Monday, June 30, 2008

The Credit Crunch

In a survey accountancy firm PKF found 54% of the top law firms in Scotland were concerned with the economy. The Online Journal reports 36% of the firms surveyed were worried about staff recruitment and retention and firms dependent on the property market in Scotland are already cutting staff. In the video available here Charles Barnett, PKF professional services partner, says Scottish legal firms under financial pressure will in future have to look at multi-disciplinary practices.

Elsewhere it seems family lawyers are hit by the credit crunch. Last week Sam Hasler of Indiana Family Law said in an email the economy was very rocky over there, in this post John Bolch of Family Lore announced he was seeking new employment and today Will Cowell, partner and head of family law at Miller Sands, told me private family law practices in Cambridge were shedding staff and his firm was among the last to do so. As far as I am aware Scottish family solicitors have not been affected yet.

The north/south differences could be due to several factors. According to the Office of National Statistics in England there is a downward trend in the divorce rates whilst in Scotland the rates are still rising. In Scotland procedures and rules are such it is not possible to just read them to understand so unless there are no finances to sort out, or no children under 16, a lawyer is going to be generally required at some point. To my knowledge there is only one online service in Scotland. However in England a fair number of people represent themselves and there is a growing number of online divorce services. In fact if they catch on probably the greatest threat to Scottish family solicitors are English online divorce companies that do Scottish divorces.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

"Tinkling" of Glass Ceilings

In the Herald it was reported that Norma Graham, Scotland's first female chief constable, says she has never felt the victim of sexism. I have to say despite being the only women in my year in engineering at university and choosing a profession where women still make up only 3% of the workforce I haven't either. Teased unmercifully perhaps, but never sexism at work.


Overcoming Adversity

So often we hear that the number of poor outcomes for children of broken families is significantly more than intact families but there are no figures that tell us how many children grow to be successful because they overcame the difficulties relating to their parent's separation.

Although not related to divorce this article in the Herald describes how Azeem Ibrahim, who grew up in a council house in Glasgow, was motivated after his father went bankrupt and died prematurely within 5 years. Azeem Ibrahim at 32 has his own bank, a self-made fortune of £60m and a doctorate from Cambridge University. He belongs to US and UK think tanks and advises governments on inward investment.

A few years ago I came across research that concluded that a disproportionately high number of the world's most famous people had overcome childhood adversity. I'm not sure if the study was valid or not but throughout history there has been many children brought up with the absence of at least one parent who then went on to do great things eg Bill Clinton, Tom Cruise, the Duke of Wellington, Alan Johnson MP, George Eliot, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Stability For Over 18s

This week I've been suffering from 'empty nesting' as last weekend our 24 year old daughter (pictured above in St Lucia) set off for 18 months traveling around the world and I expect when she comes back, or perhaps that should be if she comes back, she will finally be totally independent. Apparently 24 is the average age for young people to leave home. The nest won't be empty long, our son will soon be back home from university for the summer break.

Since leaving school both children have at some point brought home friends who for one reason or another have not had the stability of family support to help them make the transition into adulthood. They lived with us for periods ranging from a few months until over a year in two cases. Therefore thanks to a post by Jaqui Giliatt of Family Law Week I was delighted to learn that the Department for Children, Schools and Families has released an announcement that the UK Government is to pilot a programme to give young people the chance to stay in their foster families beyond the age of 18.

Kevin Brennan, Parliamentary Undersecretary for Children said: “Children in care have told us that they want the same sort of stability that other children have – and some of them need help and support beyond the age of 18 in order to make the transition into adulthood.

“On average, young people don’t leave home until they are 24. Given the poor outcomes that children in care have historically had, it is important that these young people get the support they need to remain in employment, education or training. They shouldn’t have to cope on their own when they have to make big decisions about their future.”

Minister of State for Children Beverley Hughes said: “We want to make this country the best place in the world for children to grow up, which is why we published our Children’s Plan. It sets out what we will do over the next ten years to achieve this ambition, and to make this happen we need to focus on the needs of our most vulnerable children.

“There is still a significant gap between quality of life and future prospects of children in care and that of other children. Tackling this is going to involve everyone who works with children having the same ambitions for these children as for their own.”

So the good news is that these children in care will be given the same opportunity many of their peers have. The downside is it relates only to England.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dating Tips

Being happily single and having a busy work and social schedule since my divorce a few years ago I never got round to dating so I was rather surprised to find Sam Hasler of Indiana Divorce & Family Law had credited me with giving pointers in Dating for Those Past 50. Not that I mind, it was a good post, but I hope whoever the real Fiona is she doesn't object to me passing on the tips from Dating After Divorce: 50 Tips to Get Back into the Groove.

Being a part of a couple for a while will certainly take some of your individuality away. Take advantage of this time after your divorce to find that individuality again. Learn new hobbies, find old friends, and treat yourself with respect. This list tells you how to do that and more.

1. Let go of the past. You will not be able to move forward until you resolve your feelings about the break-up of your marriage and the divorce. Once you work through these feelings, you’ll find yourself in a much better place to go on with your life.

2. Rekindle old interests. Did you have a passion for photography before you got married? Pick up that camera again. You may find that you can rediscover yourself through those interests you pushed aside during the marriage.

3. Find new interests. Maybe you’ve always wanted to learn how to paint or go kayaking. Taking up new interests now will help you rediscover qualities about yourself you may have forgotten. It will also get you out and meeting new people.

4. Learn to enjoy your own company. After living with someone for a while, it can be difficult to enjoy doing things alone. Find ways to have fun on your own.

5. Take care of yourself. If you’ve gained a few extra pounds, find a way to get some exercise. Eat healthily and take time to pamper yourself. If you feel good about the way you look and feel, others will too.

6. Lose the negative self-image. If you feel poorly about yourself, you are likely to attract people who will treat you badly. Make a list of your good qualities and remind yourself often of them. Work on building yourself up.

7. Develop new friendships. You don’t have to ignore your old friends, but often it is helpful to have a new network of friends who didn’t know you and your ex as a couple. New friendships and support systems can help ease your transition after divorce.

8. Reconnect with old friends. Track down old friends with whom you’ve lost touch over the years. Whether you find you’ve still got lots in common or you’ve both moved on, it will likely enrich your life anyway.

9. Volunteer. No matter if you have a lot of free time or almost none, there is some place you can volunteer your time. Devoting some time working for others is a great way to discover new things about yourself.

10. Start a new career. If you’ve been working in a job you hate or if you were staying at home with the children, after a divorce is a good time to start down a new path. Start taking steps to get you going toward that career you’ve always wanted.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Ill Gotten Gains

There is a Court of Appeal case reported in the Independent today where it was ruled that a criminal's wife's assets were not to be confiscated. Three judge's came to the decision that there was no legal principle that allows HMRC to to deprive Marion Gibson of half her share of the value of criminal proceeds her husband must pay back to the state. The concern is that criminals will be able protect their ill gotten gains by sharing it with their wives. Quite.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Gremlins, Aliens & Wizards

I am still having some technical difficulties. My internet connection keeps dropping and having now carried out all the usual checks, rebooted the router and contacted the ISP I've come to the conclusion it is interference, but I haven't as yet been able to identify the Gremlins.

Anyway I have managed to read some blogs and there are two posts from Lucy Reed at Pink Tape which caught my attention. In the first one, Alien Landing, Lucy expressed some concern about going back to work after being on maternity leave and she said she had received an email from a lawyer friend who felt as though everyone around him was talking in Martian after returning to the courtroom after a prolonged absence.

Perhaps if every lawyer (and judge) had an extended break laypeople might benefit from a little more plain English. An example of gobbledygook I was recently asked to explain was the Scottish phrase a motion reclaiming the Lord Ordinary's Interlocutor (an appeal against a judge's decision to us muggins.)

The second of Lucy's posts, ORDERED: The parties shall live happily ever after or until further order (whichever is the sooner), whilst acknowledging problems with the family justice system in E&W suggests that people have unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and the law cannot mend all the broken families it has to deal with. His Honour Judge Gandalf's order is well worth a read.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


Because of technical problems I didn't get around to posting about my weekend. This week I was sailing and one of my ambitions in life is to join the crew sailing a tall ship so I found this video. Not only is there footage of a tall ship but also music from Boccherini, played by Yo Yo Ma, featuring Paul Bettany. The latter three feature in my profile favourites.


Human-Bot Relationships

According to Reuters Sega Toys has produced a robotic girlfriend, Eternal Maiden Actualization, that "can act like a real girlfriend." Apparently this involves kissing, handing out business cards, singing and dancing on command (now I know what I've been doing wrong!). With a CV like that it is hardly surprising to learn the target market is lonely men.

This is a step nearer the prediction of David Levy, a scholar of Artificial Intelligence, in his thesis entitled “Intimate Relationships with Artificial Partners” where he talks about developing intimate loving relationships and marriage between humans and robots in the next 40 years. Thankfully, I doubt very much I'll still be here in 40 years time to witness this because the idea that women having children without involving a father whilst men are hooking up with robots isn't very appealing.

At least divorcing a robot will be easy, cutting off the power supply is all that would be required.


Monday, June 16, 2008

Out of Touch

Another senior family judge calling for reform in England & Wales is reported by the Times today. In a speech to mark the 25th anniversary of Family Law Service, which is provided by the legal publishers LexisNexis Butterworths, Mr Justice Ryder attacked the present system of family courts run by a “self-selecting great and good and a professional judiciary” as out of tune with society.

The family courts system needed to lay itself open to scrutiny which, he said, was necessary for the public's reassurance and satisfaction. “Our judgments should be given in public and anonymised where necessary,” he said.

He urged the creation of a new “family court diversion scheme” and the adoption of a continental-style model where local community tribunals act as a gateway for family justice and deal with cases at an early stage, outside the criminal or civil courts

Update 1/7/08: A transcription of the speech is now available here from the Judiciary of England and Wales website. Thanks to Current Awareness for the tip off.


Fathers' Day Tragedy

Further to my post about the murder of a service processor and attempted murder of his two children by a father in the States the Herald reports the sad story of a father who killed himself and his two children in north Wales on Father's Day after the man was apparently involved in a dispute with his wife.

Dr Alex Yellowlees, consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Priory Hospital in Glasgow, explains in this Guardian article from November 2006 the motives of the men Americans call 'family annihilators'. Most experts agree that it is almost impossible to foresee and prevent such tradgedies.



I was experiencing technical problems again at the weekend and was getting rather agitated because I think I must becoming addicted to blogging.

On Friday Joe Vaitilingam wrote in The Times how the Law Commission in England & Wales would be better spending their time reforming the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 rather than looking at pre-nuptial agreements. He makes the point that only the well heeled will benefit from pre-nups whereas the benefit from reforming MCA 1973 would be far reaching. Maybe there is a cultural difference in that in Scotland only the assets accrued between the dates of marriage and separation are considered matrimonial but I have never quite understood the enthusiasm for pre-nuptial contracts when judges, lawyers and their clients seem to feel a comprehensive overhaul of the law is a more pressing need. Of course a comprehensive review requires resources.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Report on DV

John Bolch of Family Lore summarizes the Home Affairs Committee report on Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and “Honour”-Based Violence published today here.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

NJC v NPC & Others

The background to this case heard yesterday in the Court of Session is summarized in my earlier post Return of Children to France.

In March 2008 Lord Turnbull ordered three children to be returned to their mother in France. Subsequently the father sought an appeal against the decision and a legal guardian was appointed to the children.

In his submissions the father complained that he did not have sufficient access to papers because bail in extradition proceedings for the abduction of the children had been withdrawn and he was imprisoned. Also he explained that it would have been preferable that he should have had the benefit of legal representation, but that had not been possible as his previous as his previous legal advisors were no longer representing him. He complained the Opinion contained inaccuracies because of the unsatisfactory professional service given to him by his then legal advisers. Then he argued the best interests of those children would not be served by their being returned to France into the custody of their mother and the Court in Scotland was entitled to decline to order the return of the children to France upon the basis of the need for protection of them here. He contended the judge had not given the parties a fair hearing and the mother had been manipulative and dishonest. Adjournment which he sought should be granted in the interests of justice so that he could obtain professional representation.

Senior counsel for the mother said that he did not intend to address all of the multifarious matters raised by the father. His motion was that the mother's request for an adjournment of the Hearing should be refused. He also submitted that the appeal itself was without merit and should be refused. Senior counsel for the guardian stated that she had scrutinised the Court's decision from a child-focused angle and in light of that consideration, the guardian had reached the conclusion that an appeal could not be supported. No error on the part of the Lord Ordinary could be discerned. The judges ruled against the motion for an adjournment and were not persuaded that the Lord Ordinary's decision is open to criticism. Accordingly the appeal was refused and it was directed that discussion of the practical arrangements necessary to implement the Lord Ordinary's decision should go ahead at the earliest opportunity.

The full Opinion is here.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Laws of Love

Mark Chaloner of Laws of Love has written an interesting and thought provoking post, Over Sensitve Times, about being judgmental of the parenting of others. This raises two issues that are particular concerns of mine, namely over protectiveness stifling children and the effectiveness of psychotherapy. Mark warns lawyers against being critical of parenting styles and personality types encouraged by clients and suggests the lawyer needs to act as a reality check for parents’ expectations and standards. Perhaps one of the presuppositions of neuro linguist programming in having respect for the other person’s model of the world is useful here.

Mark is a barrister whose practice is 90% (or so) family law and he lives in Southampton, working all over the South Coast and Southern area. I have added Laws of Love to my blog roll.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Conception & Cash

In case anyone hasn't heard Father's For Justice are at it again with a roof top protest at the home of Harriet Harman. "Captain Conception" and "Cash Gordon" aka Jolly Stainesby and Mark Harris started the protest at the weekend, although Mark Harris later came down and was arrested. "Captain Conception" refers to the rights granted last month to single women and lesbian couples to have children without them having to consider a father for their children as reported by here in the Independent.

According to the BBC here it seems we are in for a full-scale campaign of direct action against the government, its ministers and the judiciary. Harriet Harman has left her home until the end of the protest.

I have two questions. Why was security so lapse on the Secretary of State for Equalities and Minister for Women's home and what does one do for toilet facilities on roof top protests? On second thoughts perhaps I don't really want to know the answer to the last question.


Child Maintenance Bill

The Office of Public Information has published the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Act 2008 available here.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Pressed For Time

Sums up the weekend.


Saturday, June 7, 2008

FAO Scots Law Buff

Someone sent me this;

A seven year old boy was at the centre of a courtroom drama yesterday when he challenged a court ruling over who should have custody of him.

The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents and the sheriff initially awarded custody to his aunt, in keeping with the child custody law and regulations requiring that family unity be maintained to the degree possible.

The boy surprised the court when he proclaimed that his aunt beat him more than his parents and he adamantly refused to live with her. When the sheriff suggested that he live with his grandparents, the boy cried out that they also beat him.

After considering the remainder of the immediate family and learning that domestic violence was apparently a way of life among them, the sheriff took the unprecedented step of allowing the boy to propose who should have custody of him.

After two recesses to check legal references and confer with social services officials, the judge granted temporary custody to Glasgow Rangers, whom the boy firmly believes are not capable of beating anyone.


Shooting the Messenger

Shooting the messenger took on a whole new meaning in Colorado when a process server was beaten to death with a baseball bat when he served divorce paper and a restraining order. On Friday James Whitler made his first court room appearance on a first-degree murder charge and two counts of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to strangle his children. The story is here.

Now I could understand process servers being avoided or being on the receiving end of a few expletives but I never thought serving divorce papers was a dangerous job. Was this a once off or is violence against process servers a regular occurrence here in the UK too?


Friday, June 6, 2008

SS v Children's Reporter

On 30th May Sheriff Charles Stoddart at Edinburgh Sheriff Court ruled in SS v Children's Reporter that a children's hearing was wrong to exclude an unmarried father recently awarded interim contact with his baby son, on the basis that he was not a "relevant person" under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. The sheriff said that although the hearing was aware that another sheriff had, just one month before, awarded the father interim contact, the father was not told that the hearing was taking place or invited to attend it because, not having parental rights and responsibilities in relation to the baby, he was not a "relevant person" entitled to attend.

The father appealed on the basis that the interim order in his favour was enough to make him a person with parental rights and responsibilities - and therefore a relevant person. Sheriff Stoddart ruled that the interim order did not "vest" any parental rights and responsibilities in the father, but did relate to the exercise of such rights. This point was not covered by in the case law P v P which predated the Human Rights Act 1998. In any event the term "relevant person" ought to be read in a way that was compliant with the European Convention on Human Rights and the contact order provided a link between father and son such that it was a breach of his article 6 rights to deny him the chance to be heard.

The appeal was allowed and the case sent back to the children's hearing to reconsider.


Disclosure Checks

Every Easter for the last 14 years I have been involved with organising this Scots traditional music events for children and one of the issues we have is child protection, in particular the Central Registered Body in Scotland disclosure (police checks.) This is fair enough for those who have had no previous checks but it is somewhat frustrating to go through the rigmarole of disclosure when the sessional workers work with children in several voluntary organisations such as the Feisean during the course of a year and each organisation has to apply and pay for it's own check. This costs time and money which could be much better spent on delivering the programme. Labour MSP Ken Macintosh hit the nail on the head when he said the over zealous application of child protection rules could be more of a hindrance than a help to children.

Even more ridiculous is parent groups and those using schools to teach adult classes going through disclosure checks when they do not have contact with children. Therefore it is something of a relief to read in the Journal of a softening in attitude and MSPs on the Education, Lifelong Learning and Culture Committee wanting to change the Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 so that parent groups and those using schools to teach adult classes do not have to go through disclosure checks. It is a step in the right direction and hopefully in the near future the issue of sessional workers will be addressed too.


Monday, June 2, 2008


Mediation helps couples who are separating or divorcing make their own arrangements and plans for the future. Experience shows that people are more satisfied with and more likely to adhere to arrangements they have made between themselves. Mediators are trained to help parties identify the issues between them reach a constructive agreement which will work for everyone concerned. In Scotland there is Family Mediation Scotland (according to the Journal now Relationships Scotland) which has a particular emphasis on arrangements for children and CALM, the family lawyer mediators.


Family Therapy

It is now generally accepted that families interact in a circular fashion and when there is understanding, empathy and good communication the stresses are dealt with in a constructive way. However, when parents separate there is often no empathy, distorted communication and overreaction so problems are not dealt with very constructively. Because of the circular interaction all family members can be implicated in problems which tend to escalate.

Family therapists can support families going through separation and divorce by finding constructive ways to resolve difficulties by promoting understanding. The Association for Family Therapy is on my blog roll and here is their explanation about what family therapy is.


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