Monthly Archives: March 2015

Adoption on the rise

It was reported by the Department of Education that Adoptions are at their highest since 1992. There were 5050 ‘looked after children’ adopted during the year ending 31 March 2014: this is a 26 per cent increase from 2013 and a 58 per cent increase since 2010.

What is a looked after child?

Under section 22 of the Children Act 1989 a child is ‘looked after’ if they are in the Local Authorities care or provided with accommodation for a continuous period of more than 24 hours, subject either to a Care Order as per S31 of the Children Act 1989 or subject to a Placement Order as per section 21 Adoption and Children Act 2002.

This increase is despite the 47 per cent decrease in ‘Adoption Decision Maker’ decisions between July 2013 and September 2014, as reported by the National Adoption Leadership Board in December of last year following the case of Re B-S. ADM decisions are made in the second stage of adoption when all checks on the prospective adopters have been reviewed and the panel have made their recommendations. It was felt by the Board that the judgement in Re B-S created a great deal of uncertainty and resulted in the release of a myth buster in response to the comments made in the judgement, with the aim of clarifying and de-mystifying the law in this area in the hope that adoption decisions would subsequently rise and thus adoption figures would rise in turn.

Whether adoptions will rise further is yet to be seen but the increase so far has been partly attributed to the Action Plan on Adoption which was published in March 2012 and sought to reduce the time taken for a child to be adopted. The Department of Education reports that the average time from a child initially being taken into care and their adoption has reduced by 2 months. It was further reported that although most looked after children (37 per cent) are aged 10-15, those aged one to four made up the highest proportion of looked after children to be adopted. Research carried out by the Family Finding Study found that placement stability and quality was a significant factor in successful placements and this was largely attributed to younger children having fewer behavioural problems.

What is evident from the report published by the Department of Education is that although great headway has been made vast improvements need to be made in order to ensure that as many children ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority are placed in permanent homes.

Shanika Varga

My name is Shanika Varga and I am a trainee solicitor at Stowe Family Law. My contribution to this blog is to provide an honest and open account of life through my eyes at Stowe. It will provide insight into life at the largest specialist family law firms in the country and my journey as a trainee solicitor through to qualification. I hope this is of help to prospective trainees and all long suffering law students/ aspiring solicitors.

More about me:

I graduated with a 2:1 LLB from the University of Keele and went on to study the Legal Practice Course at the College of Law York after taking a year out to work in the legal sector. I completed the LPC with a distinction in all subjects in June 2014 and began working Stowe in October 2014.

Whilst studying for the LPC I made the most of the pro bono opportunities available at the centre and found that doing so really helped focus my attention on not only what kind of firm I hoped to train with but what areas of law I enjoyed and was most suited to.

I have a keen interest in cooking, I love to read (especially now my reading list isn’t dictated by which exam I have coming up next) and I have just recently found a new love for upcycling furniture.

How I became a trainee solicitor

My reasons for considering a career in the law may not be as inspirational as some. The idea was first put into my head by several of my teachers at secondary school commenting that my argumentative nature would suit the profession. This opinion was echoed by my family members and I am sure my long suffering fiancée wouldn’t disagree either.

I decided to explore this career option during my year 10 work experience. I spent two weeks at a firm in my hometown and thoroughly enjoyed my time there. Although the work was not overly legal I gained a real insight into how a practice runs on a day-to-day basis and, from then on, a legal career was my focus.

My path toward family law

I studied my LLB at Keele Univeristy and the three years flew by. Before I knew it, it was April 2012 and I was about to sit my finals. At this point, I honestly hadn’t given a massive amount of thought to training contracts. I had managed to secure a place on the LPC to start September 2012 but, after a lot of thought and consideration, decided that it would be best to defer the LPC for a year. This would give me the chance to earn some money to help pay for the LPC and to re-motivate myself. Third year really took its toll on my enthusiasm for the law!

My reason for not applying for training contracts was simply that I didn’t know what I wanted. There are so many different firm structures and areas of law that I didn’t see how I could tie myself down or make a decision without knowing more about what was out there. The law you learn at University is very different to the LPC or practice. It wasn’t until my year out working that I started to get more of an idea of the kind of solicitor I wanted to be. It was more a process of elimination than a ‘eureka moment’ but with each different area of law I experienced I could definitively say that it wasn’t for me.

Throughout University I was drawn to Family Law, choosing modules which complimented this area. However, it wasn’t until I started the LPC that I truly realised that this was the area for me.

 

When I first started the LPC..

I didn’t know what to expect. I had been told so many contradictory things by former LPC students. The jump from studying my LLB to the LPC was huge; the style of work, teaching and learning is completely different. It was no longer about how much case law you can regurgitate and so much more to do with your application of the law to facts. I was relieved, although it was an extremely intense nine months. I really felt like I was becoming a legal professional. I felt so much more prepared for starting a job in the legal sector than I did when I started.

It was during the second term of my LPC that I decided family law would be my focus. I took the family law module and I finally found a subject where everything made complete sense! All the other LPC subjects had been fairly easy to study but Family Law just clicked. This now meant that I could really focus my attention on the right kind of firm and I found that my applications had improved one hundred fold! It is so much easier to convince someone that you are right for their firm when you truly believe in what you are saying!

 

My transition into trainee life was fairly straightforward and quick.

I finished the LPC in June 2014 and started a job at a legal aid firm immediately. During my time there, I saw the advertisement for a trainee position at Stowe Family Law and sent my CV and a covering letter off, no application forms with trick questions. I was called for an interview shortly after and then attended the Harrogate office for a trial against another candidate and within a month I started.

Throughout my whole trial I questioned everything I did, even things that were second nature to me in my previous job. I think that is just the nature of the sector. We are taught from the moment that we start our LLBs, even before that when we are applying to universities, that we have to be the best.

If you were a larger fish in small pond, like I was at secondary school, it is quite an adjustment being surrounded by thousands of people just as clever and just as experienced as you are. I found that I got into the habit of constantly comparing myself to those around me. What I had learnt by the time I got my training contract though, was that this is pointless. Landing a training contract can be just as much to do with luck as ability. I very easily could have missed the advertisement for my training contract, or had a job not conveniently around the corner and not been able to sneak off for my interview in my lunch break.

What differentiates one law student from another is very often minimal and sometimes it can just come down to timing of applications or advertisements. Many law firms won’t just look at experience and ability but will look at your personality. Finding a trainee that will not only fit in with colleagues but will also fit in with the firm ethos is important to employers. They want to find a candidate that they know will approach things in the same way they would, so it is important to research firms’ reputations. If they are known to take an aggressive approach, it’s important to ask yourself whether this is the type of solicitor you want and can be. Work experience is an excellent way of gauging what a firm is like as a website will only show you so much. Actually spending a week in the environment will often show you whether you would be a good fit.

The most important thing to do though is persevere. Not many of my LPC class had training contracts when we started the LPC and I know many now that still don’t have them. It’s very hard not to give up and I had many wobbles along the way but as soon as I had a clear vision in my head of what I wanted it all became a lot easier. I was more motivated, I had more focus on what  I was aiming for and more importantly I had the confidence that it was the right move for me.

Financial claims after divorce: will it ever be too late?

A recent Supreme Court decision has highlighted the necessity to ensure that financial matters are resolved during the course of divorce proceedings. This is particularly true for those acting in person after the cuts to legal aid.

Vince v Wyatt  saw a woman whose marriage had broken down almost 30 years ago granted the right to pursue an application for financial remedy from her ex-husband who had, since the divorce, accrued substantial wealth. The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal and directed that the belated claim should proceed in the Family Division of the High Court.

The couple had met in 1981 when she was 21 and he was 19 and married a year later. They had a son and Ms Wyatt already had a child from a previous relationship who was accepted as part of the family. The family by no means lived a life of luxury and mainly subsisted on benefits. The couple separated in 1984 and Mr Vince embarked on a travelling lifestyle, leaving Ms Wyatt to bring up the children without any financial help.

The couple divorced on 26 October 1992. Unfortunately, the Court file was somehow misplaced and therefore it is unknown whether a financial order was made at the time or indeed whether the financial claims were dismissed. The Court stated that they had no reason to believe the latter option, especially without her consent or receipt of a capital payment. The Court made an educated guess that Ms Wyatt had included in her petition applications for the full range of orders as this was usual practice. This was in contrast to Mr Vince’s assertions that the Court ordered he “did not have to pay [the wife] any money”.  It was from the late 1990s onward that Mr Vince’s business became extremely profitable rendering him a multi-millionaire.

Ms Wyatt had two more children and the parties’ son went to live with Mr Vince in 2001. Despite Mr Vince’s new found wealth, Ms Wyatt in comparison continued to struggle financially. Following her application to the Court, Mr Vince made a cross application to strike out her claim for financial remedy.

Pursuant to Rule 4.4 of the Family Procedure Rules a substantive application may be struck out if:

  • The Court may strike out a statement of case if it appears to the Court that:
  1. That the statement of case discloses no reasonable grounds for bringing or defending the application;
  2. That the statement of case is an abuse of the Court’s process or is otherwise likely to obstruct just disposal of the proceedings.

Upon consideration of the power to strike out it was noted that the Family Rules do not contain a corresponding power of summary judgement as per the Civil Rules. This was significant, as the family rules deliberately omit an equivalent power. The Court decided that it was incorrect to say that there were no reasonable grounds for bringing the case, in the absence of hearing any evidence. It was found that it was not a “frivolous, scurrilous or obviously ill-founded application”, nor was it an abuse of the Court’s process.

Furthermore, the strike out application made by Mr Vince was dismissed and, on Ms Wyatt’s application, the Court ordered Mr Vince to make interim periodical payments to her, or indeed “directly to [her] solicitors”.

Mr Vince voiced his upset about the decision, stating that he was “disappointed that the Supreme Court has decided not to bring the case to an end”, three decades after the marriage ended. He expressed a desire to move on and added that people should not have to “look over their shoulders” after divorce.

However, the ruling is significant. Resolution chair Jo Edwards said that the Supreme Court has made it clear “that the draconian power to strike out family proceedings simply does not exist”, although she did stress that the merits of such applications will be dealt with on a case by case basis by the Courts.

This ruling makes it clear that financial matters should be resolved as quickly as possible during divorce proceedings. It would appear that otherwise those who make substantial amounts of money post-divorce will be exposed to “potentially opportunistic claims”. If Ms Wyatt’s application had been dealt with at the time the marriage broke down, it is “likely that a capital clean break would have been achieved” which means that she would have no option to essentially come back for more now.

Ms Edwards added that it would be interesting to see how the Court handles Ms Wyatt’s claim. It is “more likely to succeed on the basis of her contributions through caring for the children after the marriage breakdown”, but the fact that she has left it so long before bringing her claim to the Court may go against her, she added.

Indeed, the Court made it evident that Ms Wyatt would face formidable difficulties in her claim. This was for a number of reasons including the short length of the marriage, the low standard of living enjoyed by the parties, the period of time that has passed since the divorce, the fact that the Mr Vince accrued his wealth post-separation and that the Ms Wyatt made no contribution to this wealth. Nevertheless, the claim is to proceed and I will be sure to keep you all updated!

To those divorcing or divorced already, make sure the financial claims are finalised!