Gay marriage, McKenzie friends, oh – and an election

family law

A week in family law

With the Easter break it has naturally been a quiet week for family law news, but that gives me the opportunity to comment upon a few stories that I wouldn’t normally mention.

The government of the Falkland Islands has passed legislation legalising gay marriage. What’s more, they have also introduced civil partnerships for all, including straight couples, making their law more ‘progressive’ than it is here in England and Wales. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story, and the most encouraging for proponents of civil partnerships for all over here, is that 94 per cent of those who responded to a consultation on the issue were in favour of the measure. Food for thought for our next government, perhaps?

Still on the subject of equality, the National Union of Teachers has called for children of all ages to be taught about issues involving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. I agree entirely. Education is the best way to deal with matters relating to discrimination and abuse, and surely if our children are taught these things more of them will grow up realising that everyone in society should be treated with equal respect, irrespective of their sexual orientation.

A member of the New Zealand parliament has proposed a bill to make it more difficult for teenagers to marry. As in this country, the current law allows people aged 16 or over to get married, but requires those under 18 to have the permission of their parents. However MP Jo Hayes believes this allows teenagers to be forced into marriage against their wishes. To address the issue, she proposes an amendment to the marriage law to provide that 16 and 17 year olds would have to obtain the permission of a Family Court Judge before they could marry. An interesting idea to combat the scourge of forced marriage, although I’m not sure that it is the best way to address the problem.

In a story that will come as no surprise to many, academic research has found that ‘professional’ McKenzie friends associated with fathers’ rights groups play on their “uncertainty and sense of victimhood” to attract business. Dr Angela Melville, senior lecturer at Flinders Law School in Adelaide, Australia, who carried out the research, also found that some McKenzie friends suggested that lawyers were unscrupulous, only interested in fees rather than progressing a case, that they were more concerned with the interests of fathers rather than the children, and that some “draw on misogynistic discourses that women are vindictive manipulators, who make up false allegations in order to block fathers from fully realising their rights over children.” Dr Melville suggests that the problem of ‘bad’ McKenzie friends could be lessened by extending the pool of non-lawyer providers of legal assistance, for example having law students work as McKenzie friends under the supervision of a qualified lawyer, and having greater regulation of McKenzie friends. Well, I am in favour of the latter, but in the end those who cannot afford the help of a qualified lawyer will always get a second-class service, unless legal aid is restored.

And finally, you may not have noticed, but there was a small piece of news this week that could have a bearing on the future of family law. Apparently Theresa May has called a general election. Now this is not normally something in which I would take much interest, but I have just taken on the mantle of Leader of the Sensible Party, which seeks election on a programme of reform of the family justice system. We are the first major party to publish our manifesto, to which we have given the catchy title Family law can be better. You can find details of our policies in the manifesto. All I will say here is: vote sensibly, vote Sensible!

Have a good weekend.

Photo by Clare Black via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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4 comments

Paul - April 21, 2017 at 4:36pm

I must object to ‘fathers rights groups’ been reffered to as having a sense of victim hood. The only victims in these cases are the children. The only realise what they have lost or been dennied years after the court cases are resolved. There is no way children have the depth of perseption to know if having a father around will improve their life or if they will be emotionally torchered for years to come. All fathers rights activist and groups understand this very well.
Fathers are undeniable financially exploited in this possition which by default means they are entitled to raise complaint.
Any legal professionals care to dispute the fact this group of men are exploited ?
Did not think so.
If you lost your ‘Presuption of innocence’ and were removed from your family withoit cause.
I wonder if you would not raise complaint ?
If you have not been their you have no idea.

Paul - April 21, 2017 at 4:49pm

The fact mothers are vendictive and make up allegations is indisputable. Completly colaborated by the huge spike in domestic abuse allegations since legal aid is only availible in domestic abuse situations.
It is beyond dispute.
You can log onto websites like mums net and gingerbread and witness mothers teaching each other how to ‘ditch daddy’.
Its an abomonation. Courts remaim complict in this.
The law is more interested in protecting legal family law jobs than reforming to build a better system.
The fact reform is needed is also beyond dispute.

JamesB - April 21, 2017 at 6:00pm

I find your approach to spelling quite refreshing, almost Shakespearean perhaps. I also agree with the MumsNet Gingerbread point which is sad as would be good to have a forum where all views and both sexes are welcome. Which is why I like it here, it is more like that here on this site.

Cameron Paterson - April 21, 2017 at 6:21pm

Thanks for the endorsement James. We try to keep moderation to a minimum

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