Avoiding disputes about Christmas contact or finding solutions

As an experienced family law solicitor I know that Christmas is not a happy time that everyone. Indeed it can be very lonely and depressing. Some parents are for various reasons unable to spend time with their children on the main days of the Christmas holiday or even at all.

Family disputes in the run-up to Christmas

In the run-up to Christmas we deal with a surge in cases where separated parents are in dispute over the arrangements through which children will spend time with each parent over the Christmas holiday. Here are some hopefully helpful tips.

Tips to avoid disputes about the arrangements for children in the run-up to Christmas

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Rights of Women

Rights of Women is a women’s voluntary organisation committed to informing, educating and empowering women concerning their legal rights.

The organisation is based in London and was founded in 1975. They seek to influence policy by undertaking original research, preparing responses to policy documents from Government and other sources. Rights of Women  organise conferences on women’s rights, and hold public meetings. They want women’s voices heard at every stage of public policy formulation.

In addition Rights of Women  offer free confidential legal advice to women on through their own advice line. Their website contains a lot of useful information and a link can be found here; Link to Rights of Women Website

Challenging the rules restricting Legal Aid

Rights of Women were recently successful in being granted permission to challenge the evidence requirements often referred to as the ‘domestic violence gateway’ to legal aid in many private family law cases.

The Law Society has supported their challenge (brought by the Public Law Project on their behalf) over the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid which are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid for family cases, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. Rights of Women argue that this is not what parliament intended.

A full hearing is expected before the end of the year

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Are we the right Family Law Solicitors or Family Mediators for you?

What follows is a short piece which formed the basis of our Advert in East Devon’s Midweek Herald Newspaper in January 2014.

We regularly advertise in the Midweek Herald because it is a free newspaper that is delivered to homes in Honiton, Seaton, Axminster, Colyton, Beer and Ottery St Mary. It can also be found in Sidmouth. Our main office is in Honiton, although we are also able to see clients by appointment at our branch offices in Exeter and Taunton, so the Midweek Herald is a natural place to advertise. As an East Devon resident, Ian has been reading the Midweek Herald for quite a number of years.

Family Law and Mediation Experts in East Devon

Ian Walker has been a specialist Family Law Solicitor since 1992 and a Family Mediator since 1996. Ian has worked for Solicitors Practices recognised as amongst the best in the South West. Ian has a long commitment to good Practice and has served as a Member of the Family Law Committee of the Law Society, which promotes good practice and Law Reform. (more…)

Reception at Exeter County Court on 4th December 2013

This is a quick post to say thanks to all those who made our Mediation reception at Exeter County Court such a success.

Thank you to His Honour Judge Tyzack QC for his kind and encouraging words to us all. Thanks to District Judges Arnold and Waterworth for their time and support.

It was brilliant to see so many friends.

It was really great that everything came together so nicely. Whilst it was my idea, the workload was shared between is.

The Mediation Services who took part were; (more…)

Traditionally the summer is a quiet time for family law lawyers. The autumn sees families working out how best to sort out difficulties. Difficult decisions need to be made. This piece is intended to help.

Although Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors only properly got going in March 2013, I have lived and worked in Devon for 14 years. I have been a specialist Family Law Solicitor for 21 years and a Family Mediator for 17 years. Among other things, I was the Chair of the Devon branch of Resolution for a successful 3 year term in office before standing down last year. I was elected to this role by Family Solicitors across Devon. If you have not heard of Resolution, you should visit their website at http://www.resolution.org.uk/about_us/ . As an organisation Resolution has in its 30 years transformed what is good practice and heavily promoted dispute resolution through Mediation and Collaborative Family Law.

 

Value for Money

In Family disputes this is a combination of;

  • achieving a good outcome,
  • in as short a period of time as possible and
  • spending as little money as possible.

Family Law problems are problems which are resolved in the shadow of the Law. If there is no agreement a Judge will make decisions. Even if there is agreement, a Court Order may be needed to put it into effect (For example a Divorce or a “clean break” or pension order), and trying to avoid Solicitors completely is almost always a false economy. However choosing a Solicitor is not always easy. There are some longer pieces on my website on this subject, but generally the main things to consider are;

  • What is their experience and how do they work? For example will they delegate all the work to someone junior in their team? Do they have too many cases to give you the time that you need? Are they a member of Resolution?
  • Are they Outcome Focused? Or are they easily distracted into problems which will slow the case down and which will do little to affect the final outcome?
  • What do they charge? Giving quotes is always difficult. The Legal Ombudsman published a report earlier in the year which said that he received far too many complaints from people whose Solicitor had quoted low in order to win the work and then way exceeded the quote. I would always advise anyone to concentrate on the hourly charging rate in combination with experience and attitude, rather than a hypothetical overall figure.

 

Value for money for also depends on the client. Generally, if you want to spend less, you need to understand what is a reasonable outcome or range of outcomes, and then get to the negotiation table as soon as possible. If negotiation fails, you need to get to a Court Hearing (with a realistic and well prepared case) as soon as possible. Too often I have seen people wasting money by avoiding getting on with things and getting stuck with long and pointless letters going back and forth in an expensive point scoring exercise.

A good Solicitor will steer their client through the best format to achieve a good and realistic outcome, whether that is Family Mediation, Collaborative Family Law, Solicitor led negotiation or Court Application. The skill lies in finding the right and best process for the client and their family and helping them to make the most of it.

It is also true to say that there are good and experienced Solicitors in the towns of East Devon, and there should be no need to travel into Exeter for Family Law or Mediation. There tends to be a higher turnover of staff in larger practices as well as a greater use of unqualified caseworkers. Local is often more personal and the Solicitors will know each other, which can also smooth the case along.

 

Family Mediation
I am a family Mediator as well as a Solicitor. We are the only Mediation service based in East Devon which has a contract with the Legal Aid Agency. It is correct to say that mediation (for the right people), is often the cheapest and best (but by no means always) way of resolving family disputes. It is important that it is supported by Legal Advice. When I am mediating, I cannot advise, but I can assist clients to get advice about the things they need to, when they need to, so that they can make informed decisions together. As a mediator, I meet with both parties separately before setting mediation up. I carry out a risk assessment and check that mediation is suitable.

 

Legal Aid
Many think that Legal Aid has been completely abolished, but this is not true. Legal Aid is still available for Legal Advice to assist people to protect themselves and their children. It is available if Social Services become involved with a family. If there is a documented safety issue it is also still available for divorce and finance and children disputes.

The rules are very complicated! There is a useful questionnaire at  https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid, but I am always happy to take a phone call, and I will be able to give you an idea fairly quickly.

Where there is not a documented safety issue, then families’ can get Legal Aid for family mediation. Once the mediation has started, there is also a type of legal aid that will enable those eligible to get legal advice in support of the mediation and to sort out Legal formalities after. (But it will not cover the divorce itself).
Where safety is not an issue, mediation is often a good idea anyway. I am able to mediate from here in Honiton,  Exeter, Taunton and Cullompton.

 

Next steps
Where problems are left unresolved, they can often get worse and or more difficult to resolve. Disputes between parents can also have a very negative impact upon children. It is important for them that their parents find a way forward. I offer an initial free 30 minute meeting to discuss options with potential clients. Within that time I can assess eligibility for Legal Aid. After the 30 minutes the client can go home for a think, or we can proceed with initial Legal Advice or try to set up mediation.

Don’ts first; here are 10 things not to do;

  1. Don’t use your children to get at the other person. You are both better than that. Remember, you are a role model for your children. They need to see their parents resolving problems in a sensible and constructive way.
  2. Don’t make threats to, or cause harassment to the other person. It will only make things worse. It will take longer and be more expensive to sort things out.
  3. Don’t think you are going to take the other person “to the cleaners”. That’s not going to happen. The law is about fining fair solutions. You will both get a fair outcome. There are a range of “fair” outcomes. There can be different views about what “fair” is, but the “battleground” is fairly narrow
  4. Don’t try to hide money or assets. The chances are they will be found. Your costs and the overall costs in the case will be more. (more…)