I am a Solicitor who has specialised in Child Law since qualification in 1992. I was admitted to the Law Society Children Panel in 1996. My practice has one of the most experienced teams of child law specialist solicitors in the South West.
Over the years I have represented many parents and grandparents in Court Proceedings brought by Social Services. The Court now expects most cases to be finished in 26 weeks or less. This means that the window of time for parents and grandparents to make the right choices so that they will succeed is very small. Good decisions need to be made at the very start of a case.
No Solicitor who represents parents and grandparents in Social Services cases can claim that they have succeeded in keeping children with their parents/grandparents in every case. Sometimes the problems are simply too great to overcome in the timescale of the court process. Sometimes clients are unable to follow our advice or panic and switch off.
We always try hard to make sure that our clients give themselves the best chance of achieving the best realistic outcome and that their case is clearly heard by the Court. Over the years we have helped clients to achieve some excellent outcomes.
Avoiding Court Proceedings
Being taken to Court always involves the risk of a bad outcome. This is because decisions are made by someone else. The best way to succeed is always to avoid ending up in Court in the first place.
There is no substitute to seeking specific advice from an experienced Solicitor. The following is a good place to start:
Don’t panic. The main job of Social services isn’t to remove children and place them for adoption. The main job of Social Services is to make sure that children are safe and that the standard of care which they receive is good enough (you won’t have to be perfect). Most cases do not end up in Court.
Understand where you have been going wrong. Nobody is perfect. Listen. Ask what changes you need to make to improve your care and what support is available to help you do this. Take up that help.
Work with Social Services. If you tell them to go away, they won’t and
The Supreme Court has announced this morning that in the case of Owens v Owens heard 17 May 2018 the appeal has been dismissed.
This means that Mrs Owens is forced to remain married to Mr Owens against her will.
She is a prisoner in her marriage!
The Supreme Court
Whilst the Supreme Court has, reluctantly, applied the law correctly, the fact that they have done so confirms there is now a divorce crisis in England and Wales, and the government needs to take urgent action to address it.
The Supreme Court was not satisfied that Mrs Owens had sufficiently proved that Mr Owens had behaved sufficiently unreasonably so that the Unreasonable Behaviour test was met.
To get divorced, couples are legally required to assign blame for the relationship breakdown, unless they’ve lived apart for two years. This makes an amicable agreement between the couple more difficult and can have a negative impact on any children involved.
The 1996 Family Law Act did contain provision to end fault based divorce, but the politicians never allowed those provisions to come into force. These provisions have long since been repealed (completely scrapped).
Current divorce law is not fit for today’s modern society
It shocks many couples when they find out that, unless they blame their partner, they must wait 2 years for a divorce.
Blame can bring out feelings of injustice and recrimination, and evidence shows it can affect parents’ ability to put children first.
Resolution proposes a divorce procedure where one or both partners can give notice that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The divorce can then proceed and after six months if one or both parties would still like to proceed the divorce is finalised.
We support this. But change cannot happen until the politicians decide to pass new laws (whilst they are at it, they can do something to fix the increasingly broken legal aid system).
This is important – Divorce without blame will increase the chances of non-court dispute resolution, reducing the burden on family courts.
Many countries around the world – including Australia, the USA and Spain – allow for divorce without blame. Why can’t we have no fault divorce here?
Facts and figures
1.7m people have been compelled to apportion blame in divorce since failed attempt to provide no-fault divorce option in 1996.
In 2015, 60% of English and Welsh divorces were granted on adultery and behaviour (Finding Fault 2017) (60,000 cases!)
95,000 children affected by divorce in 2013 (ONS 2015)
Time for a change please
We are a progressive practice. We encourage the use of Mediation and Collaborative Family Law, but our job is made more difficult by a divorce law which goes back to 1973. Can we have a change please?
The world has moved on since 1973 and the divorce law needs to catch up.
The Legal Aid Agency have very recently published Legal Aid Statistics for the quarter January to March 2018.
There were 9% fewer legal help new matter starts (these are for the initial advice level of legal aid) than in the same period of 2017.
The volume of completed claims also decreased, by 8%, and expenditure fell by 11%. Not surprising if less cases are started.
This is a continuing downward trend.
Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings were 19% lower than in the same quarter of 2017.
Mediation starts (full mediation cases, rather than assessment meetings) between October and December 2017 were down by 18% and currently running at just under half the number of starts since the implementation of the LASPO Act.
6% more certificates were issued compared to the same quarter in 2017, due to demand for public family law representation. In other words more cases are being brought by social services.
This category (social services cases) accounts for three quarters of the Family workload and 80% of Family expenditure.
Changes in the acceptable evidence of domestic abuse from January 2018 have resulted in more certificates being granted on this basis.
746 applications for Exceptional Case Funding were received in the last quarter. 59% of them were granted – the highest number and proportion since the scheme began – up 5% compared to last year.
The number of legal aid provider offices has fallen by a third in the last five years.
On Friday 11 May 2018 I was privileged to Chair the 4th Devon Resolution Conference.
This was attended by 120 family law solicitors and mediators, not only from Devon, but also from Somerset and Cornwall.
The aim of the conference is to provide the highest quality training. Just as important is the need for family law practitioners to be able to meet in a relaxed and sociable environment to foster good communications and relations. We achieve the best for our clients when we work well together in a sensible professional way, fostered by best practice.
I have to own up to the fact that the conference was my idea. As Chair of Devon Resolution, I am also the conference Chair. But the conference would not have been the success that it is without the hard work of the Devon Resolution Committee (drawn from a broad range of Devon family lawyers and mediators) and the generosity of or speakers and also the support of our delegates
The consensus seems to be that 2018 was our best conference yet.
Keynote Speaker – HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC
Stephen Wildblood is the Designated Family Judge for Bristol. He is also an old friend of ours having previously sat as a Family Judge in Devon and before that regularly appearing in our courts as a barrister.
Stephen’s speech reminded us of the importance of ensuring family court users were treated with fairness and dignity.
Stephen brought with him the Behind Closed Doors Theatre from Bristol. The group gave an amazing and highly thought provoking performance. Their work encourages us to think about how court users can find the experience incomprehensible and distressing, and reminds us of the lack of support to the vulnerable, particularly when care proceedings conclude. We hope to have them back another year.
Angela Lake-Carroll (Independent consultant in family law and Resolution’s Head of Standards) gave an update from National Resolution.
Angela also gave a thought provoking presentation – Changing Times – Family law and justice briefing – the message being to encourage family lawyers to improve their soft skills and use of dispute resolution. Angela also ran an excellent workshop for family mediators the previous day.
What colour are you?
On the subject of communication, James Knight -iMA Strategies Alison Bull Mills and Reeve opened the conference and then ran a workshop looking at how improved understanding of our communication styles can help practitioners better meet the needs of their clients and also to work together.
I had previously attended their workshop; Spontaneous, controlling, cautious or precise? – Communication strategies to achieve better outcomes at the national Resolution Dispute Resolution Conference last November.
As a firm we have adopted the iMA communication questionnaire which is now embedded on our website.
A fantastic group of speakers
Our other excellent speakers and workshop providers were; Sue Campbell QC of Magdalen Chambers who spoke on; How to deal with the evidence of children and vulnerable witnesses.
Anthony Kirk QC of 1KBW –Placement Orders – Setting Aside and the Relationship with Care Proceedings./What do you expect from your judge?
Markanza Cudby also of 1KBW – Appeals
Claire Wills-Goldingham QC of Colleton Chambers – The mentally disordered parent in the context of private law proceedings
Lucy Reed of St Johns Chambers –The Transparency Project.
We are very pleased to announce that David Howell-Richardson has joined us as a Consultant Solicitor and Mediator.
David is very well known and respected in our legal community. He brings with him more than 40 years experience in legal practice as a solicitor. The vast majority of this has been as a family law specialist.
David was for many years a partner and the Head of Family Law at Stones Solicitors. Stones were a long-standing Exeter firm of solicitors. Over the years Stones Solicitors assisted very many Exeter and Devon families. More recently Stones Solicitors merged with national firm Trowers and Hamlins Solicitors. He remained as a partner with Trowers and Hamlins and then as a consultant.
David will continue to work in Exeter as well as assisting clients from our offices in Honiton and Taunton.
David assists clients with divorce and separation, children issues and mediation.
We are very lucky to have gained such a respected professional with such a wealth of experience as a member of our team.
A very experienced team
We have one of the most experienced teams of lawyers in Devon and Somerset. In addition to Ian Walker (longstanding Chair of Devon Resolution, former Law Society Family Law Committee member and Family Mediators Association Trustee), 3 of our lawyers have been partner and head of family law at their previous practices; Kim Stradling (Everys Solicitors), David Howell-Richardson (Stones Solicitors) and Sandy Powell (Dunn and Baker Solicitors). We cannot think of another practice in Devon and Somerset which has as great a concentration of former heads of other family law teams as our practice.
We now have a team of 7 family law specialist solicitors and mediators, with additional growth planned in 2018. We are now one of the larger family law teams in Devon and Somerset. We have a shared ethos of assisting clients to achieve good solutions through sensible negotiation where possible.
Accredited Family Mediator
David is accredited by the Law Society as a Family Mediation Practitioner. David has regularly mediated since qualifying as a mediator in 1998. David is a strong advocate for seeking to resolve disputes through discussion and negotiation. Making a court application should be a last resort, (albeit sometimes necessary), rather than the a first step.
Law Society Family Law Accreditation
David is also holds the Law Society Family Law Accreditation for representation of adults on public law and children related issues.
We are very lucky to have gained such a respected professional with such a wealth of experience as a member of our team.
We are pleased to welcome Sandy Powell to our team as an Associate Solicitor.
Sandy qualified as a Solicitor in 1988 which means that she has practiced family law for 30 years.
Sand has also been a member of the Law Society Children Panel since 1992. (altogether between Ian, Kim and Sandy we now have over 60 years of Child Panel membership in the practice!).
In addition Sandy has been a Resolution Accredited Specialist since 2004 and her specialisms include Advanced Financial Provision.
Respected by fellow lawyers
Sandy is well known and respected in the Devon family law community and her joining adds additional strength and depth to our team.
Sandy’s career has included time with WBW, Trowers and Hamlin (who took over Stones), Ford Simey and Dunn and Baker (where she was a Partner and Head of the Family Team). She has mostly been responsible for the supervision of other solicitors and trainees.
Sandy also trained as a mediator a number of years ago. Whilst she never achieved accreditation with the Family Mediation Council, our view is that mediation training makes everyone who does it a better lawyer. The reason is that mediation training enhances negotiation skills and gives a better understanding that there invariably two ways of viewing a problem (at least) and that the best long term solutions are rarely achieved through confrontation.
We are now one of the larger teams of family lawyers in Devon and Somerset
Our team now includes 6 specialist family lawyers which makes us one of the larger family law practices in Devon and Somerset. With plans already in place the team should grow to 8 lawyers by the end of 2018.
Thank you for your email and thank you for all your help in bringing about a return to a fairer childcare arrangement. We have just spent a lovely weekend in xxxxxxxxx with the girls and it was such a relief not having to have the usual stressful negotiations regarding travel arrangements and the worry that everythingwould be cancelled last minute.(Ian)
Thank you very much for your help and advice (always constructive and realistic) including when dealing with other professionals whose conduct did not match yours. (Ian)
Just a little note to say a huge thank you for your help and support on our case. (Kim)
Thank you for your advice and help. (Sandy)
Achieving sensible solutions
Family Law clients are invariably dealing with difficult and stressful events in their lives. Sometimes when you are in a difficult situation you “cannot see the wood for the trees”. In other words clients can get locked in the problem and find it difficult to take a step back and put the problem in perspective and identify what really needs to happen for it to be resolved. This is where sensible advice is fundamental.
It is easy to mirror the problem back to a client (tell them what they want to hear). Good advice requires telling clients what needs to happen to achieve a positive outcome. Sometimes this means telling clients that they need to do something different (and it is not just the other party that needs to change). Good advice can be unpalatable. A good professional will not shy away from this.
Our philosophy is to focus on solutions and what needs to happen to achieve these.
Always room for improvement
It is always nice to receive thanks from clients for a job well done.
Our philosophy is also for constant improvement and we always welcome constructive comment which helps us to see where our service can be improved. One of the focuses of our Practice Manager – Leanne Cornock-Stark is to look at client experience and to implement improvements when we identify something that can be done better.
We have just published the flyer for the annual Devon Resolution Family Law Conference, which is organised by Devon Resolution, of which I am the longstanding Chair.
I have reproduced the flyer below. Family Law professionals who are not from Devon are also welcome to attend. We hold the conference on a Friday so that non-local delegates and speakers have the chance to spend a weekend in lovely Devon if they wish.
There is something for everyone and it promises to be the best yet (and much better than the thing going on in Bristol on dates I have forgotten organised by nation resolution).
We are celebrated the 5th Birthday of Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors on Friday with a small drinks reception at East Devon Business Centre in Honiton.
It was so nice to catch up with some old friends who have supported us with our journey.
We enjoyed a selection of lovely cakes and a glass of fizz.
I was reminded it was Groundhog Day. Having enjoyed the movie, I was very relieved not to wake up the next day and find myself back at day one; in a room all by myself, armed with a computer, legal expertise and some good ideas.
5 years of progress
And what a five years it has been. My first business plan anticipated that I might have had a couple of colleagues by this point. Instead I have been lucky enough to be joined by (in order of joining) Karen Elliott, Carrie Meikle, Kim Stradling and Stef Hinde.
On Friday we bade temporary goodbye to Stef who is now on maternity leave, but I was delighted to announce that we will be joined by the very experienced and respected Sandy Powell.
Sandy deserves a separate post and that will follow shortly.
We will also be joined (as a consultant) by former CAFCASS Officer/Children’s Guardian/Independent Social Worker and trainer; Julie Cornwell.
Julie is going to assist our Mediation practice by assisting in taking children’s wishes to assist the mediation process. Julie will do the same in support of my Child Law Arbitration practice. More to follow.
Exeter and Taunton
Since we started we have gained our own office at Exchange House in Taunton, and most recently at the Senate, Southernhay Gardens, Exeter.
We have spent the last few weeks getting our office in the Senate ready.
Our main base will remain in Honiton.
We also have some more new faces in the pipeline.
Sadly Beth and Hannah have left us for personal reasons, but this has allowed us to revamp and expand the backroom team. More news to follow, but it is all very exciting.
We also hope to expand our legal team further during the next year, but I cant talk about that yet…
Thanks so much to my team, and to our clients and to all those who have helped us along the way.