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    Preparing for family court

    Preparing for family court
    On average, 80% of the divorce cases we handle do not go to court, instead reaching an agreement between the couple themselves, negotiation between solicitors, collaborative law or mediation.
    However, despite the significant financial and emotional costs involved, an agreement cannot be made in some situations, and there is no other option than to go to the family court.
    Once proceedings have been issued, they cannot be ignored and even if negotiations are ongoing, it is important to prepare for court in parallel, so you know what to expect on the day and how to handle it.
    A notice of hearing from the court confirming the date for your hearing brings a mixture of emotions: the end of a long wait, relief that the process is moving forward and often a mix of dread and anxiety.
    It is natural to feel nervous, and the following article is designed to help you prepare for your court hearing and give you some tips and hints on what to expect. 
    Before the court hearing
    Once you receive the notice of hearing, do read it carefully.
    There are several different types of family court hearings depending on the type of application. For example, the case may be listed as a directions hearing, a dispute resolution appointment, a fact-finding etc.
    Preparing the court bundle
    The court bundle contains all the documents and information listed in a certain order with an index at the front, and each page is numbered. Bundles are used in court by the judge and the parties, making it easier for everyone to refer to documents quickly.
    The notice of hearing will also specify whose responsibility it is to prepare the court bundle. This is very important as that person needs to make sure that the court and all parties have a full copy of the papers before the hearing. The bundle should be agreed upon between the parties and a full copy sent to the court, usually three days before the hearing.
    The notice of hearing may specify, but it is also helpful to prepare a brief position statement for the court, which will be sent to the court the day before, setting out your position and acting as a summary for the Judge/Magistrates.
    The position statement should specify:

    The date

    Case number

    Name of the parties

    What has happened since the last court hearing

    Any concerns that you have, such as if the other party has failed to comply with the previous order

    What you want the court to order at the hearing, such as permission to file a statement or request disclosure from the other party’s bank statements in a financial hearing.

    The position statement should ideally be exchanged with the other party before you go into the court hearing, so you both know and understand the other person’s position. It is usually around two A4 pages long.
    Once you receive a notice of hearing, you may also want to consider whether you would like to obtain legal advice. This can include legal advice surrounding and preparing for the hearing from a solicitor, or you may also want a barrister who will be able to represent you and speak on your behalf at the hearing.
    If your budget allows, I would always suggest obtaining some level of legal advice so that you can feel prepared and informed ahead of the hearing.
    If you wish to obtain legal representation or advice, the sooner you can speak to a solicitor, the better so that they have adequate time to prepare for the hearing.
    This may include, for example, any statements (in addition to the position statement), or a Form E, which will need to be filed with the court before hearing.
    Preparing for family court – practical arrangements on the day
    Firstly, you should make sure you are available on the day. The courts very rarely change the date of a hearing, and you should do everything you can to make sure you do attend.
    Usually, the hearing would be in person and held at a court building. However, in the pandemic, most hearings are now held either by telephone or by video link. The notice of hearing that you receive from the court should specify what method the court will use.
    Virtual court hearings
    If it is being held by telephone or video, do make sure you have provided your relevant contact details to the court ahead of the hearing. Different courts have adopted different approaches; some prefer to dial you into the hearing, whilst others will send you a link or number to call or use.
    Please ensure that you are in a quiet room with good reception/WIFI where no one in your household will disrupt you.
    It is advisable to make arrangements for children to be looked after throughout the hearing, as the courts would not expect you to bring them to a court building nor be present during any hearing held remotely.
    In-person hearings
    If your court hearing is being held in person, ensure that you get to the court building at least one hour before your hearing time. There may be an opportunity to discuss or even negotiate some of the issues with your opponent/their legal representatives before going into the courtroom to help narrow down the issues.
    If your case is a children case, CAFCASS or Social Services may also be in attendance and wish to speak to you before the hearing.
    If you have any disabilities that may affect your ability to participate in or access the hearing, please let the court know when you receive the court date’s notice.
    For example, if you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may struggle to participate in a remote hearing and request a hearing in person instead. Similarly, if you or your household is in the clinically vulnerable category or is shielding, it may be more appropriate for the hearing to be held remotely.
    If you require an interpreter, please ensure the court is aware of your requirements, and they can discuss options with you.
    Preparing for family court – on arrival at the court
    On arrival at court, you will need to go through security, including going through metal detectors and having your bags searched.
    You should register with the court’s Usher so they know that you have arrived and where you are sitting.
    Although the court will allocate you a fixed time for the hearing, it may be that you are delayed going in as the Judge/Magistrates are dealing with another case first.
    There may be several cases listed simultaneously as your case, so be prepared to be patient, you might be there all day!
    Although there are some private rooms, if they are already occupied, you may be sitting in a larger waiting room until you get called in.
    In circumstances where there is a history of domestic abuse or violence, or you feel scared or threatened by your opponent, you can request safeguarding provisions from the court to include separate waiting rooms, screens between you in court or providing evidence/dialling into the court via video link.
    If this is applicable, please contact the court as soon as possible so they can assist you. Where necessary, the court’s will decide on your particular set of circumstances as to how they can assist.
    You can bring a friend, relative or support worker to sit with you before the court hearing. They will not be allowed in the courtroom itself but can provide support/company pre and post-hearing if required.
    Alternatively, if you are attending court without a lawyer, you can also ask the court’s permission that this person acts as your McKenzie Friend, which is when they are allowed in the courtroom to assist you.
    They cannot speak on your behalf (save for in exceptional circumstances) but can support you through the hearing by taking notes and providing suggestions.
    Some services offer McKenzie Friends, but please note that they may not be legally qualified. If you bring a McKenzie Friend to the court, you should let the Usher know on arrival.
    Preparing for family court – during the court hearing
    Once you are called and arrive in the courtroom itself, please do remember that first impressions count. Turn off your phone and be polite to your opponent and their legal representatives. You should dress smartly and stand when the Judge or Magistrates enter the room.
    If you are the Applicant in the proceedings, i.e. the person who made the application or your opponent doesn’t have legal representation, you would usually be expected to address the court first, explaining what application you have made and what you are seeking from the court.
    The other party are likely to say things that you may not agree with or support. Avoid interrupting and consider your reactions. This applies to both video or telephone hearings as the Judge or Magistrates are still likely to see you on video if you are pulling faces or expressing yourself.
    The court will allow you both time to speak to set out your position.  It is always good to be organised, have notes in front of you, set out what you want to say, and be as prepared as possible.
    You must not film or record any part of the proceedings as these are private law hearings. Similarly, no one else should be present in the room if you are dialling in remotely without the court’s express permission.
    After the court hearing, ensure that the other party has all the information they need from you before leaving the court building (or before you log off if being held remotely).  For example, they may be in the process of drafting an order and will require your approval before it is lodged with the court, so always worth checking.
    Get in touch
    If you would like any advice or assistance on preparing for family court, please contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our lawyers here. More

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    International Women’s Day: The rise of women in law

    The rise of women in law
    In honour of International Women’s Day, on the blog, we look at the rise of women in law and how the industry is changing to meet the modern lawyer’s needs, male or female.
    And no article being written today about the workplace could not touch on the impact of the continuing Covid-19 pandemic on how we all work and have embraced flexible and remote working. 
    Statistics released in June 2019  revealed that for the first time, the number of working solicitors in England and Wales had exceeded that of men – now 50.1% up from 43.4% in 2007. *
    So, is the age of the male-dominated law industry over?
    When Rachel Roberts, Yorkshire Regional Director at Stowe Family Law, graduated, she began her career with a strong, female mentor so believed that “anything seemed possible”. In fact, Rachel did not even consider her gender to

    “have an impact until I had children.”

    Having children and finding balance is a struggle many women in law face and is reflected in the statistics when we look at seniority in the industry, with women making up just 33% of partners in the UK (up from 31% in 2014). **
    Times have changed
    As the UK entered its first lockdown in March 2020, it is estimated that just under 50% of the country’s workforce shifted wholesale to working from home. (ONS data). 
    The Covid-19 pandemic has forced changed and dramatically accelerated shifts that were already underway in terms of increased working from home and flexible hours.
    What happens once the pandemic is over will vary from business to business. At Stowe, we believe our future solutions will need to prioritise flexibility and choice in terms of how both colleagues and clients interact with us and access services.  
    While this may be easier said than done, it is where our focus lies as we move forward in 2021. With over 75% of our team wanting to combine home and office-based working post-Covid-19, a hybrid model offering flexibility and choice for our colleagues is at the heart of how we will operate as a firm.

    “I am lucky to work for a firm that prioritises the well-being of its staff, and I work flexible hours so that I can still do the school run three days a week and attend school events (when we are not home-schooling)”, says Rachel. 

    Currently, over 50% of the leadership team and Managing Partners at Stowe work flexibly.
    But it is not just about the firm’s leaders,

    “I am a great believer in trusting your team to manage their diaries, workloads and working from home to allow them to meet their family commitments”, Rachel adds.

    At Stowe, over 30% of the workforce has a flexible working pattern, with countless more enjoying informal arrangements agreed with their line manager. 
    Rachel continues:

    “For me, it is about putting boundaries in place, so I will sometimes work at home in the evening, but for the large part,  my weekends are a precious time for us to spend as my family, and my work phone is switched off or out of sight.”

    Glass ceiling?
    In 2017, Lady Justice Heather Hallett spoke of her hopes that there was no glass ceiling and that the law had changed considerably for the better for women. A sentiment reflected in the fact that 66% of all partners at Stowe and 70% of lawyers are female.

    “Family law tends to attract more women, and it’s essential that we find ways to work around family commitments so that we retain our talent,” continues Rachel.
    “I have not encountered any obstacles to progressing up the career ladder because I am a woman, but I work at Stowe, and we have a large number of women in senior roles. I am not sure how much flexibility there is in larger law firms. I think, sadly, that too often the right things are said, but the requirements on a day to day basis make it impossible for women to advance in their careers and balance having a family.”

    Her advice to women considering entering law now is simple:

    “There is no limit to what you can achieve. The culture is changing, although, in big firms, it has a long way to go. So, get involved with organisations that care about retaining women in practice and focus on well-being.”
    “However, the whole sector now needs to change – men equally need to be able to have a healthy work-life balance and spend quality time with their friends and family.”

    Perhaps a positive outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic will be a continued uptake of flexible working, tailored for both women and men so they can enjoy a positive work-life balance. 
    Rachel is the Yorkshire Regional Director at Stowe Family Law. She is also an ambassador for Women in the Law, a non-profit women’s networking organisation designed to encourage, inspire and support the next generation of lawyers and women in business.
    Get in touch
    Find out more about a career in family law at Stowe Family Law. 
    *Law Society Annual Statistics Report 
    **Solicitors Regulation Authority More

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    Why are domestic abusers still cross-examining their victims in the family court?

    On the 18th of July, the House of Commons debated the issue of progress on protecting victims of domestic abuse in the family courts. The debate was moved by Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley.
    In order to explain what the debate was about, I’m going to quote quite heavily from it, all quotes being from Mrs Phillips’ contribution.
    She began by explaining that:

    “There is often friction among specialist women’s organisations, the judiciary and lawyers with regard to issues to do with violence against women and girls, and the court system. Often the problem is that we do not all sing from the same hymn sheet. Every single one of the briefings, however, whether from the Magistrates’ Association, the Law Society or one of the specialist organisations makes at least one of three recommendations to Government. I will, therefore, focus on those specific recommendations and ask the Government to do something about them.”

    The first recommendation relates to perpetrators being able to cross-examine victims in the family court (I mentioned this here last Friday). Mrs Phillips did not mince her words on this. Without bothering to qualify the word ‘perpetrator’ with the word ‘alleged’, she said:

    “The idea that in this country—still, today, right now, in the courts—a perpetrator is cross-examining a victim of domestic abuse, perhaps in order to gain access to their children, is absolutely harrowing.”

    She explained of course that:

    “…the practice is a direct consequence of the changes to the legal aid regime made by the … Government”

    And that:

    “As a result, it is now the case that not only perpetrators but—we must not forget this—victims must act as litigants in person.”

    Why victims? Isn’t legal aid still available to them? Well, not always.
    She explained:

    “The Minister will no doubt respond by saying that the Government have made changes to legal aid in civil and family court cases involving domestic abuse, but every single day I am notified of at least one case of domestic abuse victims not being able to access legal aid in the family court.”

    And how many victims are subjected to this ‘secondary abuse’ in court?
    She had this answer:

    “Queen Mary University of London found that 24% of domestic violence victims who had gone through the family court system had been cross-examined by their perpetrator”

    Moving on, the second recommendation relates to practice direction 12J and the new practice direction 3AA. As to the former, Mrs Phillips explained that:

    “…practice direction 12J basically undoes the idea that someone who has been abusive has a right to see their children.”

    Again using robust language, she explained her position thus:

    “I wonder whether the Minister [i.e. Justice Minister Lucy Frazer] will join me in stressing the importance of this very simple message: “If you beat, coerce, humiliate and abuse your children’s mother, you waive your right to be their father until the moment the non-abusive parent decides otherwise.”

    She qualified this, however, by explaining:

    “I am not saying for one second that no one who commits domestic abuse should be able to see their children, but they should not have a right to demand to see them where the non-abusive parent does not wish those children—and the children do not wish—to be put in that situation.”

    As to PD3AA, she said:

    “New practice direction 3AA requires courts to consider whether those involved in family proceedings are vulnerable and, if so, whether that is likely to diminish their participation in proceedings or … the quality of their evidence.”

    She asked:

    “What are the Minister and the Department doing to review the use of practice direction 12J following its reaffirmation? It has been around for a long time. Can we conduct some sort of review of whether it is working or whether it needs updating, and of new practice direction 3AA? Both are key to ensuring that we can rebuild trust among victims of domestic abuse.”
    Lastly, the third recommendation relates to the issue of special measures for victims of domestic abuse in the family courts, which Mrs Phillips described as “woefully behind those in criminal justice proceedings.”

    In some cases, she said:

    “…the same woman may present at the same courthouse—literally the same building—and be offered different things. She would most likely be greeted at the door of the criminal court by an independent domestic violence adviser co-located in that courthouse, who would have arranged different times for her and would explain the system and help her find the special area for her in the court. She may then walk around the back of the building and go through a different door into the family court, where someone may say, “Oh, there’s Larry—you can just sit next to him, regardless of the years of abuse you have suffered.”

    She has an excellent point, and one that has often been raised (I recall scenarios of the above type when I was practising, and it seems little has changed in the nine years since I last entered a court building).
    She went on scathingly:

    “There is absolutely no excuse for the tardiness with which we have reacted to something we have known about for a long time. At least since I came to this place, we have been raising the need for separate rooms, separate arrival times and better evidence-giving opportunities, so that people do not just have a curtain around them but can give evidence from elsewhere via video link.”

    I will leave it there, but there is considerably more in the debate – the above just concentrates upon Mrs Phillips’ opening remarks, setting out the main points of the debate. If you want to read more, you can find the debate here, although I should give a word of warning: as you may have gathered from the above, it is very female-centric, with little mention of the fact that men are also victims of domestic abuse. More

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    What family lawyers were talking about this week…

    Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has promised action on the problem of the growing numbers of litigants in person in our courts, following the legal aid cuts last year. Speaking at the Liberal Democrat party conference he said that he had persuaded colleagues at the Ministry of Justice to find a solution to the increasing…
    The post What family lawyers were talking about this week… appeared first on Stowe Family Law. More

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    D CEO Names Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson Partner Keith Nelson to Dallas 500

    Annual top business listing recognizes Nelson for leadership in Family Law 

    DALLAS – D CEO magazine has selected Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP (ONDA) name partner Keith Nelson for the 2021 edition of the Dallas 500, highlighting the region’s most influential business leaders. 
    Mr. Nelson, a founding member of the firm, earned recognition for his more than 25 years of leadership and dedication to one of the largest Family Law firms in Texas. 
    The Dallas 500 features top North Texas business leaders and executives in more than 60 industries. The list is created by editors from D CEO magazine following a year’s worth of interviews and extensive research. 
    Recognized for his representation of individuals in Family Law disputes, Mr. Nelson was recently honored once again among the Top 100 Super Lawyers in Texas along with his colleagues Richard Orsinger, Scott Downing, Jeff Anderson, Brad LaMorgese and Lon Loveless, solidifying Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson’s stellar reputation. With more than 100,000 practicing attorneys in Texas, the designation is especially significant because it is the third consecutive year ONDA has been recognized for having the most Top 100 Super Lawyers of any firm statewide. 
    Mr. Nelson was also recognized for his work in Family Law in The Best Lawyers in America 2021 listing, the nation’s oldest peer-review guide. The firm was honored separately in the 2021 Best Law Firms listing published by U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America. 
    For more information on Keith Nelson, visit:  More

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    Orsinger Nelson Downing & Anderson Recognized in 2021 Best Law Firms

    Firm ranked for 12th consecutive year in Family Law, Mediation, Appellate practice areas
    We are pleased to announce the publishers of U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America have recognized Orsinger Nelson Downing & Anderson (ONDA) in the annual Best Law Firms listing. 
    The firm’s Appellate practice received national recognition five years in a row, along with metropolitan honors in Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. The firm also earned top honors for its Family Law expertise in the Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metro areas, with additional recognition in the Family Law Mediation category. 
    Best Law Firms rankings are based on thorough client and attorney evaluations, including peer and editorial staff review. A firm must have at least one attorney recognized in the current Best Lawyers in America guide to earn Best Law Firms eligibility. Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson has 14 lawyers in the 2021 Best Lawyers listing.  
    Name partners Richard Orsinger, Keith Nelson, Scott Downing and Jeff Anderson earned Best Lawyers recognition for Family Law. In addition, Mr. Orsinger was honored for his Appellate work, and Mr. Anderson was recognized for his Family Law Arbitration practice. 
    Firm partners William M. Reppeto III,  Brad M. LaMorgese, Amber Liddell Alwais, Paula A. Bennett, Lon M. Loveless, Paul Hewett, Holly Rampy Baird, and R. Porter Corrigan, as well as associate Ryan Kirkham and Of Counsel James M. Loveless, have each been recognized by Best Lawyers for representing individuals in Family Law. Mr. LaMorgese received additional honors for his Appellate practice, and Ms. Bennett was also recognized for Family Law Mediation. 
    The firm’s recognition in the Best Law Firms 2021 listing is the latest in a multitude of awards the firm has earned in recent years. Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP, solidified its national reputation in October with more Top 100 Texas Super Lawyers honorees than any other law firm. It was the third consecutive year the firm was recognized as having the most Top 100 lawyers in a state with more than 100,000 practicing attorneys.  
    ONDA attorneys have been repeatedly recognized in D Magazine’s Best Lawyers in Dallas honors along with D CEO’s Dallas 500, a list of the top business leaders in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. 
    With offices in Dallas, Frisco, Fort Worth and San Antonio, Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson, LLP, is one of Texas’ largest Family Law firms. Each partner is Board Certified in Family Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, as well as a member of the Texas Academy of Family Law Specialists.  More

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    What is the Barder principle?

    The Barder principle provides for an order of the Court to be set aside or appealed outside of the usual time limits if certain criteria apply.  Where did the Barder principle come from?  The principle comes from the sad case of Barder v Barder in 1987 in which an order was successfully appealed out of…
    The post What is the Barder principle? appeared first on Stowe Family Law. More

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    Holly Rampy Baird Discusses COVID-19’s Implications on Divorce Cases & Hearings on WFAA’s Good Morning Texas

    COVID-19 has implicated almost every element of our daily lives, and complicated domestic situations and divorce are no exception. Orsinger, Nelson, Downing & Anderson partner Holly Rampy Baird appeared on WFAA’s Good Morning Texas to discuss how couples are moving forward with their divorce cases amidst the pandemic. View the interview here:
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