Category Archives: Family and Matrimonial

15 Common Myths About Child Custody

There are many misconceptions about child custody not only in Fort Worth but the entire world. Some divorcing parents are forced to believe in such myths because they are very common to a point many people think they are facts.

It is however important to get facts straight to those starting on this journey or even those that have been to several court proceedings but yet to receive the verdict from the judge.

1. The parent who leaves forfeits child custody

This is a common myth whereby those abandoned believe the other parent forfeits child custody the moment they left. They end not filing for child custody. Legally, both parents share child custody both legal and physical until they receive a formal child custody order from the court.

2. Only criminal cases are entitled to free legal representation

There are many parents who do not know that they are entitled to free legal representation. In child custody case if you cannot afford the services of a professional lawyer then you can request the court or legal aid to help by appointing one for you.

3. Only a lawyer can represent you in court

The main reason why you should hire a professional child custody lawyer is because they better understand the legal and court procedures such that they can help you get through the process faster. You are however entitled to represent yourself in court if you want to.

4. Child custody order by the court is final

A child custody court order is not final and can be changed by appealing. With the help of a professional family lawyer experienced in child custody cases, you will be able to file the right paperwork. Legal representation in the appeal process would also be vital in altering the previous court order

5. Mothers are favored in child custody

The court is not biased in any way based on gender. The court has only the interests of the child and therefore looks into various factors other than gender or financial standings.

6. Financially fit parents win custody

The decision of the court is never solely determined by the well-being of the couple. A number of factors are looked into.

7. Willingness to compromise is a sign of weakness

Sometimes based on a specific case, the court can grant custody to the parent who is more willing to compromise. The parent who is more than willing to sacrifice personal interests for the sake of the child’s interests mostly gets the custody

8. Parents who fail to pay for child support will be denied visitation

Usually, child custody/visitation and child support are considered completely different issues. This, therefore, means that failure to pay for child support does not guarantee that one will be denied visitation

9. Parents get awarded either legal or physical custody

Upon listening to arguments from both sides, the court may decide to award both parents legal custody but one to have the physical custody or completely deny one parent both legal and physical custody awarding them to one parent.

Legal custody is a case whereby a parent has legal obligations to their children but can’t live with them. In such a case, the parent will participate in crucial child welfare issues such as medical care and education.

10. Parents have a right to their children

This is one major misconception that many parents have. Parents don’t have a right to their children but rather obligations. Children, on the other hand, have all the rights and that is why the court always has the child’s best interests taken care of.

11. A child can decide the parent to live with once they reach a specific age

There is no law that says this. What happens is that as the child grows older, they will tend to be dissatisfied with spending time with either parent.

In such a case, a court hearing should be organized to change the parenting arrangement.
However, the child’s wishes will have to be keenly scrutinized before a decision is made.

Family reports from a neutral party especially a psychologist is taken as crucial evidence to grant the child his/her wishes.

12. Divorced parents find it easier communicating to each other through children

This is quite common as you will hear messages passed to the other parent after a weekend of visitation. As much many parents think it is working, the truth is that you are dragging the child into your own mess.

If divorcing parents have to communicate on anything, let them do it without involving the children.

13. Child support will not be needed in a case where parents share joint custody

Child support is actually factored in to provide financial support for the child. Whether they hold joint custody or not this should be set with the salaries of both parents factored in.

14. My ex and I are even- we do not need a court order

After divorce, there are some parents who maintain a respectful relationship like calling each other to know the well being of the child and offer the necessary support as needed. When this is the case, they feel there no need to involve lawyers and the court.

What will happen when your partner decides to move on and marry or get married? Such are the complexities of divorce that the court looks into and gives a custody order that will have the best interests of the child.

15. The parent with more money pays for child support

Courts usually have a mathematical formula that puts various factors into perspective whereby income of the parents is just part. With the formula, both parents will be given the amount they will pay as child support until the child attains the legal adult age.


With a family lawyer, you will get to understand the entire process, guide you through the legal system and follow the right procedure to ensure the case is decided on your favor. Now that you have learnt the common misconceptions out there regarding child custody, it is crucial to make up your mind whether to hire a fort worth child custody lawyer or not. Despite the fact that you can file for legal child custody on your own.

How Much Does It Cost To Hire A Child Custody Lawyer In Fort Worth?

Hiring a child custody lawyer usually seems as a daunting task and for sure it is, especially if the right procedure is not followed.

On the other hand, finding out how much it is going to cost to hire a professional child custody lawyer is another hurdle you will have to contend with. The truth however is that there is quite a number of factors that will determine the cost of hiring a child support attorney according to cost owl

Here is Tips to determine how to calculate fort worth child custody lawyer cost and hiring process.

  • Experience of the child custody lawyer

Depending with the level of experience of the child custody lawyer you choose, more experienced lawyers will most likely tend to be expensive than the freshly graduated or certified legal professionals. Many people usually prefer the services of professional lawyers with some years of experience but that has to come at a fee; you will have to pay higher fees.

  • Your location

Depending with your residence in relation with the location of the lawyer determines the fees charged by the lawyer. While it is important to consider hiring only the professionally experienced professionals, going for one that is located far away from you might simply mean extra charges since the lawyer has to travel longer distances and that means extra charges.

Going for local directories and online sites that help you to narrow down your search to the right legal professionals may seem as a better option, but all the same it is crucial to seek help from a lawyer who comes from your locality so as to keep communication regarding the specific case you are dealing with.

  • Complexity of the custody issues

In case you are intending to hire a professional Fort Worth child custody lawyer, you need to understand the kind of complexity involved in the case. Complex cases obviously tend to be a little bit expensive compared to other cases.

When child custody cases are involved in a divorce case, usually the family lawyer of your choice gets to go through the details of the case and advice accordingly so that you exactly understand what is needed of you to get the situation under control.

  • Type of practice

There are different professionals out there and each demand for a different fee.  Professionals out there are passionate about their work but their area of specialization dictates the fees they can charge for every case they handle.

Why do you need to hire a child custody lawyer anyway?

Child custody is basically filed when the divorcing parents cannot agree on the child custody agreement. This is where an emergency child custody lawyer comes in to help salvage the situation in handling such issues of contention like;

  • The type of custody whether joint or sole
  • Who will be responsible for all legal decisions as pertains to education, health and religion for the children
  • Visitation schedules
  • Living plans
  • How contact with other family members and friends will be managed
  • Who gets the physical custody of the children?
  • How possible changes can be made to the current agreements in the future

Mostly, in case both spouses have opted for a child support lawyer, it is important that the parties involved resolve on working together to settle the issues through an out of court negotiation which both parties will be comfortable with. Once the agreement is reached between the parties involved, the agreement is presented to a judge for approval.

Other out of court negotiation strategies like mediation are also quite common where a neutral third party is chosen to facilitate non-confrontational talks between the involved parties so as to settle down the custody issues that may be available.

In case this strategy also fails to yield resultsArticle Submission, the child custody cases are then taken to full trial before a judge in a court of law and the facts argued out to determine who gets the custody of the children among other things.

The judge’s decision is considered paramount though it is also subject to an appeal from either party. The custody case is usually determined in the best interest of the children rather than both of the parents.

Child Custody lawyer average costs

Despite the fact that the cost of child custody is determined by the factors mentioned the average cost of hiring a child custody lawyer is usually held at approximately 100-500 dollars. This is amount is not subject to other charges such as transport for long distance attorneys and their professional qualifications.

Non-litigation Options to Resolve Family Dispute

Family lawyers throughout the UK are increasingly looking for processes which are more human, subtle and responsive to their client’s needs.

As family law solicitors know well, life is never predictable when the most intimate emotional and financial aspects of people’s lives are thrown open to scrutiny and come under (real or perceived) attack.

That’s why it is important to have the broadest range of different options available to try to resolve differences before litigation has to come into play.

Firms like Balfour+Manson, and specialist family lawyers in Scotland more generally, are leading the way in offering a range of non-litigation options to resolve family disputes, often grouped together and described as ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution). To many clients, that description is meaningless; they are simply interested in knowing which way forward is best for them.

If we are genuine about doing what is in a client’s best interest, we need to talk to them, and listen to their stories, their aims, hopes and fears – then identify which might be the best path to follow.  As family lawyers, we must not give in to temptation to go down the route which seems to offer the “obvious” path or answer.

The best path depends on a number of factors, including the couple’s ability to communicate, level of trust, power balances in the relationship generally and whether there has been any other verbal or physical abuse.

Where the relationship is balanced, communication is good and trust and openness are high, it is frequently possible for clients to resolve their difficulties with a minimum of legal intervention – sometimes referred to as kitchen table agreements.   In such cases, clients take some advice but tend to reach agreement themselves.  A binding contract in the form of a Minute of Agreement is required but can be completed on an “implementation only” basis with minimal intervention.

Where a greater level of intervention is needed, mediation is often a good option. Balfour+Manson has three trained mediators and when instructed as mediators, they are not acting on behalf of either party. Their role is to facilitate constructive discussions directly between two individuals to assist them in reaching a mutually acceptable resolution. As with implementation only agreements, the majority of control is with the individuals, rather than their solicitors.  For mediation to work, clients must be able to sit in a room with each other and communicate in a respectful way.

The requirement to sit in the same room as their estranged partner is also a feature of a third form of resolution, collaborative practice. This is popular with clients who feel they need a greater level of assistance and representation but wish to maintain good levels of communication and work towards a solution to meets the needs of the family as a whole.

Balfour+Manson has four trained collaborative practitioners. They know that neither collaborative practice nor mediation are easy routes.  It can be difficult to sit in a room with a recently estranged partner, particularly if personal trust has been diminished as a result of the separation and the reasons behind it.

Where clients can adopt one of these routes, however, they can ensure, despite their separation, that they have not lost the ability to communicate directly with each other.  That can be particularly important when they have children. Another real benefit of the first three routes of resolution is that the focus is away from written communication. When “positions” are reduced to writing, hurt can be caused, even when not intended – and committing positions to paper means they can do long-term damage.

It is not always possible for clients to resolve matters in a way which involves direct communication.  There may be a breakdown of trust or hurt at a level which means constructive 1:1 discussion is simply not possible.  Occasionally, geographical issues make discussions impractical.  In such cases, it is possible to resort to traditional solicitor negotiation.

Occasionally, no matter how constructive the discussion is, an impasse arises. Whether that is in relation to one point or matters as a whole, it is possible to refer a matter to a specialist family arbitrator if there is a need to ask a third party to make a decision.  At Balfour+Manson, two of our family law partners are qualified as arbitrators, who are effectively private judges.  Ultimately, however, if agreement cannot be reached and the impasse remains, or there is a failure to engage by one party, the courts are there to provide a way of making progress towards overall resolution.  Sometimes, urgent issues arise around a need for protection, either of one party or of a child, and court is the only realistic route to take.

Family lawyers have spent the majority of their working lives being directed to look for outcomes for clients based on their entitlement in terms of the law.  It is essential clients are aware of their rights within the legal framework – but we must we must listen to them and have the confidence to assist them in reaching solutions which fit their own needs in relation to both process and outcome. We must also ensure the outcome is one which they will be content with – not only today, but in the future.

Legal aid changes offer vital lifeline for domestic violence victims

The decision to lift strict time limits placed on obtaining legal aid for domestic violence court hearings has been a long time coming, and is set to offer a vital lifeline to vulnerable victims who have previously been afraid to take their abusers to court. The ruling, which was announced in February 2017, means that thousands of men and women who have faced abuse – some possibly for years – are more likely to see the the perpetrators brought to justice.

Following a speech by Theresa May promising a new law to increase prosecutions for domestic violence, the decision looks to change widely criticised rules (and rightly so) that meant victims seeking legal representation in family court hearings – where they are often forced to confront their abuser – had to demonstrate they had been targeted in the last five years in order to qualify for legal aid.

Giving more victims the opportunity to take their cases to court, the ruling is, in my opinion, simply common sense. The purpose of legal aid is to ensure that everyone in society has access to justice, and as they stood, the rules were leaving a number of victims vulnerable to further abuse.

The announcement follows a Judicial Review against the government brought by charity Rights of Women in 2016 in an attempt to turn the spotlight on the previous rules. Notably, it means that the Ministry of Justice will now accept new types of evidence in domestic violence proceedings, including statements from organisations working with domestic violence victims, housing associations and solicitors.

Removing the five-year limit, as well as the admission of fresh categories of evidence, is set to provide much-needed help for victims who have previously found themselves deprived of legal advice and representation in family disputes, such as those involving custody and contact with children issues.

Rights of Women provided evidence as part of its legal case that revealed as many as 40% of female survivors of abuse could not meet the existing legal aid requirements. This meant that many vulnerable victims were forced to face their abuser in court.

It spoke of a case involving a woman who had been raped and beaten by her former husband and had been refused legal aid for a hearing in which he had applied for contact with their children. I have dealt with a variety of cases involving domestic violence and believe the removal of this time limit will lead to a brighter future for victims who have previously been unable to fight for justice.

In 2015, the Commons Justice Select Committee produced a report that found more than a third of domestic violence victims could not provide the evidence required to gain legal aid. Last year, the Ministry of Justice extended the time limit for those suffering from domestic violence, or those at risk of domestic violence, from two years to five.

It is vital that those at risk of domestic violence fully understand that they are able to access legal aid for advice on their rights and options, as well as assistance to better understand the negotiations and paperwork involved. Those eligible can seek legal representation in cases where they are at risk of losing their home, as well as on their finances if they have been in an abusive relationship.

In my time as a solicitor I have handled many domestic violence cases and I know all too well the psychological damage that abuse can cause. Domestic violence has no ‘typical victim’; both men and women in either heterosexual or homosexual relationships can be affected, and it’s high time changes were made to give these people a voice.

The treatment of domestic violence victims during legal proceedings can shape their lives and recovery afterwards. This is why I am also in favour of a separate move in which the family courts are expected to announce further developments that will reduce the suffering of victims of serious crimes, spanning further afield than domestic violence.

At present, the law states that victims who provide a prerecorded video testimony of their ordeal in a criminal case cannot present the tape for use as evidence in the family court. Instead, they are asked to deliver a fresh account, which can cause them to relive the trauma they have experienced. The rule changes mean that existing recorded testimonies from the crown course will be accepted.

I am hopeful that the changes are a signal of a renewed commitment from the government to address the entire landscape of domestic violence provision more proactively. Politicians had previously committed to protecting the victims and their families at risk of domestic abuse, however a significant number of victims remain at risk under the existing rules, which can be incredibly restrictive and confusing. The decision to change the rules will enable efficient and targeted legal advice to be given to the individuals who are most in need – resulting in saved costs, time and lives.

The impact of domestic violence is long-lasting, and victims often find they are unable to form close relationships for many years, if ever, afterwards. However, legal aid provides for representation in proceedings, enabling domestic abuse survivors to escape from abusive relationships and to protect their children, as well as to better manage their finances. The judgement will help to ensure they can achieve vital access to justice.

January sees surge in divorce enquiries

It’s a sad fact that in the UK, more people get divorced in January than any other month.

Filing for divorce in January is so popular that it is dubbed “Divorce Month” while the first working day back after the Christmas break is often known as “Divorce Day”. On top of this 42 per cent of all first marriages now end with a decree absolute.

The month is once again living up to its reputation as law firm Blanchards Bailey reports a surge in enquiries across Dorset.

The sharp rise of people contacting the legal firm reflects a national trend as people take stock and decide to make a fresh start in the New Year.

Lisa Holden, Principal and Head of Family Law, said: “New Year is naturally a time for reflection with many people struggling through a difficult festive period, often for the sake of children.

“We’ve found that appointments were being made in advance by people in early December as they were already planning to start the divorce after the holiday season, simply getting through Christmas before starting the process. We’ve seen that financial pressures are a main cause for conflict at this time of year.”

Blanchards Bailey assists people in every area of divorce, from child disputes to financial and business matters, as well as offering family mediation, collaborative law and advice on probate, wills, tax and estate planning.

Lisa added: “Our team is particularly experienced in assisting people who have a lot of assets to protect and our clients continue to trust our delivery of the best outcome for each situation.

“We understand that going through a divorce can be one of the most traumatic experiences for those concerned but we do our utmost to guide and support people through this difficult period. Our experience ensures you know exactly where you stand, what the best options are, the process and the costs involved.”

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The complications surrounding defendant anonymity

Whilst the anonymity of complainants in serious sexual offences has long been protected in English law, defendant anonymity has proved a far more contentious issue.  It was initially granted along with victim anonymity in the 1970s, but later abolished in 1988.  It was argued that, unlike the case for victims, there was no reason to make a special exception for defendants and in fact, by doing so, it could imply that rape complainants were less reliable. It has also been argued by both women’s groups and the police that such a law would prevent investigating officers’ calls for other complainants to come forward in serial cases, such as in the case of the taxi driver, John Worboys, the ‘black cab rapist’.

The issue has been raised a number of times over the last few years following a string of high-profile cases, affecting politicians and celebrities alike.  The media spotlight on these cases and the public sympathy towards individuals like Sir Cliff Richards has helped move the debate forward.  A YouGov poll in 2015 found that there was widespread opinion favouring the need to protect both complainant and defendant.  Speaking after the police dropped his case, Sir Cliff described a unique violation of his privacy by a sensationalist media.

In addition to the disproportionate attention these stories attract, the coverage is often of such a lurid and intrusive nature that it arguably leaves a stigma which goes beyond other crime.  In 2015 both Nigel Evans the conservative MP and the radio one DJ, Paul Gambaccini, gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee about their personal suffering whilst subjected to protracted and highly publicised investigations by the police.   In his concluding remarks Committee Chairman, Keith Vaz, spoke of the destruction and irreparable damage to the reputation of defendants.

It now appears that we are moving towards ever tighter restrictions on press coverage in respect of sexual offence allegations.  The above committee report called for anonymity for sexual offence suspects, unless they were charged or police needed to name them. More recently in late 2016 the DPP, Alison Saunders, came out in favour of anonymity for defendants.  She was quoted in The Times as saying, “you don’t shout about it before you come to any conclusion”.

Building trust between police and complainants

Investigations into allegations of sexual abuse pose unique challenges for the police, especially in striking the right balance between their responsibilities to the complainant and to the accused.    The ongoing football abuse scandal serves to highlight some of these challenges.

The unfolding revelations that followed Andy Woodward’s decision to waive anonymity and speak out about his ordeal at Crewe Alexander, raised the spectre of widespread and systematic abuse reminiscent of that uncovered during the Saville investigation.  Similarly, the personal accounts we have heard from ex-footballers like Mr Woodward and Paul Stewart, the former England and Spurs star, served as a timely reminder of the psychological damage inflicted upon the victims of these crimes, and the unique challenges they face in coming forward.

It is essential that survivors have the confidence and reassurance to speak out, and the police undoubtedly have a role to play in this.  Days after Woodward’s revelations to The Guardian, Cheshire constabulary put out highly publicised appeals urging victims to contact them, and assuring them their reports will be taken ‘extremely seriously’.

Despite the seemingly compelling evidence that surfaced in relation to at least one sexual predator, police had to, and must continue to, remain vigilant against the risk of bias creeping into their conduct.   However, following the string of failed investigations in the wake of Saville, there is a growing concern that the impartiality and objectivity of the police has been found wanting.

It is widely accepted that Saville’s offending went undetected as long as it did because of a society-wide reluctance to speak openly about child abuse.  Police forces have taken it upon themselves to remedy this problem.   Operation Hydrant was set up in the wake of the Saville revelations to share good practice.  It emphasised the need to build trust and rapport with the complainant.  To this end, it was felt that anyone who came forward should be recognised and referred to as a victim. In explaining the new approach, the head of Operation Hydrant, Chief constable Simon Bailey, claimed that “if we don’t acknowledge a victim as such, it reinforces a system based on distrust and disbelief”.

 A Policy of ‘believing victims’

The end of 2016 saw the publication of Sir Richard Henriques’ report into the mishandling of Operation Midland, the 18 month investigation by Scotland Yard into allegations of historic abuse levelled against prominent members of the establishment including former head of military, Lord Bamell, and former conservative MP, Harvey Proctor.  Sir Richard’s report identified 43 separate failings by the police during the investigation.  The central criticism being that they were too ready to believe the complainant without sufficient scrutiny of the evidence. It attributed these failings directly to Operation Hydrant.  Sir Richard took aim at the police practice of labelling complainants as “victims”, (just as Cheshire constabulary did in the wake of Woodward’s revelations, saying that it was a cardinal principle of the justice system that a complaint maybe false. He stated that “the policy of ‘believing victims’ strikes at the very core of the criminal justice process” and warned that “it has and will generate miscarriages of justice on a considerable scale”.

It is now widely felt that in so many of the high profile investigations into abuse since Saville, such as Operation Midland and those levelled against Sir Cliff, Paul Gambaccini and Nigel Evans, the investigation was pursued in spite of the lack of credible evidence.

The real damage to these individuals is to do with the unique stigma attached to the suspects of sexual abuse and how in the above cases their reputations were trodden on by unscrupulous officers who were quick to name the accused in the hope that it would encourage others to come forward and bolster inherently weak cases.  In his evidence to the home affairs select committee, Mr Gambaccini described the way police hung his name up in public during a year-long investigation as being a ‘fly paper tactic’.   Sharing his grievance, conservative MP Nigel Evans said, “I don’t believe that people ought to be plastered all over every national newspaper just to fish other people out”.

It is the strength of these personal accounts that has driven a recent revival of debate around the issue.   As already mentioned, prominent figures like Keith Vaz, Sir Henriques and the DPP, Alison Saunders have now called for a change in the law to reintroduce defendant anonymity.

The Power of Reporting

However, there may be an occasion when naming a suspect is a necessary and proper adjunct to an investigation. The manner in which the recent football revelations unfolded speaks eloquently of the power of reporting.  Andy Woodward’s brave decision to waive anonymity brought media coverage and attention to his ordeal and acted as a rallying cry to others to come forward.  It is arguably the case that naming his attacker added further weight to the story and helped propel it onto the front-page news, thereby maximising its impact.  Cheshire police confirmed that a further 11 footballers came forward in the days following the stories publication, and the NSPCC reportedly received 50 calls to their helpline in the first two hours of its operation.  This domino effect of complaints is reminiscent of what happened in the Saville investigation, along with other serial abuse cases, and many see the police’s discretion to name the suspect as being a vital trigger in this process.

Furthermore, it should be appreciated that many of the footballers who have come forward have suppressed painful memories of their ordeals throughout their entire adult lives. Mr Stewart, for example, talked about the heartbreak he felt in sharing his story with close family members before its publication in the Mirror.  They need every reassurance that their claims will be taken seriously.  Some feel a blanket law protecting defendant anonymity in sexual abuse cases alone will set it apart from other types of criminal case and in doing so send the wrong message that complainants, like Mr Stewart, are less likely to be believed than complainants in other types of criminal cases.   Following the Home Affairs Select Committee’s report in 2015, rape victim’s campaigner, Jill Saward talking on the Today program described how the committees proposal were insulting and claimed that it implied victims are lying.  Peter Watt of the NSPCC also spoke out against the committees proposals arguing that the naming of suspects gave other victims the strength to speak out.

The matter has now gone to parliament following the tabled amendment of the Policing and Crime Bill and already the issue is proving to be as polarising within the house as it has been in the wider public.    During recent debate in the House of Lords, Lord Judge spoke out openly against a blanket protection of defendant’s anonymity invoking the overriding principle of open justice.  He said, “That is not how we work in this country. We do not want people locked up for any time at all without being able to say so.”   Lord Lamont on the other hand suggested that a lack of defendant anonymity, in the case of this crime, undermined the British understanding of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

Responsibility of the Police and their relationship with the press

The debate within parliament must go further than a consideration of the rights of defendants against those of victims and pay heed to a wider issue; that of the public’s confidence in the police handling of abuse investigations and in particular their relationship with the media.

It is interesting that the highly controversial report produced by the Home Affairs Committee back in 2015 did little more than call for reform of the law in terms already set out in current police guidance.   In November 2012, Leveson LJ said in his Report on The Culture Practices and Ethics of the Press that ‘It should be made abundantly clear that save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances (for example, where there may be an immediate risk to the public), the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released to the press nor the public.’

In 2013, the College of Policing published ‘Guidance on Relationships with the Media’ which dealt with the issue of the police revealing the names of individuals suspected of committing serious crimes. It followed the principle set out by Leveson. The Guidance advocates that ‘police forces must balance an individual’s right to respect for a private and family life, the rights of publishers to freedom of expression and the rights of defendants to a fair trial. Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis but, save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public.

The loss of impartiality and objectivity of the police, and the danger that unscrupulous officers are ignoring the above guidance and publishing the names of suspects in desperate attempts to attract others to come forward and bolster inherently weak cases is highly problematic.  The objections to defendant anonymity boil down to the argument that the police must retain operational independence.   However this argument in turn raises the question of whether the police can be trusted to pursue their investigations impartially and objectively. The opinion of some, such as Sir Henriques in his report on the failed Operation Midland is that currently they can’t.  His report concludes with the warning that “nobody is safe from false accusations and damaging exposure under present arrangements”.

The investigation into allegations of historic abuse raises particular challenges. The recent failures discussed, highlight the fundamental requirement upon police that their conduct remain objective and impartial, and that any derogation from this principle would constitute an abuse of their powers. The naming of suspects is such a power that has been too readily abused.  Perhaps we have now reached the stage where a change in the law to provide added protection to suspects is necessary where the police guidance has been so flagrantly disregarded in a long line of investigations.  However, as the recent football revelations highlight, there will be cases where the naming of a suspect maybe a necessary and proportionate step and just as the select committee first proposed back in 2015, rather than a blanket protection, any such change to the law must allow for the possibility of judicial intervention to waive defendant anonymity in such rare cases.

Ex-Spouses could face travel bans for failing to pay divorce settlements

Paul Lancaster, partner of the Family Law team at Blacks Solicitors, looks into the latest proposals from the Law Commission:

“The Law Commission has published new proposals which aim to make the enforcement of family financial orders ‘more effective, accessible and fair’ and implement tough sanctions for those who refuse to pay their former spouse’s divorce settlement.

The Commission states that many divorcees are ignoring the orders, with as many as 4,200 enforcement cases each year amounting to an estimate of £15m to £20m of debts each year which go unrecovered, leaving the recipient spouses at a serious detriment and hardship.

The current position allows those that are owed money to take their ex-spouses to Court where a jail sentence may be ordered however, because a criminal standard of proof is required, in reality this type of sanction is rarely enforced.

The report recommends a wide-ranging reform, including the power for the Courts to obtain information about debtors, broadening the range of assets available for enforcement purposes and introducing further punitive measures such as disqualifying debtors from driving and prohibiting them from travelling out of the UK.

The Commission has, however, confirmed that they will not put ex-spouses in a self-defeating position whereby they can no longer earn a living as a result of a driving ban. The commission is therefore also recommending that the Courts have the power to confiscate passports which would be returned once the debt is settled. It is believed these measures will go some way to tackling the growing culture of non-payment.

The proposal will now be considered by government and the Justice Secretary over the course of the upcoming year to decide if the proposals will be legislated.”

More litigants in person a LASPO legacy

As virtually everyone in the legal profession will recall, warnings were sounded at every stage of the introduction of Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. LASPO would, many lawyers argued, deny access to justice for many individuals who might have wished to pursue civil litigation of some sort.

A month ahead of implementation the following year, the Law Society summarised the changes in these terms: “On Monday 1 April 2013, the Legal Services Commission will be replaced by the Legal Aid Agency, and the cuts imposed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 will take effect. LASPO implements substantial cuts to civil legal aid. The details of what remains in scope can be found in the LASPO Schedule 1.”

The Law Society’s measured summary contrasted with the sense of outrage widely felt across the profession. For so many of us, access to justice is a basic tenet of the legal system and in effect to exclude people because they do not have the financial resources to pursue a case unaided seems in conflict with that, although that does not mean we can all work pro bono!

My own area of family law was among those affected by LASPO’s massive scaling back of legal aid. This was clearly bad news for many future clients and of course had implications for my firm’s human and financial resources, as it was usual for us to be handling several cases within the affected areas of family law. We very soon had to adapt ourselves to the new arrangements.

Family law legal aid guidelines

The newly created Legal Aid Agency was quick to provide guidelines, which included: One of the key changes introduced by LASPO is that legal aid for most children and finance matters in private family law cases will only be available where a client has specific evidence in relation to domestic violence or child protection. The evidence that is required in order for an application for legal aid to be made in these matters is prescribed in the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 as amended. Regulation 33 deals with evidence relating to domestic violence and Regulation 34 with evidence relating to child protection.

This all amounted to much more than raising the bar as regards qualification for legal aid; it was more like asking us to participate in the pole vault with only occasional access to a pole. Like colleagues in other areas of my firm and across the profession, I was driven to wonder what the draconian cutbacks were expected to achieve. It was, in essence, all about the money.

A paper later presented to a Commons Select Committee inquiry explained the rationale thus: “In 2010 the incoming Government developed plans to cut public spending significantly. The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) was required to find budget cuts of around £2 billion from an overall budget of £9.8 billion. Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was intended substantially to reduce the civil legal aid budget by removing whole areas of law from scope and changing the financial eligibility criteria. The LASPO scheme was introduced alongside other policy changes including a reduction in the fees paid to providers.

“In the final Equality Impact Assessment accompanying the Bill the Ministry of Justice set out that its objectives for the proposed legislation were to: discourage unnecessary and adversarial litigation at public expense; target legal aid to those who need it most; make significant savings in the cost of the scheme; and deliver better overall value for money for the taxpayer.”

Cases fell by the wayside

Transitional arrangements provided for legal aid to continue in pre-LASPO cases that probably would not have qualified post-LASPO, but for the past three years or so we have been learning to live with the new legal aid regime. Regrettably, many sound cases across many areas of civil law must have fallen by the wayside due to the denial of legal aid since April 2013.

In my family law work, like many others no doubt, with the reduction in availability of legal aid we are seeing more litigants in person. This is an understandable reaction in situations where litigants do not have or are not willing to put up the funds needed to pursue a case through the courts. Their perception is that the DIY approach will save them money without detriment to the outcome. In a few cases they may be right.

As any legal professional knows, there is a raft of procedural issues involved in preparing and presenting a case to the court. A litigant in person invariably does not know what to do to prepare a case and there is every likelihood that they will fail to comply with court timetables and they may attend court unprepared and so jeopardise the effectiveness of the hearing.

The courts clearly have to treat litigants in person in a fair and reasonable way, so will often spend time in hearings explaining things to them. I totally accept that someone unable to finance legal representation should be permitted to represent themselves and to be assisted by the court as appropriate. After all, it is not fair if a father cannot see his child just because he cannot afford legal costs and cannot get help with funding. LASPO has left him with no choice.

Counterparty cost impact

Whilst supporting the right to self-representation, I have to note that this approach is not just potentially disadvantageous for the litigant in person but also for the opposing side.

Having a litigant in person on the other side can increase costs for a paying party and cause huge delays. Inept preparation, missing of court deadlines and poor presentation in court can all add to the time and costs of the case for the represented party.

Often the solicitor acting for a paying party will do things to keep matters on track even if there is no obligation on them. They have to lodge bundles with the court. Usually the onus is on the applicant but if the applicant is a litigant in person it falls to the respondent to do, involving more cost, and they also have to provide the litigant in person with a full copy. The solicitor may incur further costs repeatedly chasing when the litigant in person overshoots court timetables.

In my personal experience it is also likely that a litigant in person, in the absence of sound legal advice, is less likely to take a pragmatic approach and to compromise or agree. So, settlement is far less likely to be achieved at a relatively early stage of the proceedings. Prolonged, contentious cases are of course the most expensive for everyone involved; they can also be the most stressful and upsetting for the parties and for other family members.

All of this prompts the question of whether LASPO, beyond slashing expenditure on legal aid, was intended to lead to greater resort to self-representation or whether this has been an accidental consequence. If the former, I tend to think that the aim of reducing the number of cases reaching court by means of accessing alternative dispute resolution options also loomed large in the legislators’ minds.

What drove LASPO aid cuts

To determine the thought processes behind LASPO Schedule 1, it is helpful to return to the Select Committee inquiry submission. Among the factors said to have guided the Ministry of Justice’s decisions on changes to scope of legal aid, two stand out as particularly relevant here, as one relates to ‘the litigant’s ability to present their own case’ and the other to ‘the availability of other routes to resolution’.

To quote the submission: “The litigant’s ability to present their own case: considerations included the type of forum in which the proceedings are held, whether they are inquisitorial or adversarial, whether litigants bringing proceedings were likely to be from a predominantly physically or emotionally vulnerable group.

“The availability of other routes to resolution: in determining the priority for certain types of case, we considered whether people might be able to access other sources of advice to help resolve their problems, avoiding the need for court proceedings.”

From this I have to conclude that the expected consequences of withdrawal of legal aid, in addition to the inevitable result that some justifiable actions would never get off the ground, did indeed include a rise in the number of litigant in person cases and a rise in the role of mediation and alternative dispute resolution methods.

Mediation v. Self-representation

There is no doubt in my mind that, to the extent that the 2013 withdrawal of legal aid for many family law cases leads one or other party to seek a less costly alternative to professional legal representation in court, the better solution is likely to be mediation rather than self-representation.

I have already touched upon the multiple disadvantages of self-representation and colleagues across all areas of the profession need little introduction to the benefits of mediation in many cases. I can only speak for family law disputes, but avoiding the mounting costs of going to court when a similar outcome could be achieved in less formal, less adversarial surroundings is almost always preferable.

That is not to say that mediation is guaranteed to be an easy route to an amicable settlement. It does need to be effective, and to be effective both parties need to be committed to the process. With that and some goodwill on both sides, a resolution that both can accept as fairly arrived at (and thus unlikely to differ greatly from what they might expect at the end of a long court battle) is within grasp.

Male victims of domestic violence – there’s no shame in speaking out

Just three months after the death of popular British television writer, actress and comedian Caroline Aherne from cancer, her former husband, musician Peter Hook (of Joy Division and New Order), has claimed he was a victim of domestic violence during their three-year marriage.

Writing in his new autobiography, Hook says he was attacked with knives, bottles and chairs by the actress during their marriage in the 1990s. And while many people have questioned the timing of the revelations, the reaction has brought attitudes to male domestic violence victims to the forefront in a truly unpleasant manner.

More than a number

Statistics released by male domestic violence charity the ManKind Initiative in March 2016 revealed that 13.2 per cent of men have been the victim of domestic abuse at some point during the time since they were 16. And, according to the charity, one-in-six men will suffer from domestic abuse during their lifetime, compared to one-in-four women.

While the figures revealed that there are more female victims of domestic violence in the UK, a recent report has pointed to an increase in the number of females convicted of domestic violence. Data released by the Crown Prosecution Service to Parliament following a question submitted by Conservative MP Philip Davies revealed that 1,850 women were convicted of perpetrating the offence in 2006, a figure that rose to 5,641 in 2015.

The data did not specify whether the women’s victims were male or female, or if the abuse occurred between spouses or partners, or family relatives. However, the data acts as an important reminder that while the majority of domestic violence perpetrators are male, women also commit serious abuse and their victims should be offered support.

Under UK law, domestic violence and abuse is defined as “incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between people who are or have been intimate partners or family members”. The abuse can be psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional, and can occur between partners, spouses, parents, children or siblings. Female abusers could include women abusing male or female romantic partners, parents, children or siblings.

The study’s findings uncover the worrying reality that male victims of abuse may be afraid to ask for help due to the idea that domestic violence is perceived as a problem that only happens to women, therefore their case may be dismissed. What’s more, sexist stereotypes that exist, painting women as “passive”, while displaying men as more aggressive can put a stigma on the male victims of female abusers. Further to this, gay or bisexual men in same-sex relationships face homophobic or biphobic attitudes from police when discussing their experiences.

A wider issue

Male victims of any type of violence are often less likely to be taken seriously, and many are not given access to the help they need, particularly if they suffer from any form of intimate violence, such as sexual abuse or the type of physical and mental abuse that Hook has discussed in reports this week. Hook claims to have spiralled into clinical depression as a result of his former wife’s violent behaviour, and has since said he felt “embarrassed and ashamed” by the abuse.

The troubling question is, at a time when men are being urged to “open up” more and talk about their feelings – including discussing mental health issues such as anxiety and depression – is society doing all it can to actually listen to what men say when they speak up about their experiences? Unfortunately, Peter Hook’s claims have been met with considerable criticism. While many individuals have criticised the timing of the revelations, including the late Aherne’s brother, who labelled him an “excuse of a man”, Hook’s claims have been welcomed by campaigners, who believe that someone of his stature could signal change and give men the confidence to come forward if they have been a victim of abuse.

Any victim of domestic violence is likely to feel isolated and alone, and it is true that more needs to be done to encourage these individuals to speak up, therefore receiving the help they need to escape their current situation. However, due to the continued stigma, and pre-existing issues that make men less likely to discuss their vulnerabilities, this means that it is high time action was taken to change these dangerous perceptions.

Finding a solution

Men who are in an abusive relationship are urged to keep a record of dates and times of any incidents that take place, and seek medical attention from A&E or a GP, who will make a note of the injuries sustained. It is essential for victims of domestic violence to keep a fully charged phone with them at all times to ensure emergency calls can always be made. Confiding in someone, whether it be a friend, relative or employer, is another way in which victims of domestic violence can start to get the help they require, and while this may be the most difficult thing to do, there is no need to feel ashamed.

Perhaps the biggest worry among many male domestic violence victims is the shame they feel at being in this situation. However, victims of abuse are not alone and support is available for men and women. Taking the first step to find this help is the most important, and yet the most daunting, however, it is important to remember that the support is out there.

Before, During and After: The 3 Stages to an Amicable Divorce

You and your partner have made — or perhaps have been pushed by a catalyst into making — the enormous, life-altering decision to end your marriage. So what now? Especially if you have children, not much can be more damaging to your relationship than a prolonged and messy divorce where feelings continue to get hurt, and emotional shrapnel becomes a daily event for all parties.

So is it possible to divorce amicably? Believe it or not, yes. While this might seem impossible at times, there are steps that can be taken throughout all three stages of your divorce (before, during, and after) to save you from further hurt and expense. You may not achieve that “dream divorce” of that one friend we all have, but using these steps, it’s certainly possible to come out of your marriage feeling capable of being in the same room as your ex, and ready to take on the world again.

Stage one: What can I do before I divorce?

Before you file for a divorce, there are steps to prepare which will make the process quicker and minimize the pain and anger. The first thing is to prepare yourself for your divorce. Whether it’s your choice or it has been sprung upon you by your spouse, make sure it’s really a divorce you want. Try couples therapy and taking time together to rediscover what it was that made you fall in love with that person in the first place.

In our experience, at least one half of the couple isn’t prepared for a divorce — and in many cases, neither is. If your spouse wants a divorce but you don’t, check that you’ve taken all the steps to try and fix it. If you’re the spouse who wants a divorce, make sure that you’re checking your behaviour and making sure you don’t live a single life until you’re officially divorced. If you start dating, even if you’ve separated, it still counts as adultery in the eyes of the court. More importantly, the last thing you want to be doing is giving more grounds for resentment and anger.

If you have children, remember to put them first. More than for you and your ex, an amicable divorce is important for children. Regardless of your feelings for your spouse, alienating them from their other parent, unless that parent is abusive, is exceptionally damaging to your child.

Other key considerations before beginning your divorce are finding a solicitor, deciding what your goals for arrangements for the children are, and sorting out joint bank accounts. Finding a reputable solicitor of family law early on can really help you at this age, as they can help you with questions like “can I move to another apartment yet?” “Might I lose my chance of the children living with me?” “Can I date?” In short, finding the best divorce solicitor as soon as possible will stop you making any mistakes that might put you at risk, and can lead to more anger and resentment in the divorce itself. Look for a lawyer local to you, for instance the best divorce lawyers in London, and make sure you talk to a few before making your decision.

Stage two: What can I do during my divorce to keep things amicable?

If you’re divorcing because your marriage has simply stopped working and things are reasonably amicable, consider hiring a mediator rather than taking things to court. Taking responsibility for your divorce can also be useful when trying to succeed in an amicable divorce. While it can be easier to lay all the blame on your spouse, it often takes two to create a situation where a divorce is necessary.

Blaming your ex for everything may seem more convenient, but it can easily become a habit. Your friends will doubtlessly side with you and the blame can become a cycle, until you’ve built your ex up in your head into a monster that, in reality, they’re not. Remember that you’re both only human. Excessive blame can not only be damaging to yourself and to your ex, but it can be most damaging of all to your children who are suddenly hearing mummy being hateful towards daddy, and vice versa. If you think this is a stressful and uprooting time for you and your partner, imagine the confusion your children are feeling at having the family unit torn apart. Seeing you and your spouse keep a genuine civil face on things can be invaluable to maintaining their relationships with both parents.

If you’re really struggling to let go of resentment and anger, seeing a therapist once a week for the duration of your divorce can not only help your mental health, but can actually save you money in the long run by helping you make clearer decisions, concluding your divorce faster and cutting down legal costs. A good therapist will help you realise and take control of your own issues that have contributed to your divorce, which is far more useful than laying the blame on your spouse. Doing so will also give you far more power; a good divorce goal is to aim to come out of it a more mature and stronger person, so taking charge of your own mistakes will help with this, as well as helping with an amicable divorce where you can come out as friends.

Above all, compromise is important for an amicable divorce. Find a good family law solicitor who can advise you on how to equally divide assets, and come to an agreement that works for both of you, rather than arguing over small things for the sake of it.

Stage three: What about after my divorce?

Remember that neither of you will be able to live the lifestyle you have become accustomed to, as you will either have gone from being a two-income household to two single-income households, or you will have gone from living with the benefits of a far larger income than your own supporting you. Your nice family home may have been sold and you are both living in smaller homes, and your holidays are no longer as extravagant.

It’s important to keep sight of the positives. When you first married, did you stop doing something because your ex didn’t like it? Perhaps you had a different film taste, or a different holiday taste. Maybe you fell out of contact with old friends because you didn’t have time for them anymore. Instead of missing your kids when they’re staying with your ex, enjoy all the free time you now have and enjoy the quality time with them when they’re present. Especially if your partner didn’t fully step up with the child care while you were married, now’s the time to truly establish a balance. Your solicitor for family law will have helped you find good arrangements for childcare that suit both of you.

Above all, make sure you enjoy life for yourself. Statistically, people are happier after they divorce and even if that’s not you now, it can be. Keep up your regular routine and rediscover interests that might have slipped. Spend more time with friends and, when you’re ready, start dating again. Enjoying your new-found freedom and being comfortable in yourself is a good start to developing or keeping a friendship with the person who once was the most important person in your life.