Lawyers are good for children

family law

Or: we all like to say “I told you so”!

Sometimes in life something is so self-evident that you really can’t understand why other people think differently. In such cases it is really satisfying when you come across independent confirmation that you were, indeed, right. The temptation to say “I told you so” can then be overwhelming. This post is my “I told you so” moment.

As we all know, there are many people who have an axe to grind against the family justice system, at the forefront of which are the more vocal proponents of fathers’ rights. They are unhappy about how the system has treated them and, instead of looking at the real reasons for the way they have been treated, they point the finger of blame at the system. And lawyers are, of course, part of that system, in some sort of conspiracy to make money out of perpetuating the misery of others. As we will see in a moment, many of these malcontents will have experienced having to face a lawyer representing their former partner, which of course only makes it more likely that they will see the lawyer as the ‘enemy’.

I know I have said it here on many previous occasions, but I have never understood the anti-lawyer crusade. In relation to the ‘rights’ of fathers, for example, lawyers act for about as many fathers as mothers. Surely, they are friends, not enemies? They will do their best for their clients, irrespective of whether they are mothers or fathers. Lawyers are good for their clients and, by extension, for the children who are the subject matter of the cases in which they are involved, by helping both parents resolve disputes.

But I am of course a lawyer myself, albeit no longer practising. My words will therefore fall on deaf ears amongst the anti-family justice system crusaders. It is therefore welcome when my message is confirmed by an independent source. The source in this instance is the magistrates who deal with family cases. And before you complain that they are just a part of the system as well, they are not: I am referring to lay magistrates, who are not lawyers, or in the employ of the family justice system. These are ordinary people drawn from the local community, who give their time freely to help with the dispensation of justice.

The views of magistrates in relation to the benefits lawyers bring to proceedings involving children were demonstrated in a survey carried out by the Magistrates Association for BuzzFeed News, against the backdrop of the huge increase in the numbers of parents who are having to represent themselves without the benefit of a lawyer, since the legal aid cuts in 2013. The headline to the article about the survey on Buzzfeed News tells the story: Magistrates Say Children Suffer In Family Court Hearings When Their Parents Have No Lawyers. Yes! This is just what I (and, I’ll be honest, many other family lawyers) have been saying all along!

I’m not going to go into the detail of the survey findings (you can read the article at the link below), but here are a few examples of the ways in which magistrates have found that lawyers benefit children (it’s not rocket science):

  1. The side with a lawyer “would always fare better” or, to put it the other way around: the side without a lawyer will do worse. Sometimes a child will get to see less of one parent, simply because that parent couldn’t afford a lawyer (see also point 3 below).
  2. Cases taking longer: “Litigants in person find it difficult and frightening and while we are very willing to help, it does slow the day’s work considerably and ultimately in family court the children suffer again.”
  3. Unfair hearings: “The problem is that if one side is represented by a professional lawyer and the other isn’t represented, that must be intrinsically unfair. In family the magistrates will do their best to ensure a fair hearing for both sides, but as in criminal hearings, you can’t put questions in their mouth.” This was a quote from the chair of the Magistrates Association, John Bache, who went on to say that the imbalance of having one side represented ultimately ended up harming children: “The impact on children will stem from that because if there hasn’t been proper representation, the children won’t be achieving necessarily the best outcome in terms of relationship with their parents.”
  4. And finally this: “Several magistrates said the removal of legal aid had resulted in much more adversarial hearings as people fought very personal battles without a lawyer as a buffer. One said that as well as leading to cases where the side without a lawyer is “out-gunned by a partner with greater access to representation”, it has “led to more angry outbursts in court fuelled by frustration and stress”.” Clearly, the children are ultimately going to suffer if their parents are involved in such battles.

As I said, none of this is rocket science. It is both a damning indictment of the government’s decision to abolish legal aid, and a vindication of lawyers who act for parents in children disputes. The message is clear: don’t believe what you read in social media and elsewhere about lawyers being the enemies of parents and children. The opposite is true.

You can read the full Buzzfeed News article here.

Photo by Zooka Yung via Flickr

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.

View more from this author

7 comments

Dr. Manhattan. - December 18, 2017 at 6:51pm

“The message is clear: don’t believe what you read in social media and elsewhere about lawyers being the enemies of parents and children. The opposite is true.”

absolute Nonsense and of course 100% Biased to the Arena you Earned your living from.
Most of the parents ive spoken to say their Legal aid Solicitors and Barristers were useless in court and just didnt put up a fight.
and that is also TRUE Mr Bolch!
DONT FORGET THE JUSTICE PAUFFLEY REVELATION 2014:
“Judges and social workers have been conspiring to remove children unjustly from their parents”
OR IS THAT A FAIRY STORY TO YOU ?

Horace - December 19, 2017 at 9:02am

“Lawyers are good for children”?? Some people say they are good for nothing…. But I don’t subscribe to that view, although I am certainly critical of some lawyers. And the mistake you make, John, is that you most certainly don’t have to be a FATHER to feel that — or to doubt that the so-called “justice” system is REALLY just. You don’t even have to be an LiP — although that helps, as you ADMIT above.

You say, “Many people… have an axe to grind against the family justice system” and suggest the foremost are the proponents of father’s rights. Well, I am NOT a father — and I have to say, in all honesty, that I can often well understand their point of view. Because, before they were fathers (most of them!) they were husbands — so it is the injustices of marriage dissolution that we so often agree on. Thus, not being a father, I will confine myself to that angle, of which I have some (horrible) experience.

But first let me agree with you — in general, legal aid is a good thing. But the fact that it is dished out by civil servants, who often cannot be bothered to investigate whether the working wife (no kids, remember?) really is entitled to it, income and asset-wise, can lead to injustice right there. And the fact that almost any challenge to the award is summarily rebuffed, suggests that the system is rigged right from the start. Either the husband has to cough up thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, out of his own pocket, just to get his side heard, or he is on his own — and as you agree, is severely disadvantaged because of that.

And there is utterly no denying that lawyers are part of the system, although “in some sort of conspiracy to make money out of perpetuating the misery of others” may be overstating the case. Fact is, they do of course make money out of it, and “naturally” there is always an incentive to think of their own financial interests at the same time — if not first. Further than that though — they think of their on-going CAREER. ie. They won’t raise points that might make them look bad, or argumentative, in front of a more senior judge. I have not only seen that — I have suffered from it.

IF it is true that a judge may be somewhat more tolerant of an LiP, ignorant of the ways of the court, I might well have done significantly better “unrepresented” — by managing to raise a vital point that was actually slapped down by my own highly-paid lawyer. Why? “Because it is best not to annoy a judge.” Best for WHO? Certainly not best for me, since so much rested on the point, which the judge forever remained completely ignorant about. No, it was obviously best for my lawyer — and his career. So it isn’t just fathers who get upset with lawyers…. In my case, I am continuing to fight to have that point HEARD, since, albeit late, I now have the proof that was not available before. But it could have been obtained a whole year ago — if my lawyer had “realised” its import, and “fought” for me in court, rather than backing down, because of primarily thinking about his career…. But, inevitably they will pay the price….

I have to take issue over an obvious point: “My message is confirmed by an independent source. The source in this instance is the magistrates who deal with family cases.” Er, well now, how “independent” would you say that is — really? True they may be somewhat removed from the overall establishment — but how did they get to be lay magistrates, if they did not “appreciate” the prevalent attitudes and opinions? Also, by whom are they appointed — but by others of similar ilk? So you cannot legitimately claim they are completely independent, and I am afraid it is rather disingenuous to try.

The quote from Buzzfeed, “Magistrates Say Children Suffer In Family Court Hearings When Their Parents Have No Lawyers.” could just as well be made when only one side can “afford” (often with the help of legal aid) legal representation. You again point out the obvious, “This is just what I (and, I’ll be honest, many other family lawyers) have been saying all along!” But your reference is specifically to the welfare of children — whereas I am referring to the welfare of the husband in a “sans issue” situation. Clearly, when faced with a practiced lawyer, and an APPARENTLY no-nothing (certainly not “well versed” in the law) LiP, a judge will more likely identify with his/her legal brethren, and understand their legal arguments (couched in Latin?) than the more “common sense” approach of even a fairly educated (but not in law) litigant who keenly FEELS his case — and the injustices even more so.

I was particularly intrigued to read what MAGISTRATES say, namely: “Litigants in person find it difficult and frightening, and while we are very willing to help…” Hmm, well a lay magistrate may well add some nice touches… In my case, a judge, no less, appeared to have the attitude, “Well you chose to be an LiP, so just get on with it.” I received very little “help” indeed — if I had the cheek and temerity to assay my own defence, I deserved all that was coming to me — or rather, leaving me.

I would suggest a paraphrasing of what the the chair of the Magistrates Association, John Bache, said, suggesting that “The imbalance of having [only] one side represented ultimately ends up harming the other side. If there hasn’t been proper representation, they are unlikely to be achieving the fairest outcome.” But that much seems obvious.

It is no doubt true also, that “As well as leading to cases where the side without a lawyer is ‘out-gunned by a partner with greater access to representation”, it may well lead to “more angry outbursts in court fueled by frustration and stress”. Although not in my case — faced with a judge who clearly was not willing to bend in any way to assist in presenting my case, I was, I admit, cowed. Not, like a lawyer, fearful for his career — but fearful of getting into an argument, knowing that that ultimate sanction for those of the self-righteous brigade — “contempt of court”– might be unfairly leveled against me — when all I was seeking was true justice.

spinner - December 19, 2017 at 9:19am

“many of these malcontents” – I got as far as this. John you really should stop writing articles on this topic as you clearly have no ability to understand why anyone would be unhappy with the family legal system, you are like a slave owner who thinks the slaves are perfectly happy and actually you are helping them because you are providing them with food.

Dr. Manhattan. - December 19, 2017 at 10:44am

100% agree.
and yes it would be more helpful if Mr Bolch stopped his little escapade of dismissing any notion of corruption in the family courts as nothing more than Angry disgruntled parents letting off steam.
the Allegations are Real and need to be investigated by the Govt.
we are talking about the total destruction of the family lives of Human Beings here Not farm Animals!.

Stitchedup - December 19, 2017 at 5:12pm

So, the main reason there’s been an increase in the number of LIPs is the removal of Legal aid for family cases. So, in theory, what we should actually have is a levelling of the playing field. The previous scenario of one person having legal representation paid for by the state (usually the woman), and the other having to foot the bill for legal representation because he (usually) earns slightly over the means threshold was fair was it??? I DON’T THINK SO. Yet again there’s no recognition from Mr Bolch of the inherent unfairness of a system which funds one party but not the other. Of course, the government are doing everything possible to find excuses to fund women but not men, by granting legal aid when there’s been ALLEGATIONS of domestic abuse or CLAIMS TO BE IN FEAR OF POSSIBLE DOMESTIC ABUSE… JUST ALLEGATIONS OR CLAIMS TO BE IN FEAR OF A POSSIBLE FUTURE ACTION, NO PROOF NEEDED!! Not only is there an equality of arms issue here, there’s also the deprivation of the right to a fair trial as the accused does not have the right to personally cross examine his accuser, even though nothing has been proven!!!

Horace - December 19, 2017 at 7:00pm

“The inherent unfairness of a system which funds one party but not the other.”

— Precisely the point I was making — and this applies across the board. Because while every father is a partner/husband, not every husband/partner in a divorce court is a father.

And it is patently true that in general it is the man who earns MORE (ie. is the breadwinner) — and so he is invariably expected to cough up for HIS legal expenses, HER “award” by the court — AND sometimes part of HER legal expenses too! It is totally iniquitous!

And it is amazing that, while it is as plain as the nose on their faces, the lawyers, judges — and the LAW itself — cannot SEE that!

BillyO - December 21, 2017 at 3:25am

I would partially agree with John on this one but I wouldn’t go as far as to state that “lawyers are good for children”. I would say that you certainly won’t get a worse outcome if you engage a lawyer but at the end of the day is it worth it financially?
In reality if lawyers were good for children they would put the childrens best interests first rather than using them in ways to manipulate the court and maximise fees via whatever means the opposing sides can muster.
In these days of bias financial funding. The Father (in most cases) needs to make the call. Is it actually worth engaging. Sadly the answer for many including me was no.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply to spinner Cancel reply