It goes without saying that family court proceedings can be expensive. Obviously, this can put a less well-off party at a serious disadvantage, with their opponent being able to afford to pay for legal representation, while they cannot.

Legal aid is not available for most types of family law cases, and many people have no other way of funding their legal expenses. What can they do to put themselves on an equal footing?

There may be another source of funding, and it comes from an unexpected direction: the other party. It is possible to ask the court to order the other party to pay a lump sum to cover your legal costs of the proceedings.

We have seen this happen in two recent cases.

The first case concerned a husband’s application for a financial remedies order on divorce. The wife was considerably better off than the husband, who could not afford legal representation. He therefore applied to the court for a legal services payment order, requiring the wife to pay a lump sum to cover his legal expenses. The court made an order that the wife pay the sum of £95,000, to include £58,000 costs already incurred by the husband.

The second case concerned a mother’s application for financial provision for her daughter from the child’s father. The father was considerably better off than the mother, and could not afford legal representation. She therefore applied for a legal costs funding order, requiring the father to pay a lump sum to cover her legal expenses. The court made an order that the father pay the sum of £60,000.

But a word of caution: these costs orders are quite unusual, and will only be made in certain circumstances. In particular, the party applying for the order must satisfy the court that they have no other means of financing the case, and that the order will not cause the paying party undue hardship.

The party applying for the order must also bear in mind that at the end of the case the court may require them to repay such part of the payment as it considers appropriate.

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If you would like to know whether you could apply for a legal costs funding order we can find an expert to advise you, working with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe provides a genuinely tailored technology-based service, allowing customers to be as involved or as removed as they wish, and to benefit from as much or as little support as they require.

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Remote hearings, via telephone or video link, have become the norm for family courts, since the introduction of social distancing restrictions in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Obviously, this has been a huge new departure for the family justice system, and it is essential to ensure that the hearings are delivering effective justice, and working as well as possible.

Back in May we reported here upon an early inquiry into the effectiveness of remote family court hearings, which was commissioned by the President of the Family Division and carried out in April by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory.

In September the Observatory carried out a follow-up enquiry into remote hearings, in which it surveyed some 1,300 people with an interest in the family justice system, including parents, family members and professionals.

The survey found that most professionals (86%) felt that things were working more smoothly than in April, and some even reported benefits to working remotely, such as not having to travel to court and not having to have hostile parties face each other in court.

However, they shared concerns about the difficulties of being sufficiently empathetic, supportive and attuned to lay parties when conducting hearings remotely, although more than three quarters (78%) felt that most or all of the time fairness and justice had been achieved in the cases they were involved with.

On the other hand, a majority of parents and relatives (88%) reported having concerns about the way their case was dealt with, and two thirds (66%) felt that their case had not been dealt with well. Two in five (40%) said they had not understood what had happened during the hearing.

There was agreement between professionals and parents that family justice is not simply administrative adjudication but is dealing with personal and often painful matters which require an empathetic and humane approach, and both expressed concern about the difficulty of creating an empathetic and supportive environment when hearings are held remotely.

Lisa Harker, director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, commented:

“We cannot put the lives of thousands of children and families on hold while we hope for face-to-face practice to resume, and it’s clear that judges, barristers and other professionals have put in enormous personal effort to keep the system moving during very challenging times.

“But equally life-changing decisions must be reached fairly for all involved. The family court is often dealing with incredibly vulnerable people, from victims of domestic abuse to mums being separated from their babies, and they must be supported to fully participate. Our consultation showed great concern among professionals for the experience of traumatised parents facing the system. It also highlighted that many of the issues could be solved with relatively simple measures.”

It is now clear that social distancing restrictions will be with us, in one form or another, for many months to come. Remote hearings will therefore remain the norm for the foreseeable future, and it is for everyone involved in the family justice system to ensure that they work as well as possible.

If you have concerns about how your case will be dealt with, then Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer who can advise you, and work with you on our digital platform. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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The legal world is changing, perhaps more quickly than ever in history. Ways of doing things, written in stone for decades, if not centuries, are being swept away.

The Covid 19 pandemic may have accelerated them, but these changes have been underway for some time, and are surely inevitable.

We are talking about the move towards conducting family law work online. We are seeing this in particular with remote court hearings due to the pandemic, but before the pandemic there was already a move towards making applications to the court online.

Until recently if you wanted to make an application to the court you had to do so on paper. You then either had to go to the court to issue it, or you had to post it to the court. All of which involved unnecessary work and delay – for example, if the court was not happy with the paperwork, it would post it back to the sender, the sender would have to amend it, and then return it to the court.

Now the age of paper applications is coming to an end. One of the latest manifestations of this is the online child arrangements application.

Back in February the Ministry of Justice and HM Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) launched a new online service enabling parents and their legal representatives to apply to the court digitally to make child arrangements.

The new service is more convenient, faster and avoids many of the errors or omissions that paper applications used to contain, by picking them up during the online process. When it was launched Richard Goodman, HMCTS Change Director commented:

“For parents, it can often be a stressful, challenging time when trying to arrange visits to see children and this system is designed to make that process as straightforward as possible.

“As the court reform programme progresses, we will continue introduce services that make the justice system easier to navigate and more efficient for all those that use it.”

It is already possible to issue divorce proceedings online, and soon almost all family law business will be conducted online (although many hearings will take place in court buildings again, once the pandemic is over).

All of this of course fits in perfectly with Family Law Cafés vision of how family business should be conducted in the twenty-first century. There is no reason now why family law litigants should be required to physically contact their lawyers every time they need information or advice regarding their case, or to rely on the postal service when they wish to take a step in the proceedings.

The modern way to conduct a family law case is online, from wherever you are, whenever you wish.

If you require advice regarding sorting out arrangements for children, Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Café offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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As any Family Law Café customer will know, technology can be a blessing, reducing the stress involved in family disputes, by ensuring that you can request answers to questions and have access to documents, whenever you wish, and wherever you are.

But technology can also be a curse if its user is not careful, as a High Court judge recently discovered.

Mrs Justice Judd was dealing with a very sad child care case in which the child’s brother had died after suffering a catastrophic head injury. A fact-finding hearing was fixed, for the court to decide who, if anyone, was responsible for the injury.

The hearing was a ‘hybrid’ one, as are many hearings during the pandemic, taking place with some parties in court and other parties taking part remotely, via video link.

The child’s mother appeared in court. In the course of her evidence she complained of feeling unwell, on one day with back pain and blurred vision, and on the next day she said she had developed a cough. The hearing was stopped, and the mother allowed to go home.

The judge then returned to her room, and her laptop was brought to her. The judge then had a conversation with her clerk on the telephone, in which she made pejorative remarks about the mother, suggesting she was feigning illness to avoid answering difficult questions.

Unfortunately, the conversation was heard by the parties who had been taking part in the hearing remotely, as the video link on the laptop was still open.

The mother asked Mrs Justice Judd to recuse (i.e. excuse) herself from the case on the basis of bias. However, Mrs Justice Judd refused. The mother appealed against that decision.

The Court of Appeal allowed the mother’s appeal, finding that Mrs Justice Judd’s remarks about the mother would lead a fair minded observer to conclude that there was a real possibility that she was biased.

Accordingly, the case was remitted back for rehearing, before a different judge.

The case is obviously an example of when a judge should recuse themselves for possible bias, but it also has a moral for all of us: when using technology, make sure that anything that is private or confidential remains just that. Whatever technology you use for such matters should be kept secure, and if necessary password-protected. And remember to log out of secure sites like ours when you have finished using them!

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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The Ministry of Justice has announced a ‘major overhaul’ of how the family courts deal with domestic abuse.

The overhaul is in response to a report by a panel of experts which looked at the risk of harm to children and parents in cases involving disputes between parents about the arrangements for their children. The panel raised concerns that victims of domestic abuse and children were being put at unnecessary risk.

The new measures announced by the Ministry included:

– Giving an automatic entitlement for special measures in the courtroom for victims of domestic abuse going through the family courts, such as separate waiting rooms, separate building entrances and protective screens to shield them from their alleged abuser in court.

– Giving judges stronger powers to prevent abusers repeatedly dragging a victim back to court over child arrangements.

– Trialling an investigative, problem-solving approach in private family law proceedings, in order to reduce conflict. This could see judges decide what evidence to investigate, rather than both parties presenting their cases against each other.

– Reviewing the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ and whether the right balance is struck between the risk of harm to children and victims, with the right of the child to have a relationship with both parents.

Commenting on the measures Dame Vera Baird QC, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales said:

“This panel of experts has dug deep to understand, and address, the serious harm to domestic abuse victims and their children caused over many years by the presumption of contact, and the intensely adversarial process present in the family courts.

“With children’s voices rarely heard in these proceeding and even more rarely heeded, victims and children are in need of better protections from abusive perpetrators.

“I welcome the report, its recommendations, and the implementation plan which will help to address these, and other concerns. It has my full support. And I call on the government to action this as a matter of urgency.”

You can read the report here.

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If you would like to know more about protecting yourself from domestic violence and abuse, Family Law Café can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer – for further information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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Just like most other areas of society the family courts have been adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, the lockdown and need for social distancing have meant that many court hearings have had to be conducted remotely.

The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has now published details of how the family courts will operate for the remainder of the pandemic, in a document entitled The Road Ahead.

Perhaps the most important point that the President makes is that it is likely to take much longer than many had hoped for the family courts to get back to normal. Sir Andrew makes it clear that he does not expect this to happen before the end of the year, and perhaps not until next spring.

This means in particular that, whilst all court buildings should be open again by next month, court hearings will continue to be predominantly conducted remotely.

Many people have raised concerns about the fairness of remote hearings, particularly where a party or witness does not have a lawyer. The President made it clear that in such cases consideration should be given to the hearing taking place in court, or to there being a “hybrid“ hearing, where (for example) a parent or witness gives their evidence in court, but the rest of the hearing takes place remotely.

The President has also set out a series of guidelines to ensure that remote hearings are as fair as possible. These include keeping the hearing to a reasonable length, and including short breaks; advocates ‘meeting’ with their client both before the hearing to explain what is going to happen, and after the hearing to ‘de-brief’ their client; ensuring that parties can give instructions to their lawyers during the hearing; and, where the hearing involves a litigant in person, the judge should ‘check in’ regularly with any litigant in person to ensure that they are hearing, understanding and following the proceedings.

The President however makes it clear that remote hearings should always be conducted with the same degree of seriousness and respect as fully attended hearings.

You can read The Road Ahead here.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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The Coronavirus pandemic and resulting lockdown is having a significant impact upon how the family justice system is operating. As we explained in an earlier post, one effect is that court hearings are now being conducted remotely, where possible.

Remote hearings involve one or more of the participants (judges, lawyers, parties and witnesses) taking part remotely, via telephone or video link.

As indicated, it is not possible for all family court hearings to be conducted remotely. This may be because the hearing is not suitable to be dealt with remotely, or simply because the required technology is not available to all participants.

But what is the experience of those who have taken part in remote hearings? Do they think that it is a good or a bad thing?

Last month the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew MacFarlane commissioned an urgent inquiry into the effectiveness of remote hearings used in the family justice system. The inquiry sought the views of interested parties, including judges, lawyers, Cafcass officers and parents. Well over one thousand people responded.

Most of the respondents had taken part in a remote hearing, dealing with various kinds of family cases. The hearings were of all types, including directions hearings, interim hearings and final hearings.

The respondents were asked whether they were broadly positive or negative about their experiences of remote hearings.

There was an even balance in positive and negative responses to remote hearings. This reflected the fact that many respondents felt that remote hearings were justified in some cases in the current circumstances, even when they raised serious concerns about remote hearings in relation to other types of cases.

As to the figures, 22% were positive, 21% were negative, and the other 57% said that there were both negatives and positives about remote hearings. Almost all felt that remote hearings were justified in the current circumstances, although not necessarily for all cases. Some felt that remote hearings were justified for some cases both now and in the future, and only a small number of respondents were against remote hearings in principle.

Notwithstanding the views of some, it does appear that remote hearings will be with us at least until the pandemic is over, and very possibly after that. All users of the family courts will therefore have to be prepared for the possibility of their case, or at least part of it, being conducted remotely (hearings that can’t be conducted remotely will still have to take place in court, subject to social distancing rules).

Of course, they will also have to be prepared to wait longer for hearings to take place, as the courts will not be able to conduct the same number of hearings as they do in ‘normal’ times. Even more reason than usual to try to avoid court by settling your case, and getting expert help as soon as possible.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal. Family Law Cafe is your start-point for getting matters sorted with strategy, support and security.

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The Government has announced that early and late sittings are to be piloted in civil and family courts, “giving people greater access to hearings that can fit around their busy lives.”

The pilots will take place in two court sites: the Manchester Civil Justice Centre and Brentford County Court, and are expected to begin in spring next year. Whereas courts normally operate between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm, hearings in the pilot courts will begin at 8.00 am and end at 7.00 pm.

The pilots will run for six months, “testing whether civil and family buildings can be used more effectively; the benefits of making it possible for people to attend court outside of the traditional 10am – 4pm sitting day; and what more flexibility means for staff and legal professionals.”

Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer said:

“We want to make our courts and tribunals more accessible to the public. This pilot assesses whether and how we can give people greater flexibility in their busy lives.

“We listened carefully to the views of legal professionals and others before going ahead, and as a result flexible operating hours are not being piloted in criminal courts. We will now test different options relating to operating hours in two civil and family courts and an independent evaluation will be carried out before any decisions are made about further roll-out.”

You can read more about the pilot here.

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Family Law Cafe’s accessible team of legal experts from various disciplines expedites the customer’s case and keeps them informed and in control 24/7 through a unique and secure online portal.

Image of Manchester Civil Justice Centre by Skip88 [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons.

A husband involved in financial remedy proceedings has been ordered by a judge not to pay any money to his lawyers, unless he pays an equal amount to his wife’s lawyers.

The husband had previously been ordered to pay the sum of £40,000 for six months, to cover the wife’s legal costs. He failed to do so, claiming that he could not afford to pay. However, he did pay the sum of £95,000 to his own lawyers.

Hearing the case in the High Court Mr Justice Holman said that that it was “intolerable and an affront to justice” that the husband had paid £95,000 to his solicitors, at the very time when he should have been paying the costs order. He therefore made an injunction forbidding the husband from paying any further money to his lawyers, unless he pays an equal amount (i.e. pound for pound) to the wife’s solicitors towards satisfaction of the costs order.

The husband’s counsel objected to the order, claiming it denied the husband the means of obtaining legal advice, which he submitted was contrary to principle and impermissible. However, Mr Justice Holman said that the injunction was not intended to deny, nor was it denying, the husband the means of obtaining legal advice – he could go straight out and pay £100,000 to his lawyers for further legal advice, the only condition being that he also paid pound for pound £100,000 to the wife’s solicitors.

The injunction is an interesting way to try to force the husband to pay the costs order. It will also be interesting to see if the husband will appeal against it, particularly as some legal experts are unsure as to whether Mr Justice Holman had the power to make such an order.

You can read the full judgment in the case here.

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Family Law Cafe surrounds and supports the customer with both legal and pastoral care, end to end, from top barristers to case workers to therapists and mediators, to help the customer get the best possible result with the minimum stress.

Image: ‘Money Scales‘, by Images Money, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Two recent cases demonstrate how you should not behave if you are involved in family court proceedings (or, indeed, in any type of court proceedings).

The first case, which caused a considerable stir in the media, involved an 83 year-old man being committed to prison for 14 months, for failure to comply with court orders.

In June 2015, as part of a financial order on divorce, the court ordered that John Hart should transfer to his ex-wife Karen all his shares in a company, and he gave an undertaking to the court to take the necessary steps to render the transfer effective. However, he delayed the transfer without justification, and then stripped out all of the management records of the company, thereby making it impossible for Mrs Hart to manage the company efficiently or effectively.

The court made orders requiring Mr Hart to provide Mrs Hart with the information and documentation she needed to run the company, but Mr Hart failed to comply with the orders. His Honour Judge Wildblood, sitting as a High Court judge in Bristol, told Mr Hart that he had not done what he was ordered to do, despite the clearest possible warnings, and he therefore committed him to prison for contempt,

The moral of the case is clear: no matter who you are, you must comply with orders of the court!

You can read the judgments in the case, here and here.

The second case was not so well reported, but it also provides a lesson in how you should not behave when dealing with the court.

The case also concerned long-running financial remedy proceedings. Over a period of some three months the husband bombarded the court, the judge’s clerk, the wife’s solicitor and the wife’s barrister with “an extraordinary volume of emails” including 27 to court staff, 36 to the court’s generic email address, 26 to the judge’s clerk, 26 to the wife’s solicitor and 5 to the wife’s barrister.

The judge, Mr Justice Mostyn, was asked asked to make an order restraining the husband from communicating with the wife’s solicitor on her private email address. Mr Justice Mostyn said that it was “completely unacceptable that this form of harassment should take place”, and was therefore satisfied that it was appropriate to grant the order.

You can read the judgment in this case here.

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Family Law Cafe provides a genuinely tailored technology-based service, allowing customers to be as involved or as removed as they wish, and to benefit from as much or as little support as they require.

Image: The Civil Justice Centre, Bristol, by Robert Cutts, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

In a speech given at the Law School, University of Edinburgh, on 20 March the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby outlined his views on the future of family courts, and reform of family law.

The speech, entitled Changing families: family law yesterday, today and tomorrow – a view from south of the Border, began with an outline of the history of family law in England and Wales since Victorian times. Sir James then moved on to what he called “perhaps the greatest challenge facing the family courts”. This, he said, was the need for family courts to become problem-solving courts, dealing with the underlying issues behind children disputes, rather than just deciding what should happen to the child in future. What was urgently required, he explained, was:

“…a fundamental re-balancing of the family court towards what ought to be its true role as a problem-solving court, engaging the therapeutic and other support systems that so many children and parents need.”

Sir James then concluded his speech “by examining a few of the parts of family law most pressingly in need of statutory reform.” These included the introduction of property rights for cohabitants, no-fault divorce, reform of the law relating to financial remedies on divorce, reform of the rules about access to and reporting of family cases (to counter the charge that we operate a system of secret justice), and giving judges the power to prevent  the cross-examination in person by alleged perpetrators of domestic violence of their alleged victims.

Family Law Cafe welcomes all of these ideas, and hopes that they come to fruition in the near future.

You can read the full speech here.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image of Old College of Edinburgh University by Kim Traynor (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

An annual survey of family lawyers by business advisers Grant Thornton has found that the top issue facing family law is the increased number of litigants in person, due to the lack of public funding (legal aid). This is the fifth year running that this issue has come top of the survey. Legal aid for most private family matters was removed in 2013.

The second biggest issue was the overburdening of family courts and delays resulting from court closures, and the third biggest issue was courts not being fit for purpose.

Nick Andrews, Head of Disputes at Grant Thornton UK LLP, commented: “With our results showing a continued dissatisfaction with the family court system, it will be interesting to see whether the proposed Financial Remedies Courts will have any impact on this.”

Amongst other things, the survey also asked what were the most common reasons for the breakdown of marriages. Top of the list came growing apart or falling out of love, followed by extra-marital affairs and unreasonable or controlling behaviour.

You can read the full survey here.

Family Law Cafe agrees that the family court system is in an unsatisfactory state, suffering from an increase in the numbers using the courts, many of whom are litigants in person, and a lack of proper investment. Hopefully, new initiatives such as online divorce and the new Financial Remedies Courts will improve matters.

As to the reasons for marriage breakdown, Family Law Cafe looks forward to the day when we have a system of no-fault divorce, so that the law is no longer concerned why the marriage broke down, at least for the purposes of divorce. We note, incidentally, that respondents to the survey also indicated that the introduction of no-fault divorce was the change in legislation that they would most like to see.

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Family Law Cafe offers a modern, agile and compassionate approach to family law, giving you a helping hand when you need it and guiding you through the complexities of this difficult and stressful area.

Image: Grant Thornton