Monthly Archives: December 2013

New Year is soon to ring in, are you ready?

New YearIt is my first day back in the office following the Christmas festivities and I am feeling refreshed and ready for the New Year. The Law never sleeps, or so I am sure I heard someone say once, and it is definitely true. As a family lawyer you have to understand that people’s lives don’t just stop over the holiday period and in fact for some, sadly, things can turn from bad to worse. Businesses may close down and the roads may be deserted, but when your clients are individuals and the cases involve their personal lives you will remain somewhat busy throughout the festive period.

I came back to a desk that was clear; however a long To Do List sat on top of my computer. The first task on the list is compiling a Brief to Counsel on a rather interesting international family law case, followed by a large amount of research for a section 25 statement on a case that is less than straightforward and then copy editing the typed version of a court order in readiness to lodge it with the court.

I, therefore, thought an interesting topic for today’s blog may be s.25 statements. S.25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 details the matters to which the Court is to have regard in deciding how to exercise its powers when dealing with ancillary relief applications. S.25 (2) contains a checklist of these matters including:

(a)    the income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future, including in the case of earning capacity any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire;

(b)   the financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;

(c)    the standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;

(d)   the age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;

(e)    any physical or mental disability of either of the parties to the marriage;

(f)     the contributions which each of the parties has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to the welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after the home or caring for the family;

(g)    the conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would in the opinion of the court be inequitable to disregard it;

(h)   in the case of proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage, the value to each of the parties to the marriage of any benefit F4. . . which, by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, that party will lose the chance of acquiring.

A S.25 statement is a narrative statement that sets out the party’s case, including all the past, present and future circumstances of the case in reference to the s.25 factors (above). Once the s.25 statement has been drafted it is then put before the court in advance of the hearing.

S.25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 can be found here  With the statement drafted and the million and one other jobs I had to do today complete I close down my computer for the last time in 2013. I do hope you all had a brilliant Christmas and I wish you all a very Happy New Year. I will be back and blogging on the 6th of January, but for now I am off to celebrate New Year with my family. In the meantime do tune in for blog articles from both Charlotte and Becca in my absence.

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

It’s Christmas Day!

Christmas EveWell, it is Christmas Day, I am however writing this on Christmas Eve, as I may be a little busy cooking Christmas dinner to write a post this morning. The Stowe Family Law office was buzzing with festivity on Christmas Eve and we were packed up early, 12pm and we were done. It was also my brother’s birthday on Christmas Eve, so to truly kick off the festivities I shot off home for a huge family party. I figured, however, that I would write a quick, slightly festive blog post to wish you all a Merry Christmas in case any of you decided to tune in today.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that on Christmas Eve there should be little work to be done. However, if the trend is anything to go by, January promises to be a busy month and so it is good practice to ensure you are fully on top of all your cases before tucking in to the Bailey’s and kicking back to celebrate. January has been nicknamed the divorce month, why? Because it is apparently the month with the highest divorce petition rate. It may be explained by the fact that some couples hold off in order to not disrupt their families over the Christmas period or it may be that the Christmas period, when people often have time off to spend at home, really brings home the issues in a marriage. Whatever the reason, as a law firm we need to be prepared for the possible influx of clients. Plus, either way with the New Year beckoning it is a great idea to have everything in order so that you can kick off the New Year organised and ready for anything that may crop up.

I am lucky to have a good few days off over Christmas, but don’t worry this won’t mean that it will be all quiet on the Western Front. We will hopefully be keeping you updated with legal news and exciting posts about what me, Charlotte and Becca have been up to at the various offices over the festive period. There will be no posts this Thursday or Friday because the offices are closed, but I will be posting on the 30th of December, so if you are so full of mince pies and Christmas pudding to move off your sofa why not tune in and have a quick read. The Blog will then be up and running again as usual from the 2nd of December.

I hope you are all having a brilliant Christmas and haven’t burnt the turkey just yet, with it only being 9am. I also hope that none of you had to make that last mad dash around the shops in search of that illusive present yesterday. Luckily, I finished my Christmas shopping on the 23rd and so with the end of this blog post all that is left for me to say now is: Merry Christmas! I hope you all have a happy holiday filled with festive fun.


Photo by peminumkopi via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Financial Orders: A Trainee Solicitor’s Primer

stowe family law leedsIt was somewhat eerie walking through town today on my way to the Stowe Family Law office in Leeds. The usual packed streets of the city centre resembled a ghost town! It is Christmas Eve however, and I am very much looking forward to spending tomorrow with my loved ones. The streets are empty, but my desk is not! I have many tasks to complete before I leave Stowe Family Law LLP for the Christmas break!

My day is starting with an Attendance Note from a conference I took note in last week. The conference was very informative and I must now compile the all of the relevant information into a document, which can be reviewed on a later date.

Much of my note is focused on the Financial Orders made available upon divorce. Once a marriage has irretrievably broken down, and consent to divorce is given by both parties, the most contentious issue is how they can achieve a financial settlement. This can be a quarrelsome issue as if one party feels as though they have been wronged they sometimes take the view that it entitles them to a substantially bigger share of the matrimonial assets. This is just one of the many reasons ancillary relief proceedings can be extremely difficult however. The Courts (unfortunately for the wrong party) do not deal with the emotional fall outs within the relationship; instead they deal solely with the finances, using factors listed in s25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act to guide them on the appropriate Order to be made.  I think it necessary that I now tell you what Orders are available!

The Court has the power to make the following Orders with regard to the finances:

  • Interim maintenance;
  • Long-term maintenance;
  • Lump sum payment;
  • Transfer of property; and
  • Pension sharing Orders
  • Child maintenance if the CSA do not have jurisdiction

The orders are not mutually exclusive, and the court can make the whole range of orders in any one case. The starting point for the division of the matrimonial assets is 50/50 but, in some cases, the Court will consider whether there should be a departure from equality taking into account factors listed under Section 25 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. These include:


  1. The income, earning capacity, property and other financial resources which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future, including in the case of earning capacity any increase in that capacity which it would in the opinion of the Court be reasonable to expect a party to the marriage to take steps to acquire;
  2. The financial needs, obligations and responsibilities which each of the parties to the marriage has or is likely to have in the foreseeable future;
  3. The standard of living enjoyed by the family before the breakdown of the marriage;
  4. The age of each party to the marriage and the duration of the marriage;
  5. The contributions which each of the parties has made or is likely in the foreseeable future to make to welfare of the family, including any contribution by looking after home or caring for the family;
  6. The conduct of each of the parties, if that conduct is such that it would be in the opinion of the Court be inequitable to disregard it;
  7. In the case of proceedings for divorce or nullity of marriage the value to each of the parties to the marriage of any benefit which, by reason of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage, that party will lose the chance of acquiring

Each case is thus heard of a case-by-case basis. The facts with regard to finances are different in every case, and thus different Orders are appropriate for each case. The Court’s primary aim is to provide a fair settlement, one which ultimately caters for both parties’ needs.

I am now going to get on with my work… otherwise I fear Santa may be leaving coal for me this year.

Merry Christmas to all, from the trainee solicitors and paralegals at Stowe Family Law!

Are you happier if you divorce?

secret to marriageIt is officially two days until Christmas, and I have jetted off home, back to bonnie wee Scotland for the festivities. But before I went, at Stowe Family Law LLP there was work still to be done.

On Friday I became best friends with Excel. No, seriously: we have formed some sort of bond. I am now a pro at making asset schedules and budget summaries.

An asset schedule is essentially a breakdown of all the relevant assets that the couple has, such as property, money in the bank and other miscellaneous assets such as cars, life polices, jewellery et al.

All these assets must be entered into the spreadsheet to give a grand total of the all assets owned by the husband, the wife and joint property assets. Then liabilities must be entered and deducted from the total assets. In addition to this, income has to be inserted into the schedule. Ta da! Now you have an asset schedule, which will become part of the client’s file for court proceedings.

I have also been thinking about Zoe’s recent blog post about marriage. Zoe has written about research showing that married couples live longer and are happier and healthier. This all seems to come to light at this time of year, when cynically it has been said that many couples seem to divorce after the Christmas period. And this is where I come in. I recently wrote a thesis on reforms in divorce law and discovered, like Zoe, that the breakdown of marriage can lead to a rise of social problems such as crime, substance abuse and, for children, declining academic performance. This would then suggest that in fact those who are married are happier and healthier.

However, I would like to provide a different take on this. What about if those couples who divorce are actually happier? There are positive perceptions associated with divorce: adults find fulfilment and children are able to develop successfully, surrounded by dynamic family forms. Divorce, arguably, can be viewed as a “second chance for happiness.” (Paul Amato).  Essentially, people who are healthier and happier in a marriage, have to have a happy marriage. But there are arguably couples in a marital relationship who are not happy and divorce can provide the happiness they need.

This should not be taken to mean that divorce is a simple, carefree process. It is evidently stressful and traumatic. However people do recover and sometimes become happier down the road.  My thesis explored the different coping mechanisms of divorcees and how psychologically people do recover and are able to reconstruct their lives and build on the “self.”

In other words: people can be happy in marriages, but divorce can also provide individuals with happiness. Then again, this conclusion is based on statistics, and we all know what people say about them…

Anyway, I am off and back home for the holidays. I look forward to returning to the Stowe Family Law LLP – Diary of a Trainee blog in the New Year.

Image credit: Lel4nd.

Christmas Parties and a Child’s change of name


Well, it is the day after the Christmas Party celebrations here at the Harrogate office of Stowe Family Law and everyone is truly in the festive mood. The party went down really well with a gorgeous meal followed by some secret Santa gift giving and a faux award ceremony. It proved to be a fun filled evening and it was lovely to kick back and get to know my colleagues a little better.

A recent case caught my attention today as I conducted some legal research this afternoon: W (Children) [2013] EWCA Civ 1488. This case concerns a mother who appealed an order which stated that D, a child of two years, have his name changed to include his father’s first name as his middle name. The appeal was allowed on the premise that the judge had not applied the correct test in the first instance. The test that should have been applied comes from the cases of Dawson v Wearmouth [1992] 2 AC 308 and subsequently Re W, Re A, Re B (Change of Name) [1999] 2 FLR 930 and is set out below. It was decided that the judge had failed to apply this test and ask the question of what benefit the change of the child’s name would actually have for the child.

The mother of the child appeared in court for the appeal, but the father did not, expressing his loss of belief in the court system. Lord Justice Ryder gave the judgment in absence of the father. He stated that the parties are at risk of ‘ruining the lives of their children if they do not stop litigating their own issues through their children’. Furthermore, and in reference to the issue at hand, Lord Justice Ryder stated that the test that should have been applied was that from the case of Re W, Re A, Re B (change of name) [1992] 2 FLR 930 at 933F (9-10). In addition he clarified that the ‘effect of Dawson v Wearmouth was not (as was often suggested) that added value was required by a change of name; rather, the test is welfare, ‘pure and simple”. In conclusion the court found that the judge at first instance had not applied the correct test and so set aside the order. The court stated that had the situation remained as it was at the time of the first instance judge’s order it may have allowed the change of name to stand, ‘but given that matters had now moved on (particularly the father’s disengagement with the court) the matter would be remitted for retrial.’

The Test:

“9) The present position, in summary, would appear to be as follows:

(a) If parents are married, they both have the power and the duty to register their child’s names.

(b) If they are not married the mother has the sole duty and power to do so.

(c) After registration of the child’s names, the grant of a residence order obliges any person wishing to change the surname to obtain the leave of the court or the written consent of all those who have parental responsibility.

(d) In the absence of a residence order, the person wishing to change the surname from the registered name ought to obtain the relevant written consent or the leave of the court by making an application for a specific issue order.

(e) On any application, the welfare of the child is paramount and the judge must have regard to the s1(3) criteria.

(f) Among the factors to which the court should have regard is the registered surname of the child and the reasons for the registration, for instance recognition of the biological link with the child’s father.  Registration is always a relevant and an important consideration but it is not in itself decisive.  The weight to be given to it by the court will depend upon the other relevant factors or valid countervailing reasons which may tip the balance the other way.

(g) The relevant considerations should include factors which may arise in the future as well as the present situation.

(h) Reasons given for changing or seeking to change a child’s name based on the fact that the child’s name is or is not the same as the parent making the application do not generally carry much weight.

(i) The reasons for an earlier unilateral decision to change a child’s name may be relevant.

(j) Any changes of circumstances of the child since the original registration may be relevant.

(k) In the case of a child whose parents were married to each other, the fact of the marriage is important and I would suggest that there would have to be strong reasons to change the name from the father’s surname if the child was so registered.

(l) Where the child’s parents were not married to each other, the mother has control over registration.  Consequently, on an application to change the surname of the child, the degree of commitment of the father to the child, the existence or absence of parental responsibility are all relevant factors to take into account.

(10) I cannot stress too strongly that these are only guidelines which do not purport to be exhaustive.  Each case has to be decided on its own facts with the welfare of the child the paramount consideration and all the relevant factors weighed in the balance by the court at the time of the hearing.”

For the full Family Law Week report and the full judgement please visit:

An NHS Foundation Trust v R [2013] EWHC 2340 (Fam)

6081908853_8169ea18de_mToday as I sit at my desk at lunch time I read the sad news that a little boy aged just 14 months, who was the centre of a court case, has died. The young child was born with downs syndrome and mitochondrial myopathy, a progressive muscular disorder to which there is currently no cure. The young boy, referred to as R, required constant ventilation and had been in hospital since birth. R’s parents wanted him to be allowed to go home with a long term care package; however R’s doctors did not believe this would be in his best interest and in fact believed that it would prove too burdensome for him.

The NHS Trust applied to the court for a declaration that would allow them to withdraw the artificial ventilation and allow the child to die in comfort. The clinicians caring for the child produced expert evidence that showed that the medical procedures the child had to endure caused undue suffering. They believed on balance, the suffering far outweighed the benefit the child received: the benefit of life. Whilst the benefit of life was given great weight and extensively considered, it was noted by The Honourable Mr Justice Jackson that ‘It is impossible to be certain about what he is feeling, and he cannot communicate or react to sensations himself, such as by scratching an itch. His existence is already one of total dependence, and his condition will inexorably deteriorate. In Dr A’s opinion, he should be allowed to die in peace with his family.’

The parents appointed their own medical expert who stated that he knew of a number of profoundly disabled children living at home with their parents that required constant artificial ventilation. However, the medical expert also conceded that he did not know of any child living at home with their parents that was as disabled as R, or who had such a progressively degenerative disease.

There was no question that R’s parents would provide him with the care he needed to an excellent standard, the main question was how much suffering would be incurred by the child by allowing him to go home on long term ventilation. The Judgement concluded that ‘Having considered all these matters, I find that the treating doctors and the Children’s Guardian are right in saying that it is in R’s best interests for ventilation to be withdrawn. Continued long‐term ventilation would be futile and would progressively cause him more and more suffering, while giving him very little in terms of any positive experience of the life that was being preserved by such intrusive medical intervention.’ Further, Mr Justice Jackson stated that he regretted ‘the pain that this decision must cause, but hoped that on further reflection the family will feel able to make arrangements with the doctors that will allow them to find peace for R, and some peace for themselves.’

Following this judgement and prior to final order R’s parents were given permission to submit further medical evidence in support of their argument, however, sadly, before a hearing could take place R died.

The full judgement can be found here:

Marilyn Stowe has also written a blog post on the subject. The post can be read here:

Photo by stopherjones via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Married people live longer, are happier and healthier.

541713912_4307575c98_nMarried people live longer, are happier and healthier, according to a number of high profile studies. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) recently produced figures which show that people living in intimate relationships have lower death rates than single people in almost all age groups. The ABS compared the rate of death for single people versus married ones and found that death rates begin to widen between the groups when an individual hits 40 years of age. This gap spikes between the ages of 70 and 84, at which point the death rate for single people is apparently almost double that of married people.

Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher in their book The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially try to explain exactly why married people apparently live longer. They state that there are a number of possible reasons and it is arguable that it is a combination of these reasons that result in married peoples longer life expectancy. These reasons include a better financial picture, better mental health, and the idea that someone is there to support and look after you should you fall under stress or become ill. According to a study published as early as 1990 single women have a 50% higher mortality rate than married women (Ross Catherine E, Mirowsky John, Goldsteen Karen, The impact of the family on health: A decade in review, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1990 November).

A recent survey of 127,545 American adults found that married men are healthier than those who never married, were widowed or divorced. Men aged 25 or over when they married had a lower death rate than those aged under 25 at the point of marriage. According to an article published on the Harvard Health Publications webpage entitled Marriage and Men’s Health, ‘numerous studies conducted over the past 150 years suggest that marriage is good for health. More recently, scientists have begun to understand why married men enjoy better health than their single, divorced, and widowed peers.’ The webpage goes on to discuss ‘how marriage affects specific diseases, including America’s leading killers, cardiovascular disease and cancer.’ According to the ‘Framingham Offspring Study… marriage is truly heartwarming. Scientists evaluated 3,682 adults over a 10-year period. Even after taking major cardiovascular risk factors such as age, body fat, smoking, blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol into account, married men had a 46% lower rate of death than unmarried men.’ Furthermore, ‘a study of 27,779 cancer cases found that unmarried individuals were more likely to have advanced disease at the time of diagnosis than married persons’. ‘Scientists from the University of Miami investigated 143,063 men with [prostate cancer]. Over a 17-year period, married men survived far longer (median 69 months) than separated and widowed patients (38 months); men who had never married had an intermediate survival rate (49 months). And researchers from Harvard and UCLA have identified similar survival benefits for married patients with bladder cancer.’

However, marriage does come with its downside: the possibility of getting divorced or becoming widowed both of which are likely to increase stress and have serious effects on mental health. The ‘MRFIT study of 10,904 American married men [revealed that] men who divorced were 37% more likely to die during the nine-year study than men who remained married. Similarly, a British study of 9,011 civil servants linked stressful relationships to a 34% increase in the risk of heart attacks and angina. And an Israeli study of 10,059 men found that stressful family relationships appeared to increase the risk of dying from a stroke by 34%. Divorce also triggers a sharp increase in the rate of suicide by men.’ A study that tracked married people over a 14 to 23 year period showed that ‘healthy men who lost a wife were 2.1 times more likely to die during the study period than healthy men who were not bereaved; for men with pre-existing medical problems, bereavement boosted the rate of death 1.6 times. The risk was greatest from s7 to 12 months after the loss, but an elevated death rate persisted for more than two years.’

But what about those who cohabit? Can these people replicate the apparent health benefits of the happily married? There are fewer studies in this area, however arguably if the relationship is long term then the benefits of marriage will surely apply: financial support, support in sickness and stress, and decreased loneliness and mental health difficulties.

Harvard Health Publications webpage can be found here:

Ross Catherine E, Mirowsky John, Goldsteen Karen, The impact of the family on health: A decade in review, Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1990 November can be found here:

The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better off Financially can be found on amazon:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics webpage can be found here:

Photo by {inercia} via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Counselling and the breakdown of relationships.

177802153_ccc2373f9c_mSo it is the last week before Christmas and unlike the song, Twas the Night Before Christmas, a lot of us are scurrying around trying to get cases tied up before we all leave the office for a bit of the time off over the festive period. The office Christmas party is set for Thursday night, and promises to be an entertaining and delicious evening with the food on offer. I am looking forward to a couple of days off over Christmas and time to spend with my family and friends. I am also thankful that this year I don’t have an LPC exam looming on the 2nd of January.

Today as I rattle through the first few tasks on my long job list for this week I take a minute to read a new survey conducted by Seddons in conjunction with The Marriage Foundation. According to this survey, whilst one third of divorcing couples greatly regret the affect their separation had on their children they did not generally seek help with their relationship. The survey asked 23 questions of its participants, the topic of these questions centred around the impact the separation had on the parental relationship between the children and both parents and whether the parents have attended any courses when their relationship began to break down or any counselling following the breakdown of their relationship.

The survey showed that 79% of couples did not seek any form of counselling when their relationship was in difficulty, the majority of whom stated that at that point they believed it was just too late. Whilst, 24% of those involved in the survey reported that their children had suffered no negative effects following the separation, with most indicating that their parental relationship with their child had not suffered, some participants did report a deterioration in their children’s emotional wellbeing and behaviour.

A number of those surveyed stated that if they could go back and change one thing it would be to increase amicable communication between them and their partner both prior to and following the breakdown of their relationship. Over three quarters of those involved in the survey stated that they did not know about or did not take part in relationship education courses in the early stages of their relationship. However, the question is should we really need to educate people in how to be in a relationship. Sadly it would appear to be the case. As they say prevention is better than a cure. Although, a cure would be good also, counselling when your relationship hits difficulty would appear to greatly help. In 2011, Linda Kelsey wrote an article for the Daily Mail entitled ‘Can therapy save your marriage?’ in which Deborah Cooper, 52, stated that with a counsellors help her and her husband Bob, 60, worked through their relationship difficulties and ‘nearly 20 years down the line, and with their three children now grown up, Deborah says: ‘We’ve not had a major crisis between us since, even though two of our children have had severe health problems and there was a time when, financially, things were dire. But if we were to face another bad patch, would I go back to counselling? Definitely.’’  And she is not the only one to support relationship counselling, in January 2010 Relate reported that 80% of respondents to a survey they conducted, said they felt counselling helped to strengthen their relationship. However, other research suggests the exact opposite ‘US studies put the success rate for counselling at a meagre 11-18%.’ (Can these people save your marriage?, Luisa Dillner, The Guardian, Saturday 9 September 2006  Research results are arguably swayed by a number of variables, for instance the success rate depends on a couples willingness to engage in counselling, the stage at which the breakdown of their relationship is at, and their belief in the fact that counselling can actually help. A knowledge that counselling and courses are available, however, would greatly help.

The Separation Survey results can be found here:

Relate’s response to Divorce statistics England and Wales can be found at:

‘Can therapy save your marriage?’ by Linda Kelsey can be found here:

Photo by wheat_in_your_hair via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

A Festive Update of my time at Stowe Family Law

wreathOn my way to work this morning there were a good five different Christmas songs playing on the radio, which certainly put me in a festive mood.  We have a beautiful wreath on our office door and I know that Christmas time is just around the corner. Mulled wine, Santa and Christmas songs – what more can you ask for? (Probably not the two stone that I am going to put on over the festive period, but that is just the price you have to pay).

Anyway, even though Christmas seems not so far away, as a LPC student, and although I have technically “finished for Christmas”, I still have exams next week. Honestly, after university no-one wishes for more exams but in order to become a solicitor this is exactly the route you have to take.  So, today I thought I would give you all a wee update on my first few months at Stowe Family Law, the LPC and well generally moving to Manchester.

As I did my degree in Leeds and wanted to study my LPC at the University of Law, Manchester seemed like the most fitting city.  And, I sure am happy that I have moved here. Firstly, the Christmas markets are huge compared to Leeds and so I am very spoiled for choice.  But the real test of living, working and studying here is the juggling of time I have to manage. As a lawyer, time management and organisation is essential and studying for my LPC and working at Stowe Family Law, I have certainly learnt how to utilise my time.  The thing is, even though my peers on my course are astonished at how I manage to prepare my work for university while having a job, I feel it actually works in my favour.

Let’s take one of my exams next week: solicitor’s accounts (I am sure Zoe can recall the horror of this). I have learned far more about the reality of the nature of this exam. This is because recently Laura, a solicitor at the Wilmslow office, taught me how to complete a Form H (I must say she is a very good teacher).  A Form H is essentially an accumulation of the costs incurred by the party before a FDR (Financial Dispute Resolution). I will not go into grave detail about a Form H as Zoe has written a great article explaining what it is, which can be found here:

But what I will tell you, is that in order to gather the detail to place in a Form H, a solicitor has to look at the ledger accounts of the client. It is these ledger accounts that give me nightmares about my solicitor’s accounts exam. It is these ledgers that I have had countless workshops at university on, so that I can understand how client money is spent and how law firms record the accounting of this money.  Preparing my first Form H really put these learning aspects into practice and made the whole nightmare of solicitor’s accounts less scary. So, even though at every available moment I seem to be doing work for university, working at Stowe Family Law has certainly made the understanding of the practical aspects of the course a whole lot easier.I have been able to learn a lot more than my peers and have been able to witness the practicalities of what I am learning on the LPC. Yes, it is hard working and studying. But do I regret it? Not a bit.  I am already excited ( yes, I know) about the prospect of studying Family Law on the LPC because if I get asked to produce a Form E- I will know exactly what I am doing ( and I must say a major thank you to Nastassia Burton and Laura Guillon- my teachers in all of this).

And with that, I wish you all a fabulous weekend!

P.S Wish me luck for my exams!!!

Image by cloudberrynine

The difficulties of Child Protection Orders

bumpRecently there was a story in the news about an Italian woman whose baby was put for adoption after a caesarean. Her child is now being adopted by a British couple despite her pleas to raise the child herself. The case has been condemned as extraordinary and totalitarian and an MP has even gone so far as to call the Essex Children’s Services ‘unaccountable and out of control’.  The woman in question unfortunately suffered from mental health issues, and the view of social services and the Courts was ultimately that her health issues deemed her unable to raise her child.

During my time at Leeds University I studied child law, and orders with such extreme results were often the subject of debate amongst my peers. We would often spend seminars discussing Child Protection Orders and the difficulties that the law faces in relation to them. There are many orders at the courts disposal, and thus we would sometimes disagree on the appropriate order to be made in respect of a child who is at risk of harm, or indeed suffering harm. Some would choose the most extreme, reaching the conclusion that care proceedings should be initiated and others would suggest that such an order is not necessary under the present facts of the case. It became obvious that this is not a clear cut area of the law, and that it is fraught with controversy.

A few problems that the law has to deal with in relation to children protection orders are as follows:

Evidential problems; in care cases the judges are faced with the task of having to penetrate ‘ the fog of denials, evasions, lies and half truths which all too often descend’. In other words, social workers and the courts do not always know all the facts and thus must deal with the possibilities.  It is also noticeable that even experts examining the same injuries that a child has incurred, can differ widely in their interpretation of them. So here lies a problem, a decision must be made as to what is best for the child despite the truth not being established. Ultimately this can lead to a more extreme order being made, when in actual fact, a less severe order would have been more appropriate, and vice versa.

Secondly, even if the facts are know, there is much controversy over how much suffering the child should face before it is suitable for the state to be able to intervene to protect the child. Many will have a differing view on what is harmful enough to constitute permanent removal from the parents. For example, does a child living in a dirty home, who is not fed correctly or washed, need to be removed from that environment or should the state simply offer support to the parents to improve their lifestyle? The issue here is should the state only intervene in the most serious cases so to protect the privacy of the family or are they justified in acting in order to prevent abuse. What is evident also is that the lines are blurred, what some will call neglect or abuse others may not view so seriously.

Finally, critics have argued that even where the facts are established, and abuse is proved, there is still much debate as to the correct response to it. Research has shown that there is a level of abuse of children in care, and in particular of those in children homes. Further, it has been argued that removing a child from an abusive family only to place him or her into an abusive situation in a children’s home is to heap harm upon him. Obviously this is not always the case, but nevertheless is another concern that the Courts must face when making decisions in relation to child protection.

In addition the issues mentioned above, after the Human Rights Act 1998 English and Welsh law must now start with a strong presumption that the state must respect the right to a private life (Article 8 of the ECHR). This means that in all cases involving care orders, the court must consider whether there any infringement of human rights will be justified. In spite of this, it would be wrong to assume that the Human Rights Act supports a non interventionist approach in child protection cases.

To conclude it is clear that the courts are faced with an extremely hard task in child protection cases. They have to decide what is best for the child and that is not always clear. The facts of the case can be distorted and a decision to remove a child from their home must be balanced against the detrimental effects of removing them from their family.

I have not read the case of the Italian lady fully, and thus cannot form a well-educated opinion on the judgement as of yet. What I am sure of however, is that it will remain a controversial decision consumed in differences of opinion.

Image by MestreechCity