Looking after family law

Looking after family law

Claire Darley explains the nature of family law, and explains how the Birmingham Law Society works to achieve the best working practices and promote family justice.

The nature and needs of families are diverse, and different families may require the assistance of different legal experts. Professionals or experts may come into contact with a family where there has been a dispute about the care of a child, or about the arrangements for a child. In more serious cases, there may be safeguarding issues relating to the risk of harm to a child, which may involve a report to Children’s Services, or where a child has been removed from the care of his parents.  

It maybe in these circumstances that family lawyers and professionals working in the court system work alongside healthcare professionals.

In relation to financial experts, a family may have business interests and wealth to protect. In these circumstances family lawyers work alongside wealth managers and other trusted advisers.   

There are a greater number of tools that a family lawyer now has to prevent a dispute arising in a familial context and to protect resources. This may be the case for example, when a non family member is bought into the family.

Persons may employ tax-efficient measures to manage their finances to meet their immediate needs. However, the long–term consequences of those actions may have unintended consequences in the event of a breakdown in their personal relationships. For example, when setting up a new company, or in relation to an existing company, if permitted to do so by the articles of association, a spouse may transfer shares of the shareholding in a company to their spouse to seek to minimise their income tax bill overall if the other spouse is a lower rate tax payer. However, if they later separate and divorce the the person who has transferred their interest could be severely disadvantaged.

Parents and grandparents looking to benefit children and grandchildren would wish to consider the long-term implications of their lifetime financial and estate planning to seek the assistance of a family solicitor alongside their IFAs and accountants to work as a team to protect their interests.

The Family Law Committee of Birmingham Law Society is a collaboration of all professionals working within the family justice system to promote a service of excellence. The Committee is made up of solicitors and barristers specialising in financial and child law matters, Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service), the Local Authority and the court service, including members of the judiciary.

Last October, Birmingham Law Society and Resolution jointly held the most successful Family Law Conference we have held. The message of the key note address by the President of the Family Division was that family law will be embracing the digital age.
Following the closure of courts and the streamlining of procedures this involves the e-filing of documents and court hearings taking place wherever a judge is located.

This is nothing new to the courts, because parties in proceedings have been able to attend court remotely for over 40 years by the use of video-link. Implementation has already started with the changes in the rules resulting in a greater range of applications that can be e-filed.

The headline news in family law covered by the Committee over the last 12 months has included the topics of regionalisation, rationalisation and radicalisation in family justice:

  • Birmingham Family Court continues to be able to provide specialist finance judges. This benefits the business community across the West Midlands and beyond.
  • Birmingham Family Court has been made the Midlands regional hub for the administration of applications relating to decisions about a person’s property, finances and welfare if a person lacks the mental capacity to make those decisions for themselves.
  • The Family Drug and Alcohol Court, based at Coventry Family Court, has been a significant success for the Midlands. This court works with families whose children are subject to care proceedings resulting from their parents’ drug and alcohol misuse.
  • Family law has seen a dramatic increase in cases involving radicalisation. We had the President’s Practice Note in October last year, which confirmed that cases involving this issue should be heard by a Judge of the Family Division only. Fortunately, our own Family District Liaison Judge is able to hear cases of this nature, which means they can be heard at courts within the Midlands region.
  • Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) is now undertaking free DNA Testing.

Our work is to strive to achieve the best working practices within the family justice system as members of Birmingham Law Society. Our aims are to promote family justice across the extensive region of Birmingham covering Worcestershire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, the Black Country and the West Midlands.

Claire Darley is chair of the Birmingham Law Society Family Law Committee, and is also a Partner and Mediator at Higgs & Sons.