Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Hiding wealth during divorce

From the New York Times:

A few weeks after she realized her husband was finally leaving her, Sarah Pursglove flew down to the Bahamas to figure out how much money he really had. Like many women married to very wealthy men, she didn’t know much about the family accounts. Her husband, a Finnish entrepreneur named Robert Oesterlund, had sworn to a Canadian court that his immediately calculable “net family property” totaled just a few million dollars. Pursglove was skeptical. She could come up with several family purchases worth more than that off the top of her head. There was the 165-foot yacht, Déjà Vu — that cost a few million dollars a year just to keep on the water. There was the $30 million penthouse at the Toronto Four Seasons, which was still being renovated. It wasn’t their only home. The Déjà Vu wasn’t even their only yacht.

Pursglove grew up in a working-class family. She did not consider herself to be a complicated person, or a greedy one. Recent events in her life had, however, inculcated a newfound habit of suspicion. Her husband’s tirades, his frequent absences and threats to leave, had led inexorably to the day when she tailed him through the streets of Toronto and caught him picking up an interior designer for what appeared to be a romantic ski getaway. She had been with Oesterlund since she was 25 and scraping by as a cruise ship’s photographer. Now, as she assessed her crumbling marriage and girded for divorce, she wondered what else she didn’t know.

Her first answers came that morning in the Bahamas, as she quickly rifled through papers in their soon-to-be-former vacation home. She didn’t have long: The caretaker, Pursglove suspected, was loyal to her husband and would soon alert him that she was there. In a pile of mail was a statement from a bank in Luxembourg showing an account with at least $30 million in cash. She had never seen it before. There were two laptops — one with baby photos of their younger daughter, which she set aside. In a cupboard were documents concerning not only Xacti, the internet company she and Oesterlund had built, but also oddly named corporations in other states and countries. Finally, there was a statement from their accounting firm. She had never seen that before, either. The accountants seemed to think her husband was worth at least $300 million.

But even as Pursglove was repacking her suitcase for the flight home, her family’s fortune was vanishing into an almost impenetrable array of shell companies, bank accounts and trusts, part of a worldwide financial system catering exclusively to the very wealthy. In recent decades, this system has become astonishingly effective at “offshoring” wealth — detaching assets, through complex layers of ownership and legal planning, from their actual owners, often by hiding them in another country. Created by lawyers, accountants and private bankers and operating out of a global archipelago of European principalities, former British colonies and Asian city-states, the system has one main purpose: to make the richest people in the world appear to own as little as possible.

...

One divorce attorney urged her to settle with her husband as soon as possible or else risk losing everything. Another told her the case would be too daunting for a normal family lawyer, even in South Florida, where high-priced divorces are common. Eventually, she found herself in the offices of Jeffrey Fisher.

Fisher was not a normal family lawyer. Early in his career, at the height of the South Florida drug wars, he worked for the United States attorney’s office in Miami, prosecuting cocaine smugglers and money launderers. When he opened his own firm with a partner in West Palm Beach in the late 1980s, he began specializing in cases that were equal parts divorce and white-collar litigation, representing the discarded wives of rich men with complex business concerns.

Read more here.

November 30, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

D.C. Council to vote on nation’s most generous family leave law: 11 weeks off

From The Washington Post:

The District may soon require employers to provide 11-weeks of paid family leave for parents to bond with newborn or adopted childen and 8 weeks of paid time off to care for a dying parent or grandparent – by far the most generous paid leave law in the nation.

The proposal, released Monday by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D), is expected to draw support from a majority of the council, which has been discussing a paid leave law for more than a year.

Under the plan, full-time and part-time employees would be able to draw from a government account to receive up to 90 percent of their pay. The benefit would be capped at $1,000 a week.

It would be funded by a 0.62 percent increase in the payroll taxes on businesses of every size, despite strong opposition from the city’s largest private employers.

The legislation would not allow employees to take paid leave to deal with their own health problems, except in cases connected to childbirth.

Advocates say paid leave family leave fills a crucial need in a country where 59 percent of mothers with infants are in the workforce. Studies show that when a parent can care for an infant or child after birth or adoption, it results in improved health for both the child and parent.

The U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a national paid leave law of any kind and just 12% of U.S. workers in the private sector can get paid family leave through their employer, according to the Department of Labor. Only a handful of states have enacted paid leave laws.

Read more here.

November 29, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 28, 2016

Told to go back to his own country, BigLaw partner says lawyers need to stand up and be heard

From The ABA Journal:

The second-to-last time WilmerHale intellectual property litigator William Lee heard such a biased comment reflecting hostility to immigrants was 40 years ago.

The last time was this August, and Lee believes the incident in which he was told to return to his country reflects an anti-immigrant political environment, the Am. Law Daily (sub. req.) reports.

Lee, whose parents are Chinese immigrants, is the former co-managing partner of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr. “If this can happen to the managing partner of an Am Law 200 firm,” Lee told the Am Law Daily, “what’s happening to the rest of the country?”

Read more here.

November 28, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Anorexic woman cannot be force fed, judge rules

From The Daily Record:

MORRISTOWN - A 29-year-old, severely-anorexic Morris County woman who has been a Greystone Park Psychiatric patient since 2014 cannot be artificially fed against her wishes, a Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

The 140-minute opinion delivered by Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong in Morristown was shaped by established rights to self-determination and privacy, legislation passed since the 1990s, and multiple landmark rulings that include the case of Karen Ann Quinlan, whose parents Armstrong represented in the 1970s when Joseph and Julia Quinlan fought successfully to have their daughter, who was in a persistent vegetative state, removed from a ventilator.

Armstrong found that the woman identified as A.G. had expressed an unwavering wish to refuse force-feeding after a near-lifelong battle with anorexia nervosa. Armstrong said that the people around her -- her parents, treating psychiatrist and physicians, the bioethics committee of Morristown Medical Center, her guardian and lawyer - all concur that it's in A.G.'s best interests to be transferred to a palliative care unit at the hospital where she won't be force-fed as the state Department of Human Services - which operates Greystone - wanted.

Read more here.

November 27, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 26, 2016

When it comes to starting a family, you can’t have your cake and eat it too

From The Huffington Post:

A woman is 35 years old. She is unmarried. She wants to have a child. She realizes that her childbearing years are coming to an end relatively soon. The proverbial “clock” is ticking away. She goes to a sperm bank and looks at the profiles. She doesn’t like the idea of picking the sperm of a stranger, so instead she decides to approach a male friend of hers and ask him to provide sperm.

Her male friend has no children of his own and likes the idea. He is interested in helping her. He wants to know what his involvement will be. Will they share the child and raise the child together? Will the child spend nights at each of their homes? Can they be like divorced parents sharing custody?

Her response to this is “not exactly”. When asked what that means, she explains to him that he will help her achieve the pregnancy but he will not have legal responsibility to the child. He will be the child’s “uncle” and he can take the child out once in a while on outings or to play, he can babysit, and he can celebrate some holidays with the child, but in the end she is the mother and the child’s only parent. She tells him that this is a good arrangement for him because he never has to pay child support. He gets to see his child grow up and participate in that in a limited way, but he is also untethered and can do whatever he wants.

Read more here.

 

November 26, 2016 in Alternative Reproduction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 25, 2016

Now that the nest is empty, retirees seek housing better suited to their age and households

From The Washington Post:

Howard Bluth was standing outside his five-bedroom house in McLean, Va., when a man stopped in a pickup truck and asked him whether he’d like to sell it. That was three years ago, and Bluth and his wife, Paige, haven’t looked back. “I sold it very quickly,” said Howard Bluth, an engineer.

While selling was easy, buying required research and more time. Like many empty nesters, the Bluths found that the tough part was preparing to transition from a large home to a much smaller one — identifying their many needs and wading through a range of options to meet them.

Among the considerations: Do you want a one-level condo or a single-family house? Do you want a multilevel single-family house with the master bedroom on the first floor? Do you want a newly constructed home or an existing one? Do you want a townhouse with an elevator? Can you find a place we can afford near your family?

“We want to be near our grandchildren and our children,” Howard Bluth said. All three of their grown children expect to be living in the D.C. area, and two already do.

The Bluths looked at high-rises in downtown Bethesda, Md., not far from Northwest Washington, and at condominium apartments and townhouses throughout the area. “We didn’t want the steps,” Paige Bluth said. Much of what they saw was too pricey, including one-bedroom condominiums for $600,000 to $800,000 — more than they wanted to spend for less space than they needed.

Finally, driving around the area with daughter Liza Aronie, they became interested in the Sumner Village condominium community, not far from where Aronie and her husband and children live in Bethesda. They called Aronie’s real estate agent, Caryn Krooth Gardiner of Long & Foster Real Estate, affiliated with Christie’s International in Bethesda, to find out what might be available there.

Read more here.

November 25, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving

November 24, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

5 states struggle with surging numbers of foster children

From Washington Top News:

The number of U.S. children in foster care is climbing after a sustained decline, but just five states account for nearly two-thirds of the recent increase. Reasons range from creation of a new child-abuse hotline to widespread outrage over the deaths of children who’d been repeatedly abused. Addictions among parents are another major factor.

 The most dramatic increase has been in Georgia, where the foster-care population skyrocketed from about 7,600 in September 2013 to 13,266 last month. The state is struggling to provide enough foster homes for these children and keep caseloads at a manageable level for child-protection workers.
 
Along with Georgia, the states with big increases are Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Minnesota. According to new federal figures, the nationwide foster-care population went up from 401,213 to 427,910 between September 2013 and September 2015, and these five states accounted for 65 percent of that rise.
 
In all five, a common factor driving the increase has been a surge of substance abuse by parents.
 
Read more here.

November 23, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Trump says gay marriage is settled law, but he still wants 'pro-life' justices

From The ABA Journal:

Donald Trump told 60 Minutes on Sunday that he will quickly nominate a Supreme Court justice, and his court nominees will be “pro-life” and “very pro-Second Amendment.”

But he told Lesley Stahl in the interview that the issue of marriage equality is “irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done. … And I’m fine with that.” Bloomberg News, the New York Times and CBS News have stories; a transcript is here.

Trump said that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, the issue of abortion will go back to the states. He acknowledged that some women seeking abortions would have to go to other states. Asked if that was OK, he replied, “Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.”

Stahl also asked Trump if he would name a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton for her emails. “Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to think about it,” he said. “I feel that I want to focus on jobs, I want to focus on healthcare, I want to focus on the border and immigration and doing a really great immigration bill. We want to have a great immigration bill. And I want to focus on all of these other things that we’ve been talking about.”

Read more here.

November 22, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 21, 2016

A united family can make all the difference when someone is dying

From The Washington Post:

The blessings and curses of families are not limited to holiday gatherings, graduations, weddings and funerals. They also exist at the transition of the matriarch or patriarch from life to death.

Like many elderly Americans, my father wanted to die at home. He was clear on that point. But also like many elderly Americans, he gave mixed signals about what treatment he would accept or decline with that goal in mind.

So when at age 92 my father began his decline from aging with grace to decaying from old age several years ago, my sisters and I began creating a plan that would allow him to reach the end as he wished.

First, we reinforced his household help. Then we scheduled a series of periodic days-long supportive, reconnaissance visits. (None of us live near him.) My father told us that he did not want to be resuscitated if he collapsed. But how should we deal with a nonfatal emergency without losing him to overly aggressive care? Would it be possible, in fact, to do nothing?

Read more here.

November 21, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lawyer Fights for American Student Debt Trap Victims

From LawyersAndSettlements.com

Attorney Joshua Cohen may have one of the best perspectives on the student loan debt crisis in America. A thirty-something attorney, Cohen has been intervening on behalf of young Americans caught in the student loan debt crisis for almost five years, and is one of the few lawyers in the US with the knowledge and ability to get people back on track.

Cohen’s website alone gets at least 200 contacts a month from young Americans caught in what promises to be a lifelong debt trap. Without expert legal advice, many would be doomed to a life of payments they cannot afford, harassing phone calls from debt collectors and no hope of ever repaying the money.

The Institute for College Access and Success estimates that two-thirds of university and college graduates leave school with an average student loan debt of approximately $26,000. About one percent have debts in the six-figure range.

All combined, the student loan debt in the US tops out at over $1 trillion. Although it is difficult to determine, the effect of millions of young Americans making bank loan payments rather than spending on consumer goods and services is believed to have a considerable drag on the economy, and will continue to for many years to come.

Most of the loans were made to students through the federal or the state governments. The rest of the loans were made to students through private lending institutions. Understanding the key differences between these two types of loans is one of Cohen’s strongest points and is critical to finding ways to solve a student debt problem.

“The private side is the scariest,” says Cohen. “The banks have lent huge amounts of money to people. If these loans were for any other purchase, for a house, or car, or any other tangible good, the bank would never, ever lend that amount of money to these people.

“I have a 23-year-old who graduated with a hundred thousand in private student loans and no co-signer. He will never ever pay that loan. His degree is in physical fitness. He is personal trainer at a gym and he makes 30K a year. He won’t even touch the principle on that loan. That’s what I call DOA. So now he is sitting on a default and his credit is garbage,” says Cohen.

“This is very similar to the sub-prime mortgage lending crisis where the banks were giving loans to people that couldn’t actually afford them,” says Cohen. “Fortunately, those people could file for bankruptcy, surrender their house and walk away. But people with private student loan debt are not allowed to do that. Congress needs to change the bankruptcy law so that these are dischargeable.”

Read more here.

November 20, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 19, 2016

With his mother’s death, this teen’s family was broken apart. Now, he has a new home

From The Washington Post:

LaTisha Nicholson was determined to keep her family together. The single mom and her three children were often homeless, living in various shelters across the city.

Things were looking up in 2014, when Nicholson got a job as a home health-care aide and then found an apartment in Southeast Washington. Then a new baby came along. But days later, DeMarco Nicholson, the oldest of her children, found his mother lifeless in a bathtub. She had died of heart failure at 34.

The fragile family was broken. DeMarco’s infant brother went to live with his father. His sisters, then ages 10 and 13, moved to their father’s house.

At first DeMarco, whose father had never been involved in his life, stayed with an aunt. But the two got into such an argument that she called the police, and he was taken to a youth group home.

Now 19, DeMarco has finally found a new family that welcomed him into their home — and helps him stay close with his biological siblings. On Saturday in D.C. Superior Court, he will be among 29 children and teens whose adoptions will be finalized as part of the court’s annual Adoption Day.

Read more here.

November 19, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 18, 2016

FBI: Hate crimes spike, most sharply against Muslims

From CNN.com:

The latest FBI annual hate crime report shows a sharp spike in the number of hate crimes nationwide, with attacks against Muslims increasing the most sharply.

In one year, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the United States rose 67%, from 154 incidents in 2014 to 257 in 2015, according to the latest numbers released in the bureau's Hate Crime Statistics Report on Monday.
 
In sheer numbers, anti-Jewish incidents (664) were higher in 2015, but the percentage increase was much higher for incidents involving Muslim victims. "That is the highest number since 2001, when the al Qaeda attacks on New York and elsewhere drove the number to its highest ever level, 481 hate crimes," according to Mark Potok with Southern Poverty Law.
 
The FBI defines a hate crime as a "criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender's bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity."
 
Law enforcement agencies submit incident reports annually; the reports include information detailing the offenses, victims, offenders and locations of hate crimes. The bureau's Uniform Crime Reporting Program data showed 5,850 hate crime incidents reported to police in 2015, a 6.8% increase from the 5,479 incidents reported in 2014.
 
Read more here.

November 18, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Nigel Shepherd: ‘Law fails poorer families going through relationship breakdown’

From the Guardian:

Less well-off couples trying to separate through divorce proceedings are facing a “perfect storm” of court closures, legal aid cuts and bureaucratic breakdown, says Nigel Shepherd, the newly appointed head of the family law organisation Resolution, a 6,500-strong association which represents solicitors, barristers and other professionals involved in family law.

Shepherd, 60, who has taken up the post for the second time in his career, has already written to the new justice secretary, Liz Truss, pressing her department to carry out a review of the impact of the withdrawal of legal aid in most family cases. 

Unless individuals can demonstrate they are victims of domestic violence, courtroom representation is no longer available under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Advice "deserts:A, areas where there are few agencies or solicitors able to give help, have begun to emerge. For poorer individuals who cannot afford a solicitor, the withdrawal of legal aid for family courts has caused a surge in litigants in person, whose claims, if pursued, take far longer to resolve, according to Shepherd. As many as 80% of family law cases may now involve one party who is unrepresented.

“London has a real problem if you want a high court hearing [for divorce cases],” Shepherd says. “You may have to wait nine months to a year.” This means that custody battles are more protracted. Online divorce, being developed by the judiciary, is not yet available.

Local authority funding cuts have also made it harder to obtain reports from social workers, Shepherd says, pointing to the warning last month by Sir James Munby, who heads the family division, that family courts are facing a “clear and imminent crisis” because of the increase in child care cases.

Read more here.

November 17, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Civil Partnership versus Marriage in Britain

From HG.org:

However that was not to be as, since Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan first decided that they would prefer to have a civil partnership rather than get married and found that they were promptly knocked back, they have been campaigning ever since to challenge the decision that they do not meet the requisite legal requirement to enable them to have a civil partnership, that of being the same sex.

The couple lost their appeal yesterday at the High Court where they contended that they were subject to discrimination and state that they intend to appeal. The government welcomed the decision on the basis that “the current regime of marriage and civil partnership does not disadvantage opposite-sex couples”.

Furthermore, it is felt that now that same-sex couples can marry it is likely that civil partnerships will fade away and eventually be phased out at some stage in the future and to amend that legislation at this stage would be an unnecessary expense, particularly as no decision has yet been made regarding civil partnerships as the government is keen to see what impact, if any, same-sex marriage has on civil partnerships.

Read more here.

November 16, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Flowers for Same-Sex Wedding

From Northwest Public Radio:

The case of a florist who refused to serve her customers is going before the Washington Supreme Court tomorrow. The lawsuit concerns a gay couple who wanted flowers for their wedding.

Barronelle Stutzman owns Arlene's Flowers in Richland. She says providing flowers for the wedding would have violated her religious freedoms. Last year a Benton County Superior Court judge said her actions violated anti-discrimination law in Washington. The judge ruled that she could no longer refuse customers based on their sexual orientation. Stutzman appealed to the Washington Supreme Court.

Read more here.

November 15, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Court of appeal upholds decision to keep Oxford mother's child in care

From The Guardian:

Court of Appeals judges have backed a decision to take a four-year-old girl into care on the grounds that her long-term emotional health and life chances were threatened by her mother’s inability to control her child’s behaviour.

The girl, known as “Child B”, was placed for adoption in August after a ruling by a judge at a private family court hearing in Oxford found that her mother was incapable of providing adequate parenting or setting boundaries.

The court of appeal heard that Child B showed extremely challenging behaviour, was at times aggressive and disrespectful towards her mother, did not trust her, failed to respond to her attempts to control her, and used inappropriate language.

Social workers had at one stage carried out a parenting assessment which recorded eight examples of “worrying behaviour” by the girl, then three, during a five-week period. In one instance she had moved around car parks in an “uncontrolled way” and had once run across a road, causing a car to brake suddenly.

Although the mother accepted that she had failed to set boundaries and protect her daughter from emotional harm in the past, her lawyers argued that her parenting had improved and that the girl was no longer at risk of suffering significant harm in her care.

Read more here.

November 14, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Divorce: How to remain financially secure

From CNBCAfrica.com:

Unfortunately divorce is an all too common reality in our current times. Statistics reflect that as the year winds down to a close, partners contemplate the reality of dissolving a union that is no longer working.

Most people going through a divorce will agree that the initial stages can be overwhelming – in fact the changes happen so quickly that the alternative - to stick their head in the sand and hide, may well seem a more attractive option.

As with most daunting undertakings, a plan and a checklist will assist. There are a few essential steps that need to be taken in contemplation of divorce proceedings to ensure that the financial settlement will be fair and you will be financially independent and secure once the divorce is finalised.

This is according to Lisa Griffiths, Associate Director of BDO Wealth Advisers, who highlights the following list of “to-do’s” to prepare for divorce:

1.  Establish a team of professional advisers

“Firstly, it is essential that you find your own lawyer and that it should not be a person who has or will act for your spouse.”

“Also ensure that you have your own financial planner – their role will be critical in analysing the financial data. Once again, your planner should not be a person who will also act for your spouse – there is a clear conflict of interest!”

2.  Gather all of your financial information and documentation

“You need to be fully aware of the complete and complex financial situation facing you. Understand all of your debts — not only what the two of you have jointly, but also individually. To avoid any unforeseen surprises, you need to comprehend the full picture on credit card accounts, home loans, car finance and even other items such as personal loans, business debts and retail accounts. You must be prepared to disclose your full financial status.”

“Be prepared. It is so much easier to navigate divorce negotiations if you have the full financial information available early on in the proceedings,” says Griffiths, who goes on to advise that one should also keep a second set of documentation in a safe place.

Read more here.

November 12, 2016 in Divorce (grounds) | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Locked up and in limbo: Mother takes immigration, child custody battle to court

From The Washington Post:

From the day he was picked up three years ago by Border Patrol agents in Texas, Dora Beltrán’s son has cycled through shelters and detention centers in five states as his mother fights to bring him home.

The family’s immigration standing is not at issue: She is a legal permanent resident and an immigration judge decided he would not be deported.

Yet the teen remains locked up as his mother and the government battle over when federal officials can keep a parent from her troubled child.

The rare and complicated case is set to be heard this week in federal court in Northern Virginia where Beltrán is challenging the role of federal officials in child custody matters.

Her son had lived with her in Texas for years but was a runaway when he was spotted by agents at age 14 near the Mexican border. Before Beltrán could get to her son, authorities detained him as an unaccompanied minor.

Even after an immigration judge determined that the boy did not have to be deported, federal officials decided he should remain in a detention center. They said his history — with the teen describing himself as a runaway, drug user and associate of criminal gangs — raised questions about his mother’s ability to supervise him and keep him safe.

But Beltrán’s lawyers say that once an immigration judge closed out her son’s case, he should have been released to her.

On Thursday, her lawyers will argue that she is entitled to a formal custody hearing similar to what she would receive in a state or local child welfare system.

Read more here.

November 11, 2016 in Custody (parenting plans), International | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Nigel Shepherd: ‘Law fails poorer families going through relationship breakdown’

From The Guardian:

Less well-off couples trying to separate through divorce proceedings are facing a “perfect storm” of court closures, legal aid cuts and bureaucratic breakdown, says Nigel Shepherd, the newly appointed head of the family law organisation Resolution, a 6,500-strong association which represents solicitors, barristers and other professionals involved in family law.

Shepherd, 60, who has taken up the post for the second time in his career, has already written to the new justice secretary, Liz Truss, pressing her department to carry out a review of the impact of the withdrawl of legal aid in most family cases.

Unless individuals can demonstrate they are victims of domestic violence, courtroom representation is no longer available under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. Advice "deserts", areas where there are few agencies or solicitors able to give help, have begun to emerge. For poorer individuals who cannot afford a solicitor, the withdrawal of legal aid for family courts has caused a surge in litigants in person, whose claims, if pursued, take far longer to resolve, according to Shepherd. As many as 80% of all family law cases may now involve one party who is unrepresented.

“London has a real problem if you want a high court hearing [for divorce cases],” Shepherd says. “You may have to wait nine months to a year.” This means that custody battles are more protracted. Online divorce, being developed by the judiciary, is not yet available.

Local authority funding cuts have also made it harder to obtain reports from social workers, Shepherd says, pointing to the warning last month by Sir James Munby, who heads the family division, that family courts are facing a “clear and imminent crisis” because of the increase of child care cases. London has a real problem if you want a high court hearing. You may have to wait a year

The Ministry of Justice’s austerity programme of court closures has placed further strains on access to justice. “There’s pressure from court closures; 86 in the latest slice. It means people have to travel a lot further – difficult for those who use public transport,” says Shepherd. Clients from parts of rural Cambridgeshire, who have to travel to Peterborough family court, for example, already have a two-hour journey each way involving several buses and a train, according to Resolution.

Read more here.

November 10, 2016 | Permalink | Comments (0)