understand you. But if you really give up being right, you might be able to find a way forward that works for everyone.

A common situation where this comes up is in relation to contact. It may be that you have a suspicion that the other parent has done something terrible such as sexual abuse. It may be that you just 'know' they won't look after the child properly during contact. The other parent may have convictions for terrible criminal offences and present a very bad example or be continually sent off to prison. You may be able to give plenty of examples to show why you are right that contact is a bad idea. But if you are wrong (or even if you are right) there is a terrible price to pay if contact is stopped. Whether you like it or not, the other parent is part of the child's makeup and sooner or later the child is going to have to deal with that. You can't protect them for ever. And sooner or later it will come back to bite you if later the child comes to resent the parent who put a stop to the relationship or tried to. Not to mention the emotional damage it may do to the child's self image to know that they have a genetic parent you think is too awful for them to spend any time with). Unless the court is really sure that your views are correct, contact is going to happen and if you won't make it happen, you run the risk that the child will be taken away from you. The contact will happen anyway, just without you around to love and nurture the child through the experience.

So instead of Roosevelt, listen to Oliver Wendell Holmes: "To have doubted one's own first principles is the mark of a civilised man". Or maybe Groucho Marx is more appealing: "Those are my principles, and if you don't like them ... well I have others".