Changes to the Divorce Process Explained

Divorce in dictionary

Divorce in dictionary

A week ago there was an announcement from HM Courts & Tribunals Service regarding changes to the way divorces are to be administered.  There has been some confusion by court users over exactly how divorce/civil partnership petitions will be administered by the Courts, the media claimed that “couples can now get divorced in just 48 hours” (Daily Star and Manchester Evening News), while the Coventry Telegraph claimed that couples can now divorce in “24 hours” (this particular article has more holes in it than a sieve – “Couples from across the United Kingdom will be able to get divorced in as little as 24 hours from now on. British couples will be able to attend a regional ‘divorce centre’ to work on their marriage under a new court shake-up.”  Please note that the changes will only apply to England & Wales, and not Scotland or Northern Ireland).

Can I really get divorced in 48 hours? 

No – you can’t. The intention is all uncontested petitions will be prepared and made ready by a legal adviser for initial Decree Nisi consideration – this is the ONLY change in the processing of divorce applications. A Judge will still have to consider Decree Nisi applications as it is at this stage that a petition will be accepted or sent back for any required amendments. It is a common and incorrect assumption that the initial petition has been accepted by the Courts simply because it is then served on the Respondent.

A petitioner will still have to wait a minimum of 6 weeks and one after the granting of the Decree Nisi before they have the earliest opportunity to apply for the Decree Absolute.

Can we just turn up together at the Court and sign something to get divorced?

No – the legal process for dissolving a marriage remains unchanged. You will still need to write a statement of case in Part 6 of the D8 (petition), and rely on one of the following:  Adultery, Unreasonable Behaviour, 2 years separation with consent, 5 years separation or desertion (which is very rarely used). Obtaining a divorce isn’t as “easy as applying for a TV licence, despite what the Daily Mail claim.

But we are in agreement – surely if two people make a decision they no longer want to be married, they don’t need to involve the Courts?

Divorce is a legal process (or at least, for the time being), and the process must be followed. Being in agreement is good, it will mean less conflict and hostility and an easier road to resolution over the finances and children; but it doesn’t alter the legal process of ending a marriage.

Can I still go to my local court to submit my petition?

There are now designated “Divorce Centres” where applications must be sent.

North East: there will be centres at Durham, Doncaster, Harrogate* and Bradford -fully operation from November 2014

North West: there will be one centre at Liverpool – fully operation from February 2015

Wales: there will be centres at Neath, Newport and Wrexham- fully operation from January 2015

Midlands: there will be centres at Nottingham and Stoke – fully operation from February to April 2015

South West: there will be one centre at Southampton – fully operational from February to April 2015

London and South East: there will be one centre at Bury St Edmunds – fully operation from April to October 2015

*Work from Harrogate will transfer to Bradford in due course.

All divorce petitions and financial remedy applications should be sent by post to the appropriate regional centre rather than your local court, with the exception of urgent applications that require immediate issue –they are still submitted to your local court.

Some centres will operate a counter or drop-box facilities (but not all centres):

North East: There is a counter service at Bradford, Harrogate and Durham. At Doncaster a counter service will be in operation for urgent pre-booked appointments only.

North West: The Liverpool divorce centre does not have counter service, but a drop box facility is available.

Wales: Neath, Newport and Wrexham all have counter services in operation.

Midlands: A counter service will be in operation at the Divorce Centres in Nottingham and Stoke for urgent applications only.

South West: No counter service is available at Southampton. Applications can be posted in the post box outside the building, which is emptied twice a day.

London and South East: A counter service is available at Bury St Edmunds.

Using the counter or drop-box facility won’t gain you any kind of advantage in the processing of your application, or the way it is processed by the legal advisers.

Will a Legal Adviser consider our Consent Order instead of a Judge?

No – there are NO circumstances where a legal adviser will consider consent orders – they don’t have any power in this regard, all Consent Orders will still require a Judge to consider and seal.

What about civil partnership dissolutions?

Eventually, civil partnership dissolutions applications will also be sent to the appropriate regional centre, but currently, there is no timeframe for this.

Father fails in appeal against refusal of contact with child despite sheriff’s ‘out of date’ decision – ACS v ARA 2015


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A father whose attempt to secure parental rights and responsibilities together with contact with his child was refused by a sheriff has failed in appeal despite claiming that the 10 months which passed between the case being taken to avizandum and the judgment being issued meant that the decision was “out of date”.

Sheriff Principal Craig Scott QC ruled that the mere passage of time between the conclusion of the evidence and submissions and the issue of the sheriff’s decision “does not per se serve to undermine the decision ultimately arrived at by the court”.

The court heard that the father “ACS” had sought parental rights and responsibilities together with contact in respect of the child “A”, but that the mother “ARA” had challenged the application.

Having heard evidence and submissions, the sheriff found in fact and law that it was “not in the best interests of the child” for the pursuer to have parental rights and responsibilities nor was it in his best interests for the pursuer to exercise direct or indirect contact.

However, having made avizandum after proof in October 2013, the sheriff failed to issue his judgment until August 2014 with the result that a period of some 10 months passed between these two stages in procedure – during which contact between the child and the father had continued until shortly before the ruling was made.

The issue in the appal was therefore whether the passage of time between the case being taken to avizandum and a judgment being issued vitiated that judgment in that it was, by then, “significantly out of date”.

On behalf of the pursuer it was submitted that contact had “worked well” and was a “positive experience for both father and son”.

It was argued that it would have been relevant for the court to know and to consider what had transpired throughout the previous 10 months when it came to on-going contact between the pursuer and the child.

It was also contended that, with the passage of time, the sheriff ought to have arranged a further meeting with the child in order to procure his up to date views on continuing contact.

The sheriff had erred in issuing his decision at a stage in time which precluded a contemporaneous approach to the circumstances of the case and which also deprived the child from offering up his views as regards on-going contact at the time when those views were most relevant, it was submitted.

For the defender, it was maintained that for the pursuer to succeed in the appeal, he required to satisfy the court that the points raised in argument would result in there being a materially different outcome from the determination arrived at by the sheriff.

Section 11(7) of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 requires the court, taking account of the child’s age and maturity, to give him an opportunity to indicate whether he wishes to express his views and have regard to such views as he may express.

The sheriff had indicated that the child’s views about contact were “neutral” and it was submitted that the approach taken by the court in terms of the legislation was “beyond criticism”.

Whether the passage of time between the making of avizandum and the issuing of his decision made any material difference to the nature and integrity of that decision was, it was submitted, a matter which was entirely for the judgement of the sheriff in question and therefore the court should be slow to interfere with the sheriff’s judgement in these circumstances.

The Sheriff Principal rejected the arguments put forward on behalf of the father in support of the appeal, adding that he was “comfortably satisfied” that the arguments presented on behalf of the mother were to be preferred.

In a written judgement, Sheriff Principal Scott said: “It was perfectly open to the sheriff to conclude that A’s views about contact were neutral. The sheriff was best placed to reach that conclusion having seen and heard the witnesses in the course of the proof.

“There can be no suggestion that the sheriff failed to have regard to any view expressed by A. Having made avizandum, it was not open to the sheriff to arrange a future meeting with A.”

He added that while it was difficult to see the justification for the 10-month delay, there was “no suggestion that a materially different outcome would be arrived at” if a new hearing was ordered.

Sheriff Principal Scott said: “There is no doubt that the passage of time is regrettable. Nevertheless, on the particular facts and circumstances of this case, in my view, the mere passage of time between the conclusion of the evidence and submissions and the issue of the sheriff’s decision does not serve to vitiate that decision.

“There was no actual criticism of the sheriff’s findings in fact or in respect of any views arising from those findings.

“When properly analysed, [the pursuer’s] argument on appeal relied almost exclusively upon the passage of time element which, as I have already indicated, does not per se serve to undermine the decision ultimately arrived at by the court.”

Family Law A – Z ~ 2nd Edition with new Case Law and Scots Definitions

cover-final-2015Today Nick and I publish the second edition of our book The Family Law A to Z.  The update includes new case law and, more significantly, explanations of a range of Scots law terms from Avizandum to Sheriff.

The book contains around 500 items of family law jargon, and explains their meaning clearly, adding discussion about how they are used, relevant case precedents, etc.

We hope that the book will become an indispensable guide for all litigants, especially those representing themselves, for their advisors and McKenzies and for law students.

We recognise that there has been a huge increase in litigants representing themselves, that negotiating the family courts on one’s own is a nightmare, and that there are very few books and resources available.  We hope this guide will prove a worthy addition to the literature.

By making it available on Kindle we intend that it will be downloaded to people’s phones, pads and laptops, and become a handy reference for them at all times.

It also means we can easily update it and keep it current.

We welcome any corrections of factual errors, formatting errors, or suggestions for new content.

Please have a look and tell us what you think.

Taking the Gender out of Family Breakdown


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I have spent the last few months or so looking at the wide variety of self-help and support organisations and groups that exist to help parents when experiencing family breakdown.  For the last 7 years my work has been, and continues to be  advising people on all aspects of family law, but mostly parents who are faced with issues relating to arrangements for their children, – that’s both mothers and fathers. My approach is simple; treat each person as an individual regardless of gender, regardless of whether they are the resident parent or not, and to tailor my advice according the emotional needs of the client – it’s both counselling and factual legal advice. I  promote non-adversarial methods and encourage parents to use mediation services, use parenting agreements, and above all, keep everything focused on their children.

The main issue I found while looking at the various groups who support parents is that the vast majority of them are only offering support and help to one gender or the other – only Wikivorce really has an all-inclusive membership, and equal numbers of men and women members (and contributors) . While some groups do claim to open their doors to both mothers and fathers, it’s very clear that the main focus is on either mums or dads but not both.

The Fathers’ Rights lobby is NOT child-centric, it focuses on something that has never actually existed, and doesn’t exist for mothers either on the whole. For years, the disenfranchised fathers have been fed straw-man arguments; that mothers have rights and fathers don’t, that courts hate fathers, that mothers are wicked, evil people who will harm their children, and that ALL legal professionals are dirty money-grabbing self-interested crooks.  The initial anger that fathers feel when they have been through the family justice system is harnessed and exploited  – and the fathers wear that anger like a medal of honour, and are encouraged to do so. However, that anger is not healthy after a while; and when fathers are only (on the whole) conversing, discussing and socialising with other disenfranchised fathers, that anger breeds like bacteria. They live in a goldfish bowl world, where everything and everyone around them has been damaged by their own experiences in the Family Justice system, and they are prevented  from  moving beyond that goldfish bowl world. It is a very sorry and desperate state of affairs.  I get my fair share of father’s rights flag-waving dads ranting at me down the phone. I  explain that banging on about fathers’ rights is not child-focused and will only harm their own case.  I have been called all sorts over the years, and have had a number of threats made; but mostly, I have helped Dads with their cases, and helped them to move forwards to a child-focused solution.

The self-help/support groups and organisations for mothers usually have a feminist structure to them, and help with the promotion of Domestic Violence programmes, that men are the enemy and are violent, nasty, abusive, manipulative and exploitative.  One such website gives the very distinct impression that all women are victims of DV, that they will be free to live when they aren’t in a relationship and that fathers are not capable of looking after children.  That isn’t empowering women, that is trapping them as victims.

Other than the issue of support, and the perpetuating of negative emotions and  unhealthy, unbalanced perspectives, the other obstacle to progress is that certain issues are perceived as women-only or men-only issues, and that perception is encouraged by the single-gender organisations – i.e., Women’s Aid have become the “go-to” organisation for information and stats on DV – despite their stance that only women are victims and only men are perpetrators. Fathers4Justice are still the go-to group for quotes and information about fathers going through family breakup, despite the fact that their own stats are hopelessly out of date (since their researcher left in 2012, they have struggled to maintain any kind of credible statistics). While organisations like Women’s Aid have captured DV as being a women-only issue, the fathers’ rights’ groups (and there are many, fragmented groups) have captured shared parenting as a fathers-rights issue. That is part of the reason why there will not be a legal presumption of shared parenting for many years to come; because the politicians do not want the fathers rights groups to claim victory. Groups like F4J have done far more damage to the cause for shared parenting over the last 3 years than they would care to admit. Shared parenting is now a dead duck sinking slowly to the bottom of the murky pond. Change will never come about by Dads climbing on buildings or harassing professionals, change will only come about via a shift in societal attitudes – with more and more parents using parenting plans and avoiding courts, with more parents making their own arrangements for child maintenance and not using the CMS- in short, empowering parents to be parents, to give them the tools and support they need to be parents and jointly make the decisions about their children.

There are very few issues in family breakdown that are gender-specific; the only two I can think of are paternity fraud and parental responsibility for unmarried fathers. Everything else – be it false allegations, domestic abuse, parental alienation, homelessness, debt, being unable to access funds, depression and other mental health issues, the threat of the former spouse/partner absconding with the children, to name just a few – are all experienced by both men and women. Those issues don’t respect gender, social status or age, and no-one should pretend that these issues only affect one gender.

When mothers and fathers are divided into these two separate gender camps, they can end up with a rather warped view of their own situation; there is little to no balance offered, no differing perspective, no real understanding of why their former spouse or partner may be acting in a particular way. When an organisation has an  all-inclusive membership, which is gender-neutral, and includes those affected by family break-up indirectly as well as directly,  it enables contributors and members  to give a wide range of views, thoughts, shared experiences and perspectives. Often it is it hearing differing or opposing perspectives and thoughts that can make a real difference to how an individual understands and deals with their own situation.  Being part of a balanced and gender-neutral environment aids the understanding, and offers a holistic approach to emotional healing and recovery.

Lost souls swimming in a fish bowl, year after year,

Running over the same old ground.

What have we found?

The same old fears.

The Family Law A to Z

Originally posted on ExInjuria:

Cover final 2014

This is a very exciting moment for Ruth and myself.

Today we publish our book The Family Law A to Z, a work which has been gestating for a number of years, and which will finally be available on Amazon Kindle for a very modest £7.50.

The book contains around 500 items of English/Welsh family law jargon, and explains their meaning clearly, adding discussion about how they are used, relevant case precedents, etc.

We hope that the book will become an indispensable guide for all litigants, especially those representing themselves, for their advisors and McKenzies and for law students.

We recognise that there has been a huge increase in litigants representing themselves (to 62% by June this year), that negotiating the family courts on one’s own is a nightmare, and that there are very few books and resources available.  We hope that this guide will prove a worthy addition to the…

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Simple Simon and the Lord Chancellor’s New Clothes


As usual, you comment with a clarity and intelligence that is much needed in this vile snake-pit of a political situation. Thank you

Originally posted on ExInjuria:

Earlier in the week Glen Poole very kindly gave me space on his Inside-MAN site to give my views on the commencement of Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014.  For those who aren’t aware (and there seem to be many of those) this section inserts into Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 what for brevity we can call the presumption of parental involvement.  Judges are now advised that a parent’s “involvement” is likely to further their child’s welfare.

Unfortunately Glen had allowed me only 500 words (I went slightly over) so I had intended in my own blog to expand at rather greater length on what I had then written.  Fortuitously the Government has just announced further developments, so I shall include those as well in this post.

Before we start, please note that the Children Act only covers the English and Welsh jurisdiction, contrary to…

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More support for separating couples and parents – it’s only window-dressing


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The initiatives  announced yesterday by Simon Hughes and the MoJ have already been met with an outcry among some of the top legal bloggers, the silence from the father’s groups is however deafening. Fathers4Justice are too busy looking inward at each other to have noticed what is happening in the world outside their window – absolutely no comment whatsoever on Clause 11, or on the new reforms announced yesterday.  None.  Too busy asking for donations I guess….FnF have posted a few links on social media sites, but again no comment from them. I admire the work they do at local branch level, but as a national organisation, the need to be outspoken is greater than ever.  The only voices’ I’ve heard recently are the legal profession and legal bloggers, Michael Robinson from the Custody Minefield, the author Nick Langford and Nick Woodall. Where is everyone else??

The helpline pilot that will run for just six months from November will be run by CAFCASS, who routinely let down children, mothers and fathers, who are not trusted by parents, who are not independent and have an agenda to work from (and it’s not a child-focused agenda) – the Government seriously think parents will trust this helpline, that this helpline will help parents from start to conclusion? What will happen to parents whose situation is still on-going when the pilot ends? Where they turn to for the support and advice they so desperately need?  These are real people with complicated situations that centre around children – not lab rats with which to experiment upon.

While the expansion of in-house support for Litigants while at Court has potential, the fact it will most likely be staffed by local advice centres (read CAB) who are already facing funding issues and over-stretched resources as it is – and most volunteers are not legally qualified or well-versed in family law (there are a few, such as the volunteers on the Wikivorce advice line); or students is deeply concerning. Marilyn Stowe says in her blog :

What skills or experience do young graduates have in law, negotiation, practice and procedure?

Students are in no position to give legal advice. This is especially true in divorce cases. What kind of reassurance will they be able to offer sometimes much more mature adults who are going through one of the most traumatic periods in their life? Are they really equipped to deal with the kinds of emotional outbursts that are common in these kinds of cases?

To expect students to replace proper legal advice and support is wrong – the Government now realise that they fucked up in an unimaginable way by the way Legal Aid has been withdrawn, and the effects that this has had on those caught up in the travesty that is now the Family Justice system. They are now busily trying to rectify this almighty fuck-up by throwing a few  “initiatives” into the wind when really all they are doing is pissing in the snow (never eat yellow snow).

While the Norgrove Report was not a success, and fell short of what was expected; most of the recommendations have either been ignored or watered down into such a diluted state that the original recommendations are almost unrecognisable – and yet again, these new proposed reforms ignore the Norgrove Report completely.

One recommendation in the Report was to have Hubs, to provide an actual meeting place for parents to get the support, information and advice they would require while going through separation and post-separation; what we got instead was the completely useless and unused Sorting Out Separation App with it’s clunky and unfriendly interfacing – not to mention the often inappropriate signposting suggestions that the App would make.

Imagine having physical Hubs in every town – proper, warm, welcoming, safe meeting places where parents can go, seek help, support, and information, advice on a whole range of issues that can and do arise during and after separation. Proper face to face help from a wide range of local professionals who can support them through-out and ensure that no-one who approaches them falls through the gaps. This is achievable, with co-ordination,  a little bit of effort and not too much funding.    People need to be fully informed, be armed with the greatest peaceful ammunition that there is – facts and correct information, so that they can make intelligent, informed decisions, see through the bullshit from the other side  – pimping up the Sorting Out Separation App and the Gov.UK sites simply isn’t enough.

Hughes is very critical of those who use the Courts for dispute-solving – “ Too many people end up fighting expensive and confrontational court battles and I am determined that more people resolve their problems outside of the courts” Does he think that people just don’t bother with alternative dispute resolutions? Does he not realise that for many, Court is the only option after all else has failed? How on earth does one person come to an agreement with a former spouse or partner who simply will not engage with them? For some, mediation is not suitable due to domestic abuse or when one party has whisked the children off to the other end of the country and refuses to reveal their whereabouts. Mediation has its merits, but it is not the Golden Goose that many seem to think it is.  If Mr Hughes thinks that people don’t try hard enough to resolve their issues outside of court, then I invite him to spend time on the Wikivorce forum, and time answering calls on the helpline – perhaps then he would realise what is actually happening, what people are actually experiencing and the obstacles they face on a daily basis.

Lost in the midst of all this, of these initiatives, proposals,  of furious back-peddling; are the children and families caught up in this mess of a justice system. None of this means better outcomes for children, less waiting time for cases to be heard – to be resolved – their voices being listened to, to me it seems as though it is anything but in the best interests of the children.



180 Divorces to be Set Aside?


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Rapisarda v Colladon 2014


This is a very interesting and unusual case. It involves the Queen’s Proctor making an application to dismiss 180 divorce petitions,  Decree Nisis and Absolutes.  The opening paragraph in this case from Lord Justice Mumby reads:

  1. I have been hearing applications by the Queen’s Proctor to dismiss a large number of divorce petitions and also, in many of the cases, to set aside decrees of divorce (some nisi, some absolute) obtained in consequence of what can only be described as a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale. At the outset of the final hearing on 9 April 2014 – the hearing was in open court – an important question arose in relation to the possible impact on the reporting of the proceedings of the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 (the 1926 Act). Needing time to consider the matter I expressed no view at the time save to remind the journalists who were present in court of the existence of the 1926 Act and to draw to their attention some words of Sir Stephen Brown P in Moynihan v Moynihan (No 1) [1997] 1 FLR 59, 62.

The judgement has been analysed in quite some detail by Suesspicious Minds “The Pages of a Most Fragrant French Novel”  – but with no explanation of WHY the Queen’s Proctor has made this application – mainly because the Judgement doesn’t specifiy the WHY.

I will come to the WHY in a bit, but first, wanted to explain a bit more about the role of the Queen’s Proctor. Allen Hortsman in Victorian Divorce notes  the  Queen’s Proctor “was a fearsome shadow looking over all proceedings“. Suesspicious Minds sums up the role of the Queen’s Proctor as

he or she, is the person who is authorised to intervene in litigation on behalf of the Queen, i.e when there’s some heavy issue at stake. For divorce, that all flows from s8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973″

The delay between a Decree Nisi (or Conditional Order) and a Decree Absolute gives the Queen’s Procter an ideal opportunity to intervene in proceedings – such as is the case with these 180 divorces – however, nowadays, such opportunities for intervention are somewhat limited. Gone are the days when divorces where based on the concept of matrimonial offence and where divorce was prohibited on the grounds of collusion  – ie the parties had created a matrimonial offence – the scenario where the man allows himself to be “found” by a private investigator in a hotel  room with another woman, thus meaning the wife could petition on the grounds of adultery.  The Queen’s Proctor would investigate such divorce applications if suspicions were raised that collusion was afoot.  If you want to read more about how these investigations were conducted then read Holy Deadlock written by  A.P. Herbert.

On the subject of collusion, one unnamed Justice in 1890 expressed the need for total honesty in divorce cases:

“Now what is this special provision with regard to collusion? I think its object is to compel the parties to come into the Court of Divorce with clean hands. It is to oblige them to bring all material and pertinent facts to the notice of the  Court.,m to prevent their blinding the eyes of the Court in any respect; to oblige them so to act as to enable the Court to do justice between the parties”


It is the issue of collusion that is evident in the 180 divorce cases in which the Queen’s Proctor has intervened and requested they be set aside. Here is the WHY ;

They all involve Italian couples – in 179 of the petitions submitted, the postal address of a post box on the High Street of Maidenhead was used to establish residence in the UK.  In the 180th case, the petitioner claimed to be living at an address in Epsom, Surrey  – all the spouses lived in Italy, none of them were actually resident in England, and therefore did not meet the residence criteria.  It is illegal to use a false address or to falsely claim residence for the purposes of a divorce.  The Italian couples were alledegdly promised a “quick” divorce in England – the divorces were allegedly organised divorce agency charging up to €4,000 for a quick divorce.  The courts in England/Wales have no jurisdiction to consider divorce applications where both parties do not meet the residence criteria and live outside the jurisdiction. This is indeed an attempt to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale.

When the application was first made, last year, and the initial hearing was held in October 2013, there were representatives from both Thames Valley Police and the Italian Government to observe proceedings.

Divorce in Italy is complex – it was only  introduced in Italy in 1970 and Italian couples face a mandatory three-year period of legal judicial separation before being able to apply for divorce. In most cases, the entire divorce process could take up to 5 years as a result of the complexity of Italian bureaucracy and renowned slowness of the Italian judicial system.  Gabriele Giambrone, Senior Partner of Giambrone Law has commented:

“As a result of Italian archaic legislation on the dissolution of matrimonial affairs over the recent years more and more Italians have recently embarked in forum shopping around EU member states, mainly England and Rumania, by circumventing these Italian mandatory rules and using European Union legislation which recognizes divorces granted in any EU member state. The consequences for the individuals implicated in this fraudulent scheme may be far reaching: – adds Giambrone- Divorces obtained illegally or fraudulently overseas will not be recognised in Italy and, if any of the 180 couples has remarried in Italy in the meantime, they are at risk of being deemed bigamist in law, which is considered to be an additional criminal offence so they are also at risk of criminal prosecution in Italy”

I’m astonished that there has been no press coverage of this at all – after all the column inches devoted to the “sham marriage” scandals of recent years, I would have thought that “sham divorces” would have at least warranted some sort of coverage – if only to show that the Queen’s Proctor is doing his job properly, and to send out a clear message to others that England/Wales is not the place to lodge a fraudulent divorce petition with a bogus address.


Ending the Disadvantage of Unmarried Fathers?


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There has been some interesting news filtering out from Scotland over the past few days. On Tuesday this week (6th May 2014),  The Public Petitions Committee heard evidence on a petition calling for equal rights for unmarried fathers. The petition has been raised by Ron Park, an unmarried father of a young son  whom he does not see because the child’s mother does not allow it. “There is no protection issue, no order to remove me, she simply felt like she wanted rid of me,” writes Mr Park on his blog.

I have previously blogged about the issues faced by unmarried fathers who do not have Parental Rights and Responsibilities – The continuing disadvantage of unmarried fathers – without PRR; which an unmarried father can only acquire by virtue of the relationship with the mother, in that the mother has to agree to have the father’s name on the birth certificate – or via a lengthy, time-consuming and expensive legal process.  The case of Principal Reporter v K [2010] highlights this lengthy procedure. 

Parental Rights and Responsibilities afford parents not just responsibilities in the upbringing of their child, but certain rights, most notably the right to have the child live with them, or the right to maintain contact with the child. (Children Act (Scotland) 1995 (s)2). Those that gain automatic PRR are:

  • the child’s mother;
  • the child’s father where he is married to the mother at the time of the child’s conception or subsequently;
  • the child’s father where he is registered as the father of a child on or after 4 May 2006.

But not unmarried fathers where the mother refuses to consent to the father’s name being on the child’s birth certificate. 


I would like to clear one point up, during the Committee meeting, David Stewart MSP and chair of the Public Petitions Committee said ” My understanding, just looking through the brief, is that in England and Wales, there is a rationale in legislation of a presumption of shared parenting”.  Well, no there isn’t.  Section 11 of the Children and Families Act 2014 amends Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 by introducing a clause requiring the court to presume that involvement of a parent in the life of a child will further that child’s welfare. The law makes the presumption “rebuttable” which means that it does not apply if a parent cannot be involved without putting the child at risk of suffering harm, or if evidence is presented to the court which suggests the parent’s involvement would put the child at risk of suffering harm.  The term “involvement” is not defined, but a late amendment to Section 11 specifies that it can be of any kind, either direct or indirect, but does not indicate any particular division of a child’s time – so while involvement could mean shared parenting, it could also mean that sending a child a birthday card once a year is involvement – or simply paying child support is involvement, with no actual contact, either direct or indirect. At the time of writing, there is no commencement order for section 11, the word on the wire is that there “may” be a commencement order in the autumn this year – possibly.  In any case – involvement is not shared parenting – it would be like to trying to compare a scabby donkey with a mythical unicorn….

However, the very fact that MSPs at the meeting mentioned shared parenting in positive terms is very encouraging – I hope the politicians south of the border are taking note.  

So, why does there need to be a change in the current law regarding unmarried fathers gaining Parental Rights and Responsibilities?  Rebecca McQuillan, writing in the Herald on Wednesday this week says:

The law is out of kilter with the times. From next April, couples will be able to share parental leave. No longer will there be an assumption that women care and men work. And yet when it comes to allocating parental rights, the system has an in-built bias where men are regarded more sceptically than women, even with suspicion. There are some drastically unsuitable mothers out there, but the law generally views women as fit parents until proven otherwise, while unmarried men not lucky enough to be named on the birth certificate must shake off the taint of being inherently irresponsible.  The gravest failure of the current system is in depriving children of relationships with their fathers. The importance of strong family relationships in producing secure, confident, optimistic children has become a guiding light in government policy on everything from improving health and boosting employment to reducing offending. A Ben Nevis of PhD theses has been written about the value of strong male role models, especially for boys. Children benefit from having a loving dad as well as a loving mum – who knew?

While  unmarried fathers  are disadvantaged and discriminated against if their name is not on their child’s birth certificate,  the child  is denied official and formal acknowledgement of their paternal bloodline. In his written evidence to the committee, Mr Parks said:

“It’s obvious the laws in place are to protect children, and this core value should not change, but an amendment should be added to ensure that men have a right to prove parentage of a child definitively so as they can then be involved in their child’s life.”


Without Parental Rights and Responsibilities, a  father can not be considered to be a “relevant person” with regard to court hearings involving their child/ren (mothers automatically have PRR, and therefore are automatically classed as a relevant person). It is astounding that a father without PRR has to face a lengthy, costly and wholly unnecessary legal procedure to gain status as a “relevant person” – even if that father has in place a contact order or other (s)11 order, or where the father has a longstanding and close relationship with his child. The onus is on the father to prove that he has an active involvement with his child/ren.  As things stand, unmarried fathers without PRR will continue to have to apply for “relevant person” status – however, should there be a change in legislation, unmarried fathers would not need to endure this drawn-out legal procedure; and would  be legally recognised as parents ,  and therefore end the current discrimination against unmarried fathers. 

Although John Lammond MSP stated at the start of the meeting (after hearing verbal evidence from Mr Park’s mother on his behalf)  that there  are “no plans to amend law currently”,  the very fact that this thorny issue is being discussed by Scottish politicians, and using phrases such as “a very brave petition” and “important” is heartening indeed.  Committee convener David Stewart said it would “pursue this with as much activity as it possibly can”, and  the committee agreed to seek further information from the Scottish government, the Law Society of Scotland, the Family Law Association, Families Need Fathers, Scottish Women’s Aid and the UK minister. 

While we wait for political furtherance on Mr Park’s petition – all we can do in the meantime is to continue advocating to the wider world the benefits of shared parenting to children, help and support  parents who are trying to  work together for their children and putting their differences to one side and counter the voices that seek to remove fathers from their children’s lives.

Below you will find a link to the recorded video of the Committee meeting which discusses the petition:

Call for Equal Rights For Unmarried Fathers – Committee Meeting 

If you would like to read more about Ron Park’s fight for equality, you can access his blog here – Fighting For Alex 

With thanks to Ron Park – your determination, and your love for your son are a shining beacon of hope.



Oh for Lord’s sake….


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The Children and Families Bill was debated again this week by the Grand Committee in the House of Lords; a startling number of amendments were proposed; you can read the Hansard transcribe of that debate here.

It is one amendment – and in particular one comment by the Earl of Listowel that I am picking up on. Amendment 242 would enable the introduction of a pilot scheme,

“to trial the registration of births within children’s centres”.

When he spoke about his proposed amendment, the Earl of Listowel said:” there is a danger of stigma in visiting a children’s centre; people may feel that they can go only if there is something wrong with them. This, however, is a universal service. Everyone would go there to register their child, so there would be no stigma attached to it. Practitioners talk about this as an important step forward in terms of involving fathers. Fathers will go along when the child is going to have the birth registered. I am not quite sure of the technical details as to why it is so important for fathers to be involved in the registration process—perhaps one of your Lordships can tell me in a minute—but there is a strong feeling that more fathers will be involved early in their child’s life this way.

If unmarried fathers are not present at the registration of the birth of their children, then they will not automatically acquire Parental Rights – acquisition of PR would then be dependant on either a PR agreement with the mother, or via a court order. Last year, 47.5% of children were born to unmarried parents; if the trend continues then by 2016 the majority of children will be born to unmarried parents.

It is imperative that fathers are not prevented or discouraged from being present at the birth registration – there are already far too many barriers for fathers in this country, and any new legislation should be inclusive of fathers, rather than attempting to further marginalise them.  While the proposal of a trial of parents being able to register their child’s birth at a children’s centre and at the same time make parents aware of what services are available to them should they be required seems to hold some water, it would surely help a great deal if the Lord proposing this amendment understood the implications of why unmarried fathers need to be present at the registration. And no, he didn’t get a reply to his question to the other Lords as to why it is important for fathers to be present.


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