Archive | Legal services

Faulty online divorce Form E

Form e financial disclosure

As we discovered just before Christmas, the online divorce Form E provided on the Court website was faulty.  It appears a section of the Form which summarises, amongst other things, the capital and income of divorcing couples, failed to carry forward the liabilities from an earlier section.  The result was that the net capital values produced in the summary section may have been falsely inflated by missing out any liabilities.

The person who claims to have noticed the error (a self-styled family expert)  used the publicity to criticise solicitors, barristers and judges for not having noticed it themselves.   This fed into the usual lawyer-bashing on public forums and comment pages.  Most family lawyers were taken aback by this particular slew of criticism because:

  • It is the Court service’s form, so nothing to do with lawyers;
  • 99% of family lawyers don’t use the court’s online Form E as we pay to have our own software;
  • Family lawyers pay no attention to the summary page of the Form E anyway as it is not helpfully laid out and does little to aid understanding;
  • The Form E financial information is quickly superceded by later rounds of  financial disclosure any way;
  • Family lawyers tend to reproduce the Form E information in separate Excel spread sheets (to model likely settlement options) so any error would be quickly spotted.

In short, although I have not been slow to have a pop at my fellow lawyers on the pages of this blog, I did think this particular story, as a vehicle to slag off family lawyers, was a bum rap.

The real story is that LiPs have been let down.   These people, the vast majority of this blog’s readership, cannot afford legal advice or struggle to maintain paid legal representation.  I’m guessing it would be LiPs in the main who would have been using the Court service online Form E.  I mean: it’s there to use, it’s free, and it’s on the official court website, so it must be safe to use, right?  Right?

The Minister responsible issued a statement to Parliament: “Update on investigation into faulty online form used in divorce proceedings”.  We now know the number of people likely to have been affected:

A total of 36,527 cases contain a version of Form E filed from these periods. HMCTS staff have now reviewed all these cases and found that 3,638 files – 10% – contained the faulty calculator version of Form E with an incorrect figure for net assets figure in the summary table.

1,403 of these cases are still live, allowing HMCTS to intervene immediately to clearly flag these cases to the courts in order to avoid the error affecting the final orders in these cases.

The remaining 2,235 files – 6.1% – were closed cases….I have instructed HMCTS to write to all parties in the 2,235 closed cases. The letter expresses our sincere regret for the error, sets out what happened and explains that, although Form E is just one part of the evidence used in their case, there remains a possibility that the error affected the final outcome.”

If you are one of the people with a closed case receiving a letter from the court service you will need to work out whether you may have been prejudiced by the software error.  Apparently, the letter sets out the options available for those parties who think they have been adversely affected, which includes seeking to set aside any final order made or varying such an order.  The letter also contains a link to a specific court form to be used by those who wish to set aside or vary their settlements.  If anyone has received such a letter or has the link I would be happy to post a copy (suitably anonymised) on this blog.

If there is anyone out there who thinks they are affected but has not yet contacted the court to register their concerns then please use the specially designated email address:  formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk.  Only 51 people have done so as at 21 January 2016.

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The Numbers Game

Divorce Finance Toolkit

Behind the scenes

Firstly: an apology

To the hundreds of readers who have sent me emails, chronologies and asset spreadsheets asking for help, advice or comments on their particular legal troubles.  I haven’t been much help.  There are just too many of you.  And your circumstances are always unique to you and your family so there is no pre-formed answer I can drag off a shelf and present to you.  I’m sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you.

Secondly: an explanation

I have been unusually ‘quiet’ on this blog.  I’ve haven’t posted anything for months.  It is not just that I have felt overwhelmed by the number of people asking for help.  It is not just that my main job at Family Law Partners takes up most of my waking time.  The real reason, the reason that I hope is worth the effort over the last 5 years is that I have been building something that I think will help more family lawyers help more people with family law related problems.  We have been using the prototype at Family Law Partners for the last year and it has fundamentally changed how we engage with our clients at the first point of contact.

Thirdly: the future

There are too many people now who do not have access to legal advice, usually because they think they cannot afford to do so.  So they try to deal directly with their ex-partner but find it is really hard to communicate against a backdrop of distrust, anger, fear and sadness that marks out the breakdown of a relationship.  Some people find themselves as LIPs pitted against their ex-partners in court.  It must be incredibly hard to navigate legal proceedings as a LIP when the rules of the game are anything but clear and the legal professionals you encounter: the judges and lawyers, are speaking something that sounds like English, but is full of words you don’t remember coming across at school, work or anywhere else for that matter.

But what if a solution, enabled by technology, allowed more people to access legal advice at the very start of a family law ‘problem’ emerging.  What if that solution gathered the information from a potential legal client in a helpful and intelligent way at zero cost.  And then presented that information to a family lawyer in a format that allows them to immediately offer advice, whether paid advice, or free, or a combination of the two.  And what if that solution enabled a client to come back to the same lawyer from time to time and have the same process repeated (commonly known as ‘unbundling’) even though the facts of their case had changed in the interim?

This is the challenge that I have been working on for the last 5 years.  And, over the last 12 months this solution has started to take shape and become realisable.

This explains why, I hope, that I have been ‘quiet’ on the blog front. I’ve devoted most of my spare time and energy to this new solution because it is ultimately a numbers game.

The numbers game

When I started out as a family lawyer many years ago I did what most lawyers do.  I helped out at advice centres, CAB rosters or church drop ins – trying to provide what lawyers call pro bono (free) advice.  If I was lucky, about four punters would stumble in to see me on a cold, rainy night.  At least one of them would want to sue the local council for something or other: pigeons crapping on their conservatory roof or a bin man doing Les Dawson impressions within the vicinity of their no humour zone.  I was once shown an ingrown toenail and once shown something worse. I was even asked for a prescription.  Very occasionally, someone would appear with an unambiguous legal need but drop 5 boxes of paperwork on the desk and ask for ‘a quick bit of advice’ about their case that had been trundling on for years.

As my career positively blossomed I graduated to seminars where I could charm and educate a captive audience with my knowledge of family law – sometimes as many as 50 lucky, lucky people so long as there was no major sporting event on.

Eventually I discovered the world of blogging.  I remember my excitement at being told that I could have as many as 50 visitors a month if I worked really hard at my blog.  Imagine that.   Perhaps 100 visitors a month after a few years, I was told.  Wow, I thought, imagine reaching that many people.  So I started my blog.  Real amateur stuff.  Most legal blogs are lawyers talking to other lawyers. No harm there, all good clean fun.   Or law firms posting blogs that can be summed up, no matter what the subject matter, as:

Hey you with the sad face, did you know divorce and separation are horrible, that kids get stuck in the middle, and you might lose your house?  Call us now and book an appointment.

How helpful is that?  I loathe those sort of legal blogs.  As much use as a chocolate teapot.

I knew early on that my blog would be aimed at people who needed legal help but might be struggling to get it or pay for it.  I knew that I was going to be giving away lots of information without being paid for it.  I knew that might annoy (a small minority) of fellow lawyers.  I knew it would be difficult to write blog posts that were detailed enough to be helpful but not so specific as to be useless to the majority of my blog visitors.  My blog has grown.  I looked at Google Analytics recently for the first time in almost a year.  I am astonished to see that I had nearly 7000 visitors to my blog last month alone.  I know those numbers are only small beer for some websites but I would have to go some at the local CAB or advice drop-in to match those figures.

But those numbers are the tip of the iceberg.  I can’t keep up with all the requests for help that come into me on this site. I confess I am overwhelmed.  But there are lots of family lawyers like me out there and if we can find a solution to making access to lawyers easier, faster, and more affordable, especially at the beginning of a legal problem we may be able to stop difficult situations escalating into all out war in the family court room.

So, here’s to bigger numbers.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Why family law arbitration will work for you

Arbitration in Brighton

Robert Williams – Family Law Arbitration in Brighton

Alan asked me recently to talk about family law arbitration. I’m delighted to be given this opportunity for a first guest blog post on Divorce Finance Toolkit (hopefully not my last).

Let’s imagine a hypothetical conversation between two sisters, one of whom has just separated from her partner.  The sisters are discussing how to sort out the unresolved financial issues.  The sister confides in her sibling that the couple themselves can’t talk.  The couple have considered the collaborative law process and mediation, but whilst these options are solid, neither are suitable in their circumstances.  Fortunately, one of the siblings is a lawyer who offers sound and practical advice:

“It looks like you need to get a judge to decide the issues in the Family Court”.

Really?  Let’s think about this.

The family courts are buckling under the strain of successive rounds of funding cuts. Court lists are packed with those unable to afford legal representation after the funding rug has been violently pulled from beneath the feet of those needing access to justice, but being unable to afford legal representation.  I know this is an issue close to Alan’s heart as he set out in a previous post.

The reality is that family court cases are taking longer to be heard.  There is a significant delay in the cases being listed.  Add to the mix under-resourced court offices with often loyal and hardworking  staff doing their best, but buckling under ever mounting work loads.

By and large, we are blessed with an excellent judiciary.  But they too must be feeling the heat of the growing lists, the backlog of box work (where judges deal with all the paperwork that crosses their desk such as approving consent orders).  The court staff , I suspect, are left disillusioned with life in the public sector with the ever present whisper of more change and  further cuts.

So is the court really the default choice?

As a lawyer, and like Alan when he’s not moonlighting at Divorce Financial Toolkit, I’m solution focussed.  This means I’ll promote co-operation, collaboration, and mediation.  But now I will also promote arbitration in Brighton.  The promotion of appropriate dispute resolution models is woven into the fabric of how we work  at Family Law Partners.  It’s in our DNA.  On occasions, disputes need to be resolved by a tribunal’s decision, but the question I would ask is: “Does it have to be a judge in a traditional court?’

Quite what the fascination is with using the court has always been lost on me.  But to be fair, let’s think of a few reasons we might need th
e court to help us.

  • Structure.  By structure I mean a clear timetable.  But can’t you get that by reaching agreement with the other party about who does what and when?
  • Light at the end of the tunnel.  If you can’t agree a judge will decide for you.  But do you really want to relinquish control to someone you’re likely never to see again?
  • We always do it this way?  Really? I have a sense lawyers often like the fact they can be insulated from making a difficult decision and hide behind the judge’s decision, but as adults shouldn’t we take responsibility for our lives and issues that impact on us (and our families)?
  • Alternatively, the parties may want or need a decision to be made for them as they simply can’t agree an issue. But the trouble with failing to agree one issue is that this might leave everything else up for grabs.  That is a risk laden strategy.

So, we can see some of the benefits of the decision process imposed by the family court but let’s assume a resolution can’t be achieved and on the basis the courts are not functioning efficiently, could there be a better solution?

Family Law Arbitration

I’m going to tell you how family law arbitration will work for you and your family.  We all love a list so here is mine:

  1. Want a swift resolution for your dispute? Check.  Forget putting your life on hold for 9 months plus waiting for the court listed date to come around.
  2. Want privacy? Of course you do.  Do you really want people to see you going into a court? What if you meet  someone you know in there – they are very public places.  Family law arbitration is wholly private.
  3. Have a busy diary and want to fix the decision making around a date convenient to you and not a court?   Sorted.  Flexibility is one of the hallmarks of family law arbitration.
  4. Have a limited budget and need to control your spend on the legal process?  You can tick that box.
  5. want to make sure the person making the decision has the time to understand the issues in detail?  To have actually read all the papers beforehand and focus solely on your case and not a court list?  No problem.
  6. Want to be sure the person making the decision is suitable in terms of experience and expertise? That’s covered.  Many arbitrators tend to be retired or part-time judges.
  7. Want the decision to be legally binding so you finally have resolution?  You’ve got it.  You will get a decision from the arbitrator and you will both be bound by it.  The argument is over.

So, what is family law arbitration?

Family Law Arbitration Divorce Finance Toolkit

It’s as simple as the definition pasted above.   Arbitration is the use of an arbitrator to settle a dispute.

Family law arbitration can deal with many issues, but put simply, it is best for dealing with finances.  It is, by design at present, not used to settle disputes in relation to children: their welfare can only be decided, quite rightly, by a family court judge.  The qualifying process for family law arbitrators is overseen by the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators.

Family law arbitration is the (relatively) new kid on the block.  Arbitration clients exercise more control over timing, the issues, the decision maker and the venue. Okay you pay for your tribunal and the decision maker – the Arbitrator – but the focus allows for a streamlined process and that will save you overall costs and time. It will be private.  It will be convenient to your diary.  You will keep control rather than being shoe-horned into a court list.  You end up with a decision: the award.  It’s legally binding.  Isn’t that what the court gives you, but with greater delay, cost, inconvenience and inflexibility?

So, let’s go back to the start, assume the two siblings now ask you for some guidance on how to get a family law decision of a financial nature sorted quickly and with the minimum of fuss and expense.

What would you say? I know what I would.

Robert Williams is a Director of Family Law Partners and is a Collaborative Lawyer, Solicitor, Deputy District Judge and Family Law Arbitrator.  He can be contacted on 01273 646903 or at robert@familylawpartners.co.uk

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Conduct in divorce cases

the relevance of conduct in divorce financial proceedings

GUEST POST: LISA BURTON-DURHAM

Conduct in divorce cases often raises its head as an issue when family lawyers are first consulted.  To most clients, it seems clear as day that since their spouse is at fault in some way, it must follow that this will impact on the financial outcomes in the divorce settlement.

I asked one of my colleagues at Family Law Partners, Lisa Burton-Durham, to let me post an article she has recently written on this enduring issue.  I think my readers will find it of great value.  Thanks, Lisa!

Conduct in divorce cases

I am often asked whether a spouse’s behaviour would have an effect upon the financial settlement following a divorce.  Indeed there is a common misconception that one person’s ‘bad’ behaviour will mean that their spouse will receive a larger financial settlement by way of compensation for one and penalisation for the other.  But is that right?

Conduct is one of the factors that the court should take into account when looking at the appropriate financial settlement within divorce proceedings.  However the law is very clear in that the conduct will only be taken into account if it is so serious that it would unfair for the court to disregard it.

Of course, deciding on whether conduct is such that it should be taken into account will be subjective to many.  I often hear: “It was my husband who went off with someone else so why should he get anything?” or “She recklessly gambled away lots of our money so why should she get half of my assets?”

When looking at the relevance of conduct there are two types to be considered: personal misconduct and financial misconduct.

Personal misconduct involves some sort of ‘bad behaviour’ on the part of one party. In my experience it the type of misconduct that is complained of the most but it is actually very rare that it will have any bearing upon the financial settlement.   Adultery and most forms of ‘unreasonable behaviour’ will probably only be relevant when deciding who should pay the costs of the divorce.

To be a relevant factor in a financial settlement, personal misconduct has to be of a very serious nature and outside the range of normality.  Ordinary fighting and quarrelling in an unhappy marriage would not be sufficient neither would one party having committed adultery.  Examples of cases where personal misconduct was taken into account include a wife shooting her husband and a husband committing incest with the children of the family.  Thankfully, these types of cases are extremely rare.

Financial misconduct is normally where one party recklessly or purposely squanders assets prior to the divorce proceedings, thereby reducing the amount of the ‘matrimonial pot’.  Examples of this are gambling and spending money on unnecessary things like expensive holidays and cars. 

In such circumstances the court will try to put right the circumstances by ‘adding back’ the money or assets that have been spent and continuing on the basis that the party still has them.

It is also important to note that conduct during the course of the divorce proceedings, such as failing to comply with a court order, is not usually punished by providing a lower settlement to the ‘guilty’ party.  However they can be penalised by the court ordering that that party pay a contribution towards the other party’s costs.  This is known as ‘litigation conduct’.

To summarise, it is quite unusual for a conduct claim to be successful, especially if the misconduct is personal.  It is therefore very important that legal advice is sought before embarking on such a claim as this could save considerable expense in the long run.

Lisa Burton-Durham is a Chartered Legal Executive and accredited collaborative lawyer with Family Law Partners based in Brighton.  Nothing in this article constitutes legal advice.

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Taxing access to justice

Another (austerity) budget

Tax policy to incentivise mediation

I have often wondered, when sending my clients their legal bills, how on earth they can afford my services?  In short, how can they afford access to justice?  The cost charged for the work  carried out will look imposing enough.  But the killer touch is when VAT at 20% is added to the bill.  A stiff bill becomes a….really large bill.  This is important because most legal aid for family work has now been kicked into touch.  “Access to justice” is no longer a slightly dry form of words bandied around by academics or politicians.  It is real and it affects us all because it you can’t afford to pay for it, you ain’t getting it.

When providing costs estimates to clients at a first consultation the figure arrived at will be discussed and agreed.  A client will be encouraged to help themselves as much as possible, or use my online platform for document production: anything to keep the cost down.  So an estimate is arrived at and the client thinks: OK, I’d rather not be using my money to pay legal bills but I need the help and I can live with that likely cost.  Then comes the point when you have to add in VAT at 20%.  The client’s face always drops.  (Mine would in their position).  Adding in VAT at 20% has just broken the bank.  There is access to justice – you just have to clear the VAT hurdle first.

This post was first created as a draft over a year ago and then put in mothballs.  I’ve brushed off the cobwebs and published it now,  prompted by an article in The Law Society Gazette about Belgian lawyers resisting the imposition of VAT on their bills.  Not the sexiest of links I’ve stuck in a post but try to bear with me.

The problem with VAT

The imposition of VAT on legal services does not create a level playing field.  Because:

  • If a VAT registered company needs legal services (and think of the millions spent by large corporates every year on their legal needs) they can reclaim the VAT they have paid out so it is cost neutral for them.  Sweet.  So spend all you like, lads, on that latest merger.
  • If you are an individual you pay 20% VAT on top of your legal bills and can’t reclaim it from anyone.  Harsh.  So you can’t afford to get legal advice on access to your kids or financial agreements to keep a roof over your head, after all.
  • Some of my clients are individuals and don’t pay a penny of VAT on their bills.  (No way!)  Yes way.   Because they live abroad in non-EU member states and therefore don’t have to pay VAT on legal services even though the legal services are being conducted in the UK.  Fortunate for some.

I mean, I understand there has been (still is) a recession: the government needs these tax receipts. But access to justice should mean something: the government has taken the axe to civil legal aid and promoted mediation.  Unfortunately, the government’s championing of mediation was a fig leaf to distract from the legal aid cuts.  The catastrophic fall in mediation referrals is testament to the fact that the presentation of mediation as a panacea in family law work was political window-dressing rather than well-considered, appropriately resourced social policy.

If the government is serious about the promotion of mediation, and is equally serious about preserving access to justice, then I have a suggestion by which it can redeem itself, ever so slightly. My suggestion focuses on family law.

The solution

We all know that a blanket tax, like VAT, penalises the less well-off.  We also know that the government keeps banging on about mediation whilst doing nothing (in resource or policy terms) to promote its take-up.  Talking of policy, they really need to catch up with the fact that there are other options available to keep people out of the courts as well, such as collaborative law and family arbitration.  We know, despite the political window dressing, that the withdrawal  of civil legal aid has directly and adversely impacted upon  many individuals’ rights of access to justice – they can’t afford it – full stop.

So, here is my suggestion to help the government climb halfway out of the hole of its own making.

  1. Spend a few quid telling the public that legal aid is still available for mediation (on a means tested basis);
  2. Permit mediators and lawyer/mediators to reduce the rate of VAT on their services to 5%;
  3. Permit collaborative lawyers to reduce the rate of VAT on their services to 10%.  Family consultants and financial neutrals assisting the parties in the collaborative process be allowed to do the same.
  4. Impose a reduced rate of VAT at 15% on legal advice offered outside mediation or collaborative law.  This would apply to family arbitration, and work conducted under the pre-action protocol (attempting via solicitor-led negotiation to resolve matters without recourse to court proceedings).
  5. Impose 20% VAT on legal services from the moment one of the parties issues contested legal proceedings.  An application for a consent order (so not really contested) would attract VAT at the rate of 5% if it follows on from mediation and 10% if it arises following the collaborative process.

In my humble opinion, I think this is a win/win scenario.  The lawyers don’t get a penny extra, so the Daily Mail won’t get its knickers in a twist.  It will make legal services  (access to justice) more affordable.  It will incentivise individuals to choose dispute resolution models such as mediation and collaborative law that objectively produce better outcomes at lower cost.  The reduction in VAT receipts will be offset (I’m guessing) by the drop in numbers using the (expensive to maintain) family court system and perhaps even reverse the increase in litigants in person that is now threatening the bring the courts grinding to a halt.  Timely legal advice can prevent a host of problems later on and I don’t know how you even begin to count the cost in developmental and emotional terms for those kids whose parents cannot stop warring without legal intervention, or who don’t receive maintenance or the opportunity to develop a relationship with a parent who has been excluded from their lives.

Worth a punt?

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Is collaborative law suitable for everyone?

In keeping with the spirit of Family Dispute Resolution Week  I am pleased to be able to offer another video snippet of my chat with Stephen Sulemeyer, an expert in collaborative law practice in California.

It is ironic to hear this week that most members of the public who have a family law dispute would rather go to court than use an alternative dispute resolution option  such as mediation.  I think this is a great pity and I discussed the failings of policy planning from the Ministry of Justice in this regard here.

For now, please have a look at Stephen answering another common question from the public about collaborative law: is it suitable for everyone?  I think his answer is honest and encouraging.  Collaborative law, like mediation and family arbitration, cannot be a panacea, but to grizzled family law litigators like me, the willingness of a client to at least consider these alternatives to court, is a no-brainer.

 

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What is Collaborative Law all about?

I was very fortunate, recently, to attend a training session with other practitioners of collaborative law, hosted by Stephen H. Sulmeyer, J.D, Ph.D.  Stephen is a charming man normally to be found in his native Californian habitat.  The members of my collaborative law group, Brightpod, managed to entice him down to Brighton whilst he was on his travels in England.

Stephen is a collaboratively trained lawyer, mediator and psychologist.  Added to which, his fondness for quoting Keats during the training makes him a top bloke in my estimation.

Stephen offered some fascinating insights into collaborative law and laid down some challenges to the lawyers in my group (I put my hand up here) to get out of their comfort zone if they wanted to offer really effective solutions for families in conflict.

Stephen was good enough to allow us to film part of the training day and I’m pleased  to offer some of the video snippets below.  The only downside is that Stephen had to contend with an interviewer (err… that would be me) who was so enchanted by the answers that he kept forgetting the questions.

What is collaborative law all about?

Please have a look at the video below where Stephen provides an introduction to collaborative law.

 

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Dispute Resolution Week

I put up a post recently about Dispute Resolution Week: please read it here.   This takes place, as I type, in various forms and guises across the country all this week.  The aim: to promote alternatives to the adversarial court process for people with family law disputes.

Resolution is the organisation behind the initiative, driven in many different ways by the members of Resolution: lawyers, mediators, collaborative practitioners and other professionals who are committed to keeping families out of court.

I’ve posted a video from Resolution below telling you all about the Dispute Resolution Week initiative.

I’ve got my hands on some great video content dealing with collaborative law  courtesy of my local collaborative group called Brightpod and I’ll post that just as soon as I can.

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Family Dispute Resolution Week

Family dispute resolution week divorce finance toolkit

BECAUSE ONE SIZE DOESN’T FIT ALL

I want to say a few words about Family Dispute Resolution Week.  I was in Nottingham a few weeks ago to attend Resolution’s Dispute Resolution Conference.  It’s the third annual conference in a row and I keep going back because I meet lawyers, mediators and collaborative practitioners who are utterly committed to pushing the boundaries of their own practices to provide better outcomes for families.  This usually means keeping families out of the court process. So I learn a lot and I come away feeling inspired.  Which is just as well when having to deal with the obstacles that get in the way of real change.  Let me refer to the usual suspects.

The usual suspects

It is not easy to push boundaries in any professional practice.  Here are a few of the obstacles in the way of pushing family dispute resolution:

  • Public ignorance.  People simply don’t know enough about the dispute resolution options that are available.  Resolution has been pushing the options for many years and any reader who is unaware of the rich resources on the Resolution website needs to hop over there pretty quickly and bookmark it for future, constant reference.
  • Professional indifference. In a sense, lawyers are the gatekeepers to the dispute resolution options as far as the public are concerned.  This is one of the reasons that the loss of 1,000 high street legal firms in the last 12 months caused the take-up of mediation to be sliced in half.  But I still think the lawyers who are left could do a better job of ‘selling’ the merits of mediation, collaborative law or (the new kid on the block) arbitration. Perhaps some lawyers are worried about turning away business if they cannot offer mediation or the collaborative discipline.  Well, call me old-fashioned but lawyers should put the interests of their clients first.  So, if a family breakdown is crying out for dispute resolution instead of the family court trial by combat then the lawyers need to pack their clients off to a mediator or a collaborative practitioner.  Better still, they should get trained up themselves to be able to offer this resource to their clients.
  • Political ideology.  The UK government ‘discovered’ mediation relatively recently, in the same way that European settlers, wading out of the  American surf 450 years ago, ‘discovered’ the New World.  It had always been there.  But this new-found zeal for mediation unfortunately coincided with the financial meltdown: the perfect backdrop against which to attack legal aid, a pillar of the post-war welfare settlement between state and citizens.  Even better, this astonishing piece of vandalism against the body politic would serve to stick it hard and fast to two despised constituencies: the ‘undeserving’ poor and the fat cat lawyers.  In short: get rid of as much family legal aid as possible and force the low income  punters to run from the lawyers and into the welcoming arms of the army of mediators ready to take their place.  Yeah, that worked really well.  Hands up, Mr Grayling, didn’t you foresee that all the punters would run off to the courts as litigants in person putting a strain upon the court services whose budgets had already been slashed?

Better news: Family Dispute Resolution Week

Well, I like mediation anyway: always happy to get my clients off to see a mediator.  But mediation is not the only gig in town. You should check out collaborative law and family arbitration on the Resolution website.  How can you find out more?  Resolution, the national organisation of family lawyers is promoting the second …

Family Dispute Resolution Week

from the 25th to the 29th November 2013

 

Did you get that?   This means Resolution members throughout the country will be hosting events and trying to gain publicity for the alternatives to the court process.  In the main this means promoting the benefits of Mediation, the collaborative law process and Arbitration.  You may hear features on the radio, see articles in the local press or even bump into smiling faces at your local court handing out flyers and lending a sympathetic ear.

My bag is collaborative law where the parties sign an agreement not to go to court and the lawyers work with each other (instead of against each other) in the interest of the whole family.  Collaborative lawyers form local groups to share experience and improve practice.  I belong to two pods in the Brighton area: Sussex Family Solutions and Brightpod.  We will be promoting the benefits of family dispute resolution to the wider public.  Twitter users should be able to search for local developments using #keepitoutofcourt closer to the time.  And why not follow @ResFamilyLaw why you’re at it

Divorce Finance Toolkit

Mr Grayling – our man at the Ministry

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Legal aid in family law

 

you can still get legal aid for mediation

You can still get legal aid for mediation

 

I reminded my readers not so long back that you can still get legal aid for mediation in family law cases.  Legal aid in family law has been cut to the bone.

The government took a big axe to civil legal aid in April this year so you might think they would at least provide some publicity for those areas of legal aid still left, battered and bruised though they may be.  Well, I’m sure the Ministry of Justice is doing a grand job.  So grand it has completely passed me by (and I am the sort of person looking out for these crumbs of comfort from the caring sharing coalition government.

Fortunate then that I came across the truly grand poster prepared by the Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG).  My interest is in legal aid in family law and the poster covers that. But fair do’s to the CPAG for listing every last circumstance in which civil legal aid might still be available.  Good on yer.

 

Click on the link below to see the poster.

 

LAPG Legal Aid poster

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