Fancy a Quickie?


Tackling the myth of the “quickie divorce”

Originally posted on ExInjuria:

The media today are full of stories of Rowan Atkinson’s divorce from his wife, Sunetra.

The versions in the press are identical, showing not only a common source, but also a common failure to apply any editorial oversight to the story.

The first version I read was in the Telegraph, so it is on that version that I shall comment.

The Telegraph’s headline reads, “Rowan Atkinson divorced in 65 seconds on grounds of his ‘unreasonable behaviour’”.

There are a few issues even with that headline, and the first is that the Atkinsons are not yet divorced, and won’t be for some months, so the headline is inaccurate on that ground alone.

Secondly, and to be pedantic, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ is not a ground for divorce, for which there is only the one ground of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage.

Unreasonable behaviour is one of five ‘facts’ which may be adduced…

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Book review – Jack by Helen Victoria Bishop, illustrated by Simon Murray


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Jack provides parents, grandparents and professionals working with children with a wonderful opportunity to discuss with their young children the delicate and sensitive subject of family break-up’

Jack is a picture story book aimed at 4–11 year olds whose parents have separated or are separating. Jack is a little boy who is confused and upset about his parents’ separation; he thinks he may be to blame for the separation, and feels alone and wonders if his parents still love him. Black Cat is a magical talking cat, who chats with Jack and offers explanations and reassurances to Jack, and encourages him to speak to Mum or Dad when he feels sad or confused. ‘The key to life is that you are loved,’ says Black Cat – a simple but profound statement. With his wise and calm approach and words, Black Cat gives Jack the confidence and support he needs at this very difficult time.

Charming, sensitively written and reassuring, this book is one that children will be able to read on their own, as well as with Mum or Dad, and draw comfort and reassurance from the wise Black Cat. Children will be able to relate to Jack both through the words and the eloquent illustrations, and recognise the emotions, fear and concerns he talks about with Black Cat. This book will be one children, either with or without parents or/and grandparents, can read time and time again, each time drawing comfort and encouragement from Jack and his Black Cat. The illustrations start off as fairly simple line drawings, and as Jack grows with confidence, so do the illustrations, becoming more and more detailed as the story progresses until right at the end when Jack is feeling secure, loved and assured, which is demonstrated with a wonderful burst of colour and detail in the final illustration.

Jack provides parents, grandparents and professionals working with children with a wonderful opportunity to discuss with their young children the delicate and sensitive subject of family break-up and the emotions and fears the children may be experiencing, while following Jack’s own journey and growing in confidence alongside him. A well-written and thoughtful book on a complicated issue, Jack should be on the bedside table of every separated parent and in every nursery and school.

Jack, by Helen Victoria Bishop and illustrated by Simon Murray, is available in paperback for £6.99 from Amazon.

Published by Atlantis Children’s Books Limited

ISBN: 0957108885


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A day in the life of … Ruth Langford (Legal Adviser)


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As part of the Jordan’s Family Law Awards, I was asked to write about a day in my life.


What is your position and what you do on a day-to-day basis?

I am a qualified paralegal and a legal adviser on the Wikivorce helpline, and provide advice and support to members of the public on all aspects of family law.

The calls are always varied, and I never know what questions I’m going to be asked when I answer a call; I have become very good at thinking on my feet! I have an empathic approach and recognise that family law clients tend to suffer from stress and emotional trauma. I work with them, breaking down their overwhelming problems into manageable chunks and giving them the information and tools they require, thus empowering them to put themselves back in control. I’m also the Wikivorce Community Manager which involves looking after all the members (we currently have around 126,000), managing a team of volunteers and writing content for the site.

How long have you been in this role and what brought you here?

I’ve worked for Wikivorce, both as a volunteer and then as a legal adviser/paralegal since 2008. What brought me initially to Wikivorce was because I was looking for advice on my own impending divorce. I became so fascinated with family law, that I took a specialist paralegal course and I’m now a qualified paralegal, specialising in family law (in both Scotland and England & Wales). My particular interest is the law as it relates to children, and writing about the law, and legal developments (it’s more interesting than it sounds!).

What are the people you work for/with like? Any memorable stories?

I work with the most amazing, selfless, committed, people I have ever had the pleasure of working with. The volunteers devote hours of their own time each week helping and supporting members on our forum, and my colleagues on the helpline do a very difficult job under great pressure but never lose sight of the fact that our callers are often in great despair, and facing an exceptionally traumatic life event.

Bizarre story – we often get some very strange requests from people on the helpline – one male caller asked me to send a nude photo of myself so he could hang it in his new house, another asked me to write a parenting plan for his dog, and one caller wanted to know if it was possible to get married by proxy – he had a meeting the same day as his wedding and wanted to send his father to the wedding in his place to marry the bride on his behalf.

What is the best and worst part of the day for you?

The best part of any day (and no two days are the same for me) is knowing that I’ve helped someone make sense of an overwhelming situation, usually by constructing a road-map with manageable sections that the client/caller can then action themselves and move forwards. The worst part is probably taking a call from someone who is so desperate and crippled by their situation that they feel ending their own life is the only way out. Those calls are really tough.


What adjectives best describe you?

I would like to think of myself as empathic, straight-talking, a problem-solver and creative. My family would say I’m a workaholic.

What keeps you motivated?

The desire to help people, to make sure people have access to the appropriate support, information and advice; and also to do the very best I can for each caller and member.

Tea or coffee?

Tea – Yorkshire Tea. I drink about 12 mugs a day. And red wine, but only in the evenings.

What would you say to anyone thinking of a career in your field?

Take advantage of every learning opportunity that comes your way – even if you think it isn’t particularly relevant to you at the time. Be prepared to work very hard, and go the extra mile for your employer and your clients. Make the most of what the Institute of Paralegals has to offer it’s members. Always keep your knowledge up to date, so make the most of the publications, law blogs, journals etc that are on offer.

What song do you listen to the most?

She Sells Sanctuary by The Cult – it transports me back to my teenage years, and is always guaranteed to get me dancing and singing along (badly).

How do you enjoy your time outside of work?

I love spending time with my family, it’s when I’m most comfortable, regardless of what we are doing. I’m an avid reader, and also enjoy photography: a passion inherited from my dad. My guilty pleasure is watching Emmerdale – I would love to be an extra in a Woolpack scene. I also enjoy walking and exploring the beautiful Hampshire countryside (we always manage to find an excellent pub along the route!) My husband and I spent many weekends collaboratively writing and recently published our reference book – The Family Law A-Z.

If you could change one thing about the family justice system what would it be and why?

Reduce the separation periods to one year with consent, and 2 years with no consent required, and have the financial settlement and child arrangements agreed prior to issuing divorce proceedings, – similar to Scotland. Also, if I am allowed a second wish, cohabitation reform is desperately required, there does need to be some degree of legal protection for co-habitees that are financially disadvantaged by the end of the relationship, Scotland offers limited protection under The Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, I would like to see similar provisions for those in England/Wales.

Ruth Langford is nominated for the Family Law Chartered Legal Executive or Paralegal Award. You can find out why she was nominated and place your vote here.

Ruth is the co-author of ‘The Family Law A-Z’. You can follow her on Twitter at @Ruth_Langford.

Join the conversation #familylawdayinlifeof


Family Law A to Z 2nd Edition

Nick and I have just issued a second edition of our Family Law A to Z with a few updates and corrections and a scattering of new terms from Imerman to Xydhias.  We have also added some flowcharts of the divorce, ancillary relief and child arrangements programme processes which should prove useful.

Please spread the word!

You can buy the new edition from Amazon – Family Law A to Z


Jordan’s Family Law Awards 2015 – an unexpected shortlisted name


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Yes, this is the bit where I shamelessly beg for your vote.

I’m delighted (and very surprised!) to have been shortlisted for the 2015 Family Law Awards in the following category:

“Family Law Chartered Legal Executive or Paralegal of the Year”.   

The winner of this award is being decided by an online public vote, and you can cast your vote here –

Here is the boring stuff about me:

Ruth Langford is a qualified Paralegal specialising in family law in both England/Wales and Scotland, with a particular interest in the law as it applies to children. She is co-author of The Family Law A to Z, a reference book for litigants and students.

Ruth is the Wikivorce Community Manager which involves looking after all the members, heading up a team of volunteers and writing content for the site, and is also one of a small team of advisors who provide advice and support to members of the public who call the Wikivorce helpline. Wikivorce is a well-respected volunteer run social enterprise with a mission is to help people who are going through a breakup. Each year the enterprise provides free advice and support to over 50,000 people – which means they help people in 1 out of every 3 divorces in the UK. Wikivorce is the largest online divorce support community in the world with over 126,000 registered members.

So, if you have ever enjoyed reading my blog, gained any information (either useful or useless) from my blog/book/articles on Wikivorce and elsewhere; used Wikivorce either for advice, support or information or simply are looking for someone to vote for in this category, then please consider voting for li’l ole me.

I’ll put the vote thing here, in case you just skipped to the bottom to see if I was offering any cash incentives.

Chart Legal SHORT 2015

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…

View original 73 more words


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