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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The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, under which a system of no-fault divorce will be introduced, has passed through both houses of parliament. The Bill now just requires the Royal Assent before it becomes law.

However, the Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland QC has warned that the new law is unlikely to be implemented until autumn 2021, as “time needs to be allowed for careful implementation”. This will include the making of the necessary rules and procedures to give effect to the law, which will obviously be quite different to the present system.

All of which begs the question: what do you do if you want to commence divorce proceedings? Do you proceed under the present law, or wait for the new law to come in?

At the moment, in view of how far the new law is still away, the answer must generally be that you should proceed now, unless you will have to wait anyway for the requisite period of separation to elapse. (If you can’t or don’t want to issue divorce proceedings now on the basis of the other party’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour, you have to wait until you have been separated for two years if the other party consents to the divorce, or for five years if they do not consent.)

However, as we get closer to the introduction of the new law, then more and more people will no doubt prefer to wait, rather than have to apportion blame for the marriage breakdown under the present system.

And if you believe that your spouse will defend divorce proceedings, then it may be more appropriate to wait, as defended divorce proceedings will not be possible under the new system.

If you want further advice as to whether to commence divorce proceedings you should consult an expert family lawyer. Family Law Café can put you in touch with such a 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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An enhanced version of the Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced to Parliament by the Government. The Bill, which aims to strengthen protection for victims of abuse, had been introduced in the last Parliament, but failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the General Election.

To recap, measures in the Bill include: introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse; establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors; introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; and prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts.

As we reported here, the Government has already announced that Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Enhancements to the Bill include requiring local authorities in England to provide support and ensure safe accommodation for victims and their children, and improving on the ban on alleged abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, by applying it to all family proceedings where there is evidence of domestic abuse.

Commenting on the Bill Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

“An astonishing 2.4 million people in England and Wales have suffered domestic abuse. That is unacceptable, and the reason why it is so important to shine a light on this crime.

“The Domestic Abuse Bill is a monumental step to empower victims and survivors, provide protection and tackle perpetrators at the earliest stage.

“Through this bill and bolstering law enforcement, we will be able to keep millions of victims safe.”

Family Law Café welcomes the re-introduction of this important Bill, and hopes that it will swiftly pass onto the statute book.

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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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As we have often advised here, anyone involved in financial remedy proceedings on divorce should make every reasonable effort to settle the case by agreement, to avoid the time, stress and expense of contested proceedings. However, it has not been compulsory to put forward settlement proposals, at least until shortly before any final hearing.

Until now.

A new rule due to come into effect on the 6th of July will impose a duty upon parties to financial remedy proceedings to put forward settlement proposals at a much earlier stage in the case.

Shortly after a financial remedies application has been issued, and after both parties have made full disclosure of their means, the court will fix a Financial Dispute Resolution appointment (‘FDR’). The purpose of the FDR is to provide the parties with an opportunity to negotiate a final financial settlement, with the input and assistance of a judge.

The new rule provides that where the case has not been settled at the FDR the court can direct that the parties put forward open settlement proposals, by such date as the court directs. If the court does not make a direction, then the proposals must be put forward within 21 days after the date of the FDR appointment.

Family Law Cafe welcomes the new rule, in so far as it may lead to more cases being settled sooner. However, parties should obviously only be compelled to put forward settlement proposals once they have sufficient information to ascertain their entitlement, including information about the other party’s means, and valuations of all relevant assets.

If you are involved in financial remedy proceedings Family Law Cafe can assist. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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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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A High Court judge has urged a couple involved in a long-running divorce dispute over finances to try to settle the case to avoid further costs, which already run into the millions. Concluding his judgment in Goddard-Watts v Goddard-Watts Mr Justice Holman said: “I … most earnestly urge the parties to enter into serious negotiations and find an early basis for settlement, so that the vortex of profligate spending and mutual destruction finally ends.”

But how do you avoid such destructive litigation? How do you keep your divorce costs to a minimum?

Well, here are five things that you can do:

1. Obviously, and as Mr Justice Holman suggested, you should try to settle matters by agreement, if possible. This means both putting forward reasonable proposals, and responding to any reasonable proposals that the other party may make. In another recent case, a husband was criticised by the judge for failing to respond in a timely fashion to a settlement proposal made by the wife.

2. Do not be unnecessarily confrontational. Obviously, there can be a lot of animosity surrounding a divorce, but you should endeavour to avoid confrontation when trying to sort out the divorce settlement. Unnecessary confrontation can seriously diminish the chances of agreeing matters. Yes, there are times when you must ‘stand up for yourself’, but in general you should put your feelings to one side and adopt a constructive approach.

3. Consider mediation. If you are unable to reach agreement with your spouse through negotiation, consider going to mediation. Mediation is a process whereby an independent trained mediator will help the parties try to reach an agreement. (Note that mediation is completely voluntary, and not all cases are suitable, for example, most cases where there has been domestic violence.)

4. Be realistic. Many cases fail to settle simply because one or both of the parties have unrealistic expectations as to their entitlement. Of course, it is not always easy to know what is realistic and what is not. That is where our last recommendation comes in:

5. Get a good lawyer, and follow their advice. This is where we can help. Family Law Cafe can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer who will be able to advise you on your entitlement, and who will help you to reach an agreed settlement, by adopting a constructive, non-confrontational approach, wherever possible. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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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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Five initial steps to take (or consider) to protect your financial position

Obviously, the breakdown of a marriage can be an extremely difficult time, not least because of the effect that it has upon your finances, and even your home. This can be especially so if your spouse, the main ‘breadwinner’, has just left you without making any financial provision.

What can you do in such circumstances to protect your financial position and your home?

Well, there are many things that you can do, but here are five steps that you either should or could take, or that you may consider:

1. Maintenance – If your spouse was the main breadwinner and has made no financial provision for you, then you may need to apply for maintenance. If you have dependent children then you can apply for child support maintenance via the Child Maintenance Service. You may also be able to apply to a court for maintenance for yourself, even if divorce proceedings have not begun.

2. Your home – What you can do to protect your home depends upon a number of things, but if it is owned then you may be concerned about paying the mortgage, or your spouse attempting to sell or remortgage the property. If your spouse is not paying the mortgage and you cannot afford to do so then you should contact your lender immediately, and explain the position to them. They may be prepared to agree to a ‘mortgage holiday’, temporarily suspending the mortgage payments. If the house is in joint names then your spouse will not be able to sell or remortgage it without your agreement, but if it is their sole name then you may need to protect your right to occupy the property at the Land Registry – this can help to stop your spouse from selling the house.

3. Joint accounts – Remember that your spouse will still have access to joint bank accounts. You may therefore wish to consider closing the account, or asking the bank to freeze it, to prevent your spouse from withdrawing money from it.

4. Change passwords – You may very well have online access to financial services such as banks, and other sites that use your financial details, such as online shops. Obviously, if your spouse is aware of your passwords, then they may be able to access and use these sites without your permission. You should therefore give consideration to changing your passwords to prevent this from happening.

5. Consult the right lawyer – Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to obtain the best legal advice that you can. Family Law Cafe can put you in touch with an expert family lawyer who will be able to give you the advice you need, and help you to take any steps necessary to protect your finances and your home. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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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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A new study suggests that estranged fathers with an alleged or proven history of domestic abuse can use parental alienation claims to discredit mothers and gain parenting time with their children.

While there is no single definition of parental alienation, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) recognise it as ‘when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent.’

The study, conducted by Dr Adrienne Barnett, a researcher at Brunel University London, examined all 40 reported and published private family law judgments in England and Wales, from 2000 to 2019, in which parental alienation was raised. This case law revealed a high incidence of domestic abuse perpetrated by parents (principally fathers) who were claiming that the resident parents (principally mothers) had alienated the children against them, raising questions about the purpose of parental alienation.

The study says that recently a parental alienation ‘industry’ appears to have amassed, comprising experts, therapists and lawyers, advocating transfers of children’s care from ‘alienating’ mothers to non-resident fathers, as well as parental alienation therapy for children and parents.

Dr Barnett commented:

“Playing the parental alienation card is proving more powerful than any other in silencing the voices of women and children resisting contact with abusive men. Parental alienation is not an equal counterpart to domestic abuse, it is a means of obscuring domestic abuse, and should be recognised as such.”

Parental alienation can be a very complex issue. If you believe that the other parent is alienating your child against you, or if you are being accused of alienating your child against them, then we would strongly suggest that you seek the advice of an expert family lawyer. Family Law Cafe can help you find that advice. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

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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.

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After an extended Christmas and New Year break, we thought it would be a good idea to catch up on some of the family law-related news that has happened whilst we have been away.

Perhaps the biggest story is that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will bring in a system of no-fault divorce, has been reintroduced to Parliament. The Bill was first introduced in June 2019, but was lost due to the General Election.

This is really welcome news. We have been waiting for many years for a system where it will never be necessary to blame the other party for the breakdown of the marriage in order to get a divorce. A no-fault system will reduce confrontation and its damaging effect upon children, thereby making it more likely that the parties will be able to agree arrangements regarding children and finances.

Moving on, the Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton has said that family cases that reach the Court of Appeal should be broadcast online, to dispel fears about judicial prejudice. Speaking at an event organised by the UK Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists and Techbar, he said: “There are some family cases that are really important…and people want to know how we are doing things. The motive for live-streaming is people should be able to see how we are doing our job.”

An interesting idea, which could go some way towards improving public understanding of the way that the family courts work.

Finally, new Stalking Protection Orders (‘SPOs’) have come into force. SPOs will allow courts in England and Wales to move quicker to ban stalkers from contacting victims or visiting their home, place of work or study. In addition, SPOs can also force stalkers to seek professional help. The Orders will usually last for a minimum of 2 years, with a breach counting as a criminal offence that can result in up to 5 years in prison.

Again, we think that this is welcome news. SPOs are another tool that can be used to help protect victims of stalking.

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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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The Ministry of Justice has published its latest quarterly statistics for the Family Court, for July to September 2019. The statistics show an increase in the number of cases started in the family courts.

In July to September 2019, 67,431 new cases started in family courts. This was up 1% on the equivalent quarter in 2018, and was due to a 23% rise in domestic violence cases started, along with increases in cases involving children.

The increase adds further to the pressure of work that the courts are under, and is obviously likely to result in cases taking longer. Indeed, the statistics show that children cases of all types are, on average, taking longer to be dealt with.

All of this of course makes it even more important that family disputes are resolved out out court if possible, avoiding lengthy and costly court proceedings.

And the good news is that there are a number of ways to avoid going to court. You can agree matters with the other party, either directly or through lawyers; you can go to mediation, where a trained mediator will help you try to reach agreement; you can try a collaborative approach, whereby the two sides and their lawyers work together to resolve matters; or you can go to arbitration, whereby a trained arbitrator will decide the case for you. For more details of these ways of resolving disputes, see this post.

If you would like any further information about resolving your family dispute out of court, Family Law Cafe can help. To book a free initial consultation with us click the green button at the top of this page and fill in the form, or call us on 020 3904 0506.

You can find the Family Court statistics 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.

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