May the Fourth be with you (soon)…

FCWAL 3 Cover

I have finally begun updating The Family Court without a Lawyer. Since its been four years since the last edition, preparation of this fourth edition is a somewhat chunkier task than was the third.

The reason for the gap between editions is threefold : in the beginning there wasn’t much need, but subsequently there has been a sort of repetitive cycle of me not having the time and energy and there being some major piece of law reform tantalisingly poised on the horizon, so ‘we might as well just wait for that before wasting time updating’. A few of those have turned out to be mirages, but we are now approaching the watering hole and it looks reasonably certain, that come the spring there will be two major new pieces of law actually in force, changing the landscape in ways that really do require a rewrite. Those are The Divorce, Dissolution Act 2020 (which introduces no fault divorce) and The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 (which, amongst other things, will prohibit direct questioning of one partner by the other where there are allegations of domestic abuse).

There is in fact, an accrual of other stuff over time that also needs to be incorporated – changes in legal aid eligibility, the shift in the court’s approach to domestic abuse, including coercive and controlling behaviour, the developments around vulnerable witnesses and special measures, the impact of the pandemic on hearing formats on delays and on the ‘deregulation’ of Child Arrangements as temporary covid practice directions enabled local practices to be piloted outside of the structures of the Child Arrangements Programme – even Brexit – all these need to be factored in.

There is inevitably still a lot of stuff that is floating in the ether and which I won’t be able to pin down or predict before going to print  – stuff that is under review and might or might not change and which I will just have to flag in a chapter at the end. Private law procedure is in flux generally, and there are many suggestions for reform contained in the reports of the Private Law Working Group, the Harms report, the Family Solutions Group – and whilst there are assorted pilots on the horizon nobody really seems to know quite what they will entail, or even when they will start, let alone where we will be in two years time. I’m not even sure anyone knows who is actually in charge of family justice reform. I am on the Justice Working Party on Improving Access to Justice for Separating Families, which is also looking at these issues, so that means (or should mean) that I’m reasonably up to speed, but the truth is that I am finding it all a bit mind boggling – so what hope for litigants in person or those who want to help explain the landscape and options to them? The best we can hope for by the time of publication is, I suspect, to know what pilots are underway – but as to how they will go and whether they will be rolled out more widely, who knows. What I can say is that the fracturing of practice in different localities makes it really hard to produce useful and reliable information to help people know what to expect if make or are served with an application about child arrangements. What is happening in one city or region may look very different from how things are done in the neighbouring courts – and I don’t think that is going to improve any time soon.

If FCWAL has been useful to you I’d love to hear from you about what could be improved or added. There is a balance to be struck – a book untended to be a general guide can’t ever capture every eventuality, and if I tried it would detract from the aims of making the book easy to navigate – but there is always room for improvement, so suggestions are very much welcomed.




Lately, I’ve been listening to podcasts in the shower. I don’t like headphones and I don’t have a daily commute to speak of so when else am I going to listen to them, right? Plus, Radio 4 has become almost unbearable and I have to listen to something to wake myself up.

Due to a combination of poor acoustics and ventilation I listen to said podcasts with the tiny top window wide open and the bluetooth radio on full volume. My husband has only recently thought to tell me that when I do this I broadcast every word of my chosen podcast from the second floor across all the gardens in the neighbourhood.

I like to think therefore that the standards of public legal education in my part of North Somerset are particularly high. Saying that, I did try and listen to one such podcast whilst gardening recently, and every time I switched it on the neighbour remembered something else he’d forgotten to strim. So, perhaps not.

Anyway, what delights have I been forcing my neighbours to endure?

Well, first it was the Hidden Homicides podcast. And then a bit of the Post Office Trial podcast series (though I got a bit waylaid during that and lost track).

And more recently I’ve been listening to Malvika Jaganmohan and Maddie Whelan’s Professionally Embarassing podcast series, the first 10 episode series of which has just concluded. I’ve also belatedly spotted Melanie Bataillard-Samuel’s podcast Family Law & Lattes. I’ve only listened to the first episode which was a sort of strangely both reassuring and alarming run down by someone far wiser than I of the post-Brexit landscape in terms of jurisdiction for family matters.

But I really wanted to talk a little about Malvika’s and Maddie’s podcast, because actually I think its really rather great, and I’m a tiny bit jealous I haven’t got off my arse and done something like it myself, and I just think they deserve a big pat on the back. I’ve been talking about making a podcast for a long time, but it just seems like such a huge effort – and now M&M have done one I think they’ve cornered the market. It’s a really great mix of analysis and personal reflection, of law and of practice – and importantly the personality and thoughtfulness of these two engaging, sparky young women really shines through. They care about what they do. They remind me of a much younger me. All enthusiasm and hope and principle. *Sighs wistfully*.

Anyway, far from being professionally embarrassing, I think the podcasts are a great advert for the family bar, and for M&M – they are not afraid to tackle tricky topics, and to give praise and criticism alike where it is due, and they show some great insight into the flaws in the system, the experiences and challenges facing clients as well as other professionals. They are also acting as excellent role models on topical professional issues such as diversity and wellbeing.

I am looking forward to series two – and although their format is pretty much spot on as it is, I am wondering if they will have some guests the second time around. I hope they do – I don’t mean some stuffy Q&A interview format, but I think that there might be some great opportunities for multi-directional learning if they set up some exchanges with some more senior members of the profession – to give just one tiny example (which is not a criticism) it was great to see them showcasing the Resolutions Model in episode 10, in light of a recent case on the topic – but I was shouting from behind my shower screen that Resolutions isn’t actually new at all. It’s been around for years, and when it works it works brilliantly. But in fact, it has almost died out because practically nobody does it any more – the co-founder of it was a chap called Colin Luger from the Bristol area, and he passed a few years ago and since then I’ve struggled to find any expert doing this work. For me the judgment was useful in giving me a name of someone who now does use the model – but I anticipate she will be over capacity as a result! I think the mix of experience and fresh perspective that a junior and a senior practitioner could bring could make this even better. Anyway, that’s my interfering old aunt suggestion, and with that I’m going to butt out.

You can find all these podcasts on Spotify, and I’m sure elsewhere too. That’s just the app I use.

I’ve also discovered other podcasts and put them on my list to listen to during showers yet to come : The justice Gap Podcast and the WiFL – Women in Family Law Podcast.

What I doubt I’ll be doing any time soon is making my own podcast. I would probably have one listener, and that would be my dad. And although M&M’s podcast is pretty slick, I know from bitter experience it will take many more hours to prepare and polish than it takes me to listen. If I wanted to make time for a podcast of my own I’d have to give up several showers a week, and let’s be honest, I don’t think anyone would want that. Pongcast, by Lucy Reed…