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Q&A with Christina Blacklaws, Director of family law at Co operative legal services - ANSWERS BACK

(71 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Wed 19-Sep-12 11:35:06

We're running a Q&A this week  with Christina Blacklaws, Director of Family Law at The Co-operative Legal Services. She's going to be taking  your questions and offering advice on all legal issues that affect the family, such as breaking up, getting together, children, financial issues and domestic abuse.
Christina has over 20 years experience in all aspects of family law. Prior to The Co-operative Legal Services, she founded and managed the largest specialist family law practice in London. She qualified as a solicitor in 1991 and is a higher rights advocate and solicitor specialising in complex child care cases. She is a Law Society Council member, Chair of the Society's Legal Affairs and Policy Board and Chief Assessor of the Children Panel.
Post your questions to Christina before the end of Tuesday 25 September and we'll link to the archived Q&A from this thread on 4 October.

This Q&A is sponsored by The Co-operative Legal Services

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 08:14:38

I heard Christina Blacklaws on R4 Today programme this morning. I think it's marvellous that Mumsnet has managed to link with such an authoritative voice in Family Law, particularly in relation to relationship breakdown and cohabiting couples.

This is Christina quoted in The Guardian today:

Blacklaws, who is director of family law at the Co-operative Legal Services, said: "Although many people still believe they have rights as common-law spouses, there is no such status in law. As a result, some cohabiting families may find themselves facing real difficulties should they split up, particularly when there are children involved.

"It is clear that this area of family law is in urgent need of an overhaul. However, in the meantime, people need to think carefully about how they protect themselves and their families – preferably by reaching and signing agreements about what would happen if you did split up. This could save a huge amount of cost and heartache if the worst happens."

I will be including a link to the Co-op Legal Services website in my lengthy and growing post which frequently appears in response to queries on the "Legal Matters" and "Relationships" thread. Not only do they have a really informative website, they are expanding their family law services and offering fixed-fee arrangements.

Well done Mumsnet!

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 08:29:37

I also have a question for Christina:

With the recent announcement that the definition of domestic abuse is to be widened to include emotional/financial abuse and coercive, controlling behaviour, does Christina think this will have an impact in Family Law in the consideration of Residence/Contact (Child Arrangements) Orders?

At the moment, it seems that abuse short of physical violence is routinely overlooked by the courts. Some legal professionals appear to collude in this, as we see from many posts on Mumsnet that people involved in these proceedings are often told it isn't worth raising this "low level abuse" as an issue, because the courts will ignore it and they themselves will be seen as "unreasonable".

This leads to children and resident parents being subjected to contact with former spouses who routinely engage in such behaviour.

Does she anticipate a much-needed culture change in the Family Courts now that the damaging nature of "low level abuse" has been formally acknowledged?

PostBellumBugsy Thu 20-Sep-12 09:22:51

My issue for Christina.

First, the background:
I got divorced in 2005. Very regretably had to take ex-H to court for financial settlement, as he would not attend mediation or try to reach an out of court agreement. At court, as well as the split of the house, maintenance was agreed. After a short period of spousal maintenance, so I could remain part-time while the children were pre-primary, the maintenance was set at 20% of his net salary, as it was in 2005.
Since then our eldest son has been diagnosed with autism and he now attends a special school. The school is fee paying, and is financially crippling for me. Ex-H says that he does not have to contribute to these fees because they are "discretionary" and our son could go to a state school. To add insult to injury, his children by his second wife have just started at a very expensive prep-school. ex-H has also done very well in his job & has been promoted a number of times in the last 7 years, which I would imagine means a salary increase too.

Now the questions:
1. Should I consider approaching CMEC to see if I could get more money from ex-H?
2. If I did get more money via CMEC, would this negate the financial order made in court?
3. Our son is not registered disabled, but does have a proper diagnosis of autism, made by an NHS child psychologist - does this have any bearing on ex-H's contributions?
4. Should I consider going back to court?

Any advice you could offer me, would be fantastic.

Collaborate Thu 20-Sep-12 09:28:06

Just wanted to respond to the above post by Olgaga (without it resulting in a bun fight). What lawyers and knowledgeable non-lawyers on the legal topic have posted is that domestic abuse does not automatically equate to no contact, and that the courts have to routinely weigh on the one hand the risk associated with a child continuing a relationship with the father who has been abusive to the mother, and on the other hand the damage that will be caused to the child by there being no contact. Usually courts deal with this by managing contact so that the parents do not come in to contact with each other. The courts often expect the father to address his offending behaviour by seeking therapy.

NiniLegsInTheAir Thu 20-Sep-12 09:28:33

Thanks Rachel. smile

My question - I am considering separation from my husband - married 3 years, DD is nearly 2, as he is emotionally and financially abusive and has been physically abusive also in the past (police are aware). One of the major reasons I am feeling unable to leave at the moment is because we still have a fixed term rate on our mortgage until Dec 2013 with a penalty clause if we sell before then.

Ideally I'd like to stay in the house with DD without my husband until the fixed rate expires and then sell the house. But I also know he would never agree to that. I can't afford to move out and rent (we have separate bank accounts and pool our money only for joint purchases/bills. He earns more than me and has savings, I have a few grands worth of personal debt). Would he have to agree to this setup in order for it to happen?

This is complicated I know but trying to keep it brief so I don't clog up the thread. I'll be very grateful for any advice.

babybarrister Thu 20-Sep-12 09:59:01

All of you who have enquired about issues in Scotland should be aware that this lady only appears to be qualified in England and Wales ( which is perfectly normal -not a criticism) . Sill not therefore be able to give any detailed advice on Scottish issues as their family law is extremely different, particularly re money ...

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 10:12:35


Believe it or not Co-op Legal Services, of which "this lady" is a Director, has a presence in Scotland and Northern Ireland - where they use approved panel solicitors.

But I'm sure everyone will consider themselves well and truly warned.

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 10:22:47

Thanks for that Collaborate. Just for clarification, it was actually explained like this:

"In cases when the abuse is low level it's unlikely that no contact would be deemed in the best interests of children. The courts can put measures in place to make contact work such as handovers at a neutral venue, supervised contact, contact in a contact centre, conditions attached to the contact order, Separated Parent Information Programmes, anger management or courses for DV perpetrators. I can't see that changing."

(My italics).

The point is, some of us do see that changing through the increased involvement and action of the police, the CPS and other support agencies long before the family courts come to consider applications for orders. Maybe the family courts won't be so keen to disregard "low level abuse" if it has led to a criminal conviction. Maybe even some family lawyers will stop dismissing such conduct as irrelevant - which is the experience of some posters.

It won't change overnight, no. It will change though, and it's a change which is long overdue.

babybarrister Thu 20-Sep-12 11:45:29

Olgaga - I know that but the lady herself who is answering the questions is not qualified in Scotland! - fwiw nor am I grin

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 11:57:46

Yes, I did read your first post.

Mellower Thu 20-Sep-12 12:16:23

Aww no Scottish help! sad

olgaga Thu 20-Sep-12 12:22:26

Mellower ask away, don't be put off.

Mellower Thu 20-Sep-12 12:46:15

I qasked down below but if she is from England mine won't be one of the 20 question I fear!

<wanders off feeling sorry forself wondering why my mum moved from Engerland, well then she wouldn't have met my father then there would be no me> grin

Sorry! As you were....

Mellower Thu 20-Sep-12 12:51:19

I also asked!

Jogg Thu 20-Sep-12 13:25:25

hi it is most def worth getting your will checked to see if it needed updating after any significent life event such as divorce, child birth, becoming a grandparent etc etc

emmasonny Thu 20-Sep-12 13:49:04

How much does it cost to go to court to sort out access, PR etc etc?

NicJohn Thu 20-Sep-12 18:45:48

I am guarantor for my daughter's mortgage. She is not paying the mortgage - she hasn't paid for two months now and is refusing to take my calls. I am paying two mortgages of my own and I am facing redundancy at my work for the second time in a year. I have tried to explain to her that she is ruining my credit rating but she is not interested in that. I can't handle the stress and I am very worried about my finances. Help - what can I do?

ToothbrushThief Thu 20-Sep-12 22:11:20

What can a person legally do to protect their financial health/wealth on a remarriage when they a) have DC b) own their own house and c) new partner has his property which he would rent out but move into hers

Gladwys Fri 21-Sep-12 09:22:10

Thanks for providing this. My same sex partner and I adopted in 2004, when only one person in a sex same relationship could adopt, so my partner is named as our DDs adoptive parent and I obtained PR shortly after.

We never got round to me adoping DD (spectre of social services was still looming large) when the law changed.

I would like to be DDs adoptive parent too, rather than have no legal ties to her after she hits 16, but things are now complicated as my partner and I are now separated. We have an amicable separation with 50/50 shared residency of our DD.

Would it be possible for me to adopt DD with my ex still also being her adoptive parent?

Wittsend13 Fri 21-Sep-12 22:41:49

I have a question for Christina,

If you get a court order for maintenance in the ROI and the amount granted by the judge is far less than it should be because the non resident parent who lives in the UK has lied and hidden money and you can prove this, can you then go to the CSA if both parents are GB residents and have them recalculate the payments? Or must you stick to what the court decided?

RememberImAWomble Sat 22-Sep-12 12:07:20

A Hague Convention question on behalf of a British friend:

She lives in Turkey with not-so-DH and 2 DCs & suffers physical abuse from DH. Home is a building shared with DH's extended family who support DH, and as friend has no independent means or family here she feels she can't safely go through the divorce process here - while she <might> ultimately succeed in divorcing and win custody of the kids she can't house or feed herself or them in the meantime. She's sole carer; DH has put the kids at risk while attacking their mum; and the kids are less than one, and nearly 3 years old.

If she gets the kids to the UK (where she would undertake divorce and custody proceedings while living with her mum) would she have any defence if DH invoked the Hague Convention to try and get the kids back?

Caliente62 Sat 22-Sep-12 14:16:50

My husband is agreeing to 30% deferred equity in our house until our youngest daughter finishes her A levels. His solicitors have added my cohabiting with someone for more than six months as a trigger to his repayment. Do I have to agree? He is not currently paying me any child maintenance and has paid me nothing at all for 12 months. I have been left to pay all bills, mortgage and all costs relating to our children.

momnotmum Sat 22-Sep-12 20:56:28

My husband and I are separated. What permission/documentation might I need to move abroad with my children?

CremeEggThief Sun 23-Sep-12 11:35:33

My H's grandfather passed away soon after we separated. I haven't filed for divorce yet. Would I, or better still, DS, be entitled to a share of any inheritance?

NettleTea Sun 23-Sep-12 19:23:04

I have a question please.

Background (much condensed).
I divorced my EA husband in 2002, my DD was just 2 at the time. contact was sporadic, as was maintanance, and he continued to use DD as a way to control/punish me. In 2006 she witnessed a DV incident with his then partner and was too frightened to see him again. He threatened me with legal action, but I saw a solicitor as he was bluffing. Contact was stopped until he was prepared to address the issues, and as a result he didnt see her for over 3 years, during which time he went abroad and had another child with the gf. We had one attempt at mediation where he verbally abused me and I was left sick and shaken. During this period DD had involvedment with CAMHs due to anxiety, fear and behaviour issues associated with what happened and his apparant rejection.
In mid 2009 he turned up at the school and expected to just resume contact as and when. I returned to my solicitor to take up where things had left off, and again he refused to engage. I took out a prohibitive steps order, which was granted in 2010, which prevented him going to her school or removing her from my care without written consent. At the hearing he pressed for contact, and we agreed to supervised contact for 2 hours fortnightly with my mother.
Again, contact has been less than this. Sometimes due to holidays by my mother, but more often because he calls off with excuses, many which seem unlikely. Often he doesnt manage the 2 hours, but makes excuses. During contact he has often run me down to DD if they are close and my mother is far - such as swimming, etc. DD is scared of him and often agrees to stuff because she is frightened to say no. She has witnessed him several times exploding in rages to restaurant/shop staff or to my mother if she says something he doesnt like. he is erratic and volatile and it is very likely that he is involved in drugs (using and selling) and previously he has been involved in prostitution.
2 contact visits ago my mother foolishly left him alone with her for 10 mins. He told DD not to tell anyone, it was their secret, but he was going to a solicitor to get more contact, and pressed her for our address, and also got her to say she wanted to see him more. She told my mum straight away on their way home.
She doesnt want to see him on her own, but she is scared to say this to him. she says she does want to see him more - but only more as in him not making excuses and missing contact, not as in more often. She will be 12 next month. I think she feels that if something better comes up he does it, and that she should be more important to him.

I went to get help from the solicitor but (as my daughter gets DLA, which is not counted, but gives me a higher rate of child tax credits) my income was just too high to get legal aid. I am left fearing that i will have to represent myself against the man who emotionally and verbally abused me for years, and I dont really know what I should do. Some have said that I just need to wait as I dont need a solicitor, as there is no discussion to have, and that he will need to apply to the court and they will find my address and send details to me. I have been told that I need to check he mentions the previous order. I feel absolutely sick at the prospect of this, and also very angry that I am denied legal aid due to the fact that I get help for a child that needs care. If she were not ill, I would qualify.

Can you advise me what I should be doing, and if there is anywhere that i might apply for legal assistance.

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