Splitting the assets

I had a little trip to the smelly old smoke yesterday to record a programme for BBC Radio 4. The programme is called Splitting the Assets and is airing on Radio 4 at 8pm on 3 Feb (repeating on the Sat night too I think). It involved yours truly, Sir Paul Coleridge (retired HCJ, Marriage Foundation etc), Nicola Mattheson-Durrant (Professional McKenzie Friend) and Marc Mason from the University of Westminster discussing the experiences of litigants in person dealing with financial remedy cases in the family court. The programme is structured around clips of interviews with litigants in person telling how it was for them (generally not great). There was lots more I’d like to have said but I think it will be an interesting, if depressing, listen. I don’t know if the degree of adaptation that has gone on in terms of judge’s handling of cases and changes in approach to litigants in person will really come across – there are genuine horror stories, and going to court is horrid and stressful whether you are represented or not, and whether your judge is friendly and efficient or not (my experience is mostly they are but there are of course exceptions) – but I hope that the programme will not make litigants even more anxious. There are resources out there to help you, whether you have a lawyer, a bit of advice here and there, or whether you go it alone, perhaps with the support of a friend or by paying for a McKenzie friend. A reminder that resources are out there can be found here : www.familycourtinfo.org.uk which contains both links local to the Bristol area and nationally applicable resources and information.

You can read more about the programme on the BBC website here.

Grovel grovel

A fulsome apology if ever I saw one from Shailesh Vara MP, Minister for Justice, via a written statement to Parliament regarding the calculation error in the MoJ Form E, discovered recently.

The potential numbers affected are significant but not huge in the grand scheme of things (2,235), and the numbers where the outcome was actually affected in any material way are likely to be far less. Nonetheless a stress and a worry for those involved, particularly given the hype about the whole thing.

There is now a dedicated process and form for those who have been potentially affected by the so-called “Form E Fiasco”. The Fiasco even has its own email account : formE@hmcts.gsi.gov.uk, through which 51 people have enquired about the impact on their case so far. Rumours that it has been asked to host its own reality tv show and design its own line of fashion court attire have not been confirmed.

Book Review : Cohabitation Claims – Law, Practice & Procedure, John Wilson QC

This is a book review written by Zoë Saunders, barrister at St John’s Chambers. Zoë has extensive experience of cohabitation disputes involving ToLATA and Applications under Schedule 1 of the Children Act, as well as financial remedy cases involving multiple properties, trusts of land, complex pensions and insolvency. Find Zoë on twitter : @zasaunders

Cohabitation Claims – Law, Practice and Procedure (2nd edition)
By John Wilson QC 1 Hare Court

A good book dealing with cohabitation disputes has been a real gap in the market, in particular as more and more couples are choosing to live together without getting married, often having children and pooling resources without any legal advice as to the potential consequences of what they are doing.

I must admit I have been holding off on reviewing this book as I had been waiting for something bad to say about it. The most that I can manage is that when a particularly complex issue about a Quistclose* trust arose in one of my cases I had to ditch this book in favour of Lewin on Trusts; which is hardly fair criticism!

This is a really useful, thorough guide to pretty much any issue that would arise in 90% of cohabitation disputes. On an initial skim read the level of detail can seem intimidating, but it is actually written in a very straightforward way and makes these kind of disputes as accessible as they can be made in one simple book.

The book covers many varied aspects of cohabitation disputes, not just the usual suspects like establishing the existence of beneficial interests but other side-issues which often arise like bankruptcy, sham trusts and illegality, Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, etc.

It also has helpful chapters on the Civil Procedure Rules, tips on issuing and defending proceedings, costs and Part 36 offers, precedents and even advice on dealing with the client (always handy!).

If really pushed to find something to criticise I would only be able to point to the fact that as the case-law and procedure under the CPR is subject to seemingly constant revision, particularly at the moment, a book like this becomes out of date as soon as it is published and a loose leaf format would go a long way to ensuring that the pit-traps of the CPR are easier to avoid. That said, this book provides a really good starting point to all those potential problems.

It is clearly written with lawyers (maybe even family lawyers) in mind and I think it will come in really handy for any solicitor (or barrister) who is finding themselves increasingly asked to stray into the unfamiliar territory of civil litigation in cohabitation disputes, or finds themselves unexpectedly confronted with an intervenor dispute in a financial remedy case.

*If you don’t already know, you probably don’t want to…

You can order John Wilson’s book online : Order here