Week in family law: Support for abuse survivors, questions over divorce centres and calls for an inquiry

“Thousands of survivors fleeing abusive and violent relationships will receive greater protection thanks to a new package of support.”

So says a press release published on Monday by the Prime Minister’s Office, amongst others. It continues:

“For the first time ever, councils across the country will be legally required to provide vital life-saving support in secure accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and their children – ensuring need in their local area is met.”

We are also told that:

“Local authorities will also be required to work together with neighbouring councils to ensure domestic abuse services reflects the needs of local people – including targeted, specialist support for BAME, LGBT and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller survivors.”

The Prime Minister herself commented:

“I’ve always vowed to leave no stone unturned in tackling domestic abuse – this abhorrent crime has no place in our country. And today we are ending the postcode lottery by placing on local authorities a legal duty to deliver support, including secure housing, to survivors of domestic abuse and their children. Whoever you are, wherever you live and whatever the abuse you face, you will have access to the services you need to be safe.”

It all sounds good, but obviously there is no point giving a duty to local authorities if those authorities do not have the funds to comply with the duty. I am aware that some new funding has been made available, but whether it is enough, I don’t know. And obviously extra funding will be required not just now, but into the future.

Moving on, questions are being raised over the future of the eleven regional divorce centres, which were established in 2015 to handle all divorce cases in England and Wales. As I mentioned here, in his latest View from the President’s Chambers the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane said that the centres

“are being phased out during the current 12-month period and replaced by an online system based in the new national Civil and Family Service Centre at Stoke on Trent.”

However, a government spokesperson has said that no final decision has been made on the divorce centres. The centres, whose performance has recently been criticised both by Sir Andrew and the previous President Sir James Munby, may have their problems, but I’m not sure it’s a good idea to transfer to an entirely online system, if that is what Sir Andrew is suggesting. We must remember that there are still many people, particularly of the older generation, who are not online, and in any event I’m not sure I would like a world in which we are all required to be.

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for April 2019, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received 1,084 new care applications. This is 2.3 per cent (25 applications) lower than April 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,719 new cases during April 2019. This is 7.5 per cent (258 cases) higher than April 2018. We are now having a clear picture of a long-term downward trend in care cases, and a long-term upward trend in private law cases.

And finally, the family justice system has come under scrutiny this week from the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire current affairs programme. On Wednesday we had a headline on BBC News which originally read “Children killed by parents after court-ordered access”, but was subsequently changed to “Call for inquiry into abusive parents’ access to children”, and yesterday we had a headline which read “Voices of children overlooked in family courts, says ex-head”.

Each headline was accompanied by much BBC television (and doubtless radio) coverage, not just on the programme but also on the news and elsewhere. The call for an inquiry came from a group of over 120 MPs, who wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice (and Lord Chancellor) David Gauke asking for the inquiry to look “into the treatment of victims of domestic abuse and violence in the family courts to establish the extent of the problem [i.e. of courts granting contact to parents who are known to be abusive] and if more fundamental reform is required to address this issue.” The call was rejected by the Prime Minister at Prime Minister’s Question Time on Wednesday, but I suspect that we have not heard the last of it.

Have a good weekend.

The post Week in family law: Support for abuse survivors, questions over divorce centres and calls for an inquiry appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch

Hubbert’s Peak

Hubbert's peak as projected in 1956

The controversial theory of Peak Oil

Whatever your feelings about the cost of oil, the means of obtaining it, or the effect that burning it has on the environment, one thing’s for sure: there’s a finite amount of it, so sooner or later it has to run out. At least, I hope so, because once all the oil’s gone, perhaps the planet will finally have a fighting chance against global warming. Many people, however, would take a decidedly negative view of the impending disappearance of the world’s oil reserves for all the obvious reasons. Either way, just how long will the oil last?

In 1956, a geophysicist named Marion King Hubbert developed a theory to predict future oil production. He assumed that for any given oil field, production follows a bell curve. After the well’s discovery, production quickly ramps up as new wells are added. But eventually, as the oil is drained from the underground reservoirs, the production rate hits a peak after which it begins to decline, eventually returning to zero. And what is true of an individual oil field should, Hubbert reasoned, be true for the entire planet as well. Using these assumptions and the best data he had available at the time, he plotted historical oil production on a curve and estimated that oil production in the United States would peak by 1970, and worldwide by the mid-2000s. The moment at which global oil production peaks came to be known as Peak Oil (or Hubbert’s Peak), while the overall theory that production of oil (or other products based on non-renewable natural resources) follows a bell curve in this way was called the Hubbert Peak Theory. After that time, there would of course still be plenty of oil, but the production rate would drop at about the same rate it rose, until eventually it was all gone.

Peak Performance

So now, over 60 years later, how did those predictions work out? Within the United States, at least, Hubbert’s prediction seemed for a while to have been off by just a year, as domestic oil production did indeed peak in 1971. But after several decades of decline, the number started rising again, and in 2018, U.S. oil production reached an all-time high. That false peak was due, in part, to the development of new techniques for extracting previously unreachable oil (such as hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, and the exploitation of oil sands). Presumably, if Hubbert had access to current data and knowledge of the latest technologies, he’d have had to revise his date forward considerably.

What’s true in the United States also goes for worldwide oil production. Although it appeared for a while that we had in fact already passed the peak worldwide—perhaps in 2004 or 2005—newer estimates put the peak far in the future, though experts are seriously divided as to how far. For every apologist of Peak Oil there’s also a naysayer, and the arguments against the theory are both wide-ranging and passionate.

Numerous researchers have taken exception to Hubbert’s math as well as his fundamental assumptions. To some extent, it appears that he started with a theory and tried to come up with data to support it, rather than the other way around. There’s no particular reason to assume, a priori, that oil production should follow a bell curve. It could have any number of dips and spikes, for many different reasons, over a long period of time; the aforementioned development of new extraction techniques is a case in point. Another type of claim is that anyone who buys into Peak Oil must have an agenda, either political or financial in nature; oil simply can’t, mustn’t, and won’t disappear any time soon. In any case, most critics admit that yes, there must logically be a worldwide peak in oil production eventually—with an end to oil production some time long after that—but that whenever this happens, it will be so far in the future as to make worrying now seem silly.

Increasingly, commentators have noted another factor: demand. Hubbert didn’t envision decreasing demand for oil, but if that occurred, then ipso facto, production would also decrease. Indeed, it looks increasingly likely that within our lifetimes, that will happen—even if peak production capacity has not occurred. In other words, “peak” doesn’t necessarily mean what Hubbert thought it meant.

Just Add Oil

But the most surprising criticism of Peak Oil is based on the claim that Earth can never run out of oil, because it simply keeps manufacturing more. We all learned in school that oil is a fossil fuel, created over many millennia by heat and pressure acting on the remains of plants and animals that lived and died eons ago. Because all that biological matter hasn’t been regularly replenished, once the planet’s supply of fossil fuel is gone, it’s gone. But according to supporters of the abiogenic petroleum origin hypothesis, oil never came from biological matter at all. It’s produced within the Earth’s crust and mantle by heat and pressure acting on ordinary and plentiful substances such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane. And what’s more, the production of new oil has never stopped: look in the right places in the right ways, and you’ll see oil reservoirs being replenished. This hypothesis first appeared in the 1870s, but it has never had much traction outside Russia and the Ukraine. Still, that hasn’t stopped Peak Oil opponents from using it to bolster their position.

Well, what if oil did run out—and what if that happened within, say, the next few decades? Once again, the reactions to this scenario vary dramatically. Some predict it will lead to a collapse of the worldwide economy, mass starvation, and perhaps even the end of the human race. Most pundits say it won’t be that bad; between now and then, we’ll develop the necessary technology to replace oil with something else for large-scale applications such as transportation; given the rapid progress in electric vehicles, that seems entirely plausible. And in between are survivalists who fear the worst but are figuring out how to live petroleum-free lives when the day comes.


What I find most striking about this entire debate is its emotional intensity. Websites both pro and con often consist of extremely long, sometimes boring, and often inscrutable rants accusing the other camp of all sorts of diabolical motives, along with insults and name-calling a-plenty. And all this over a theory that might never be proven one way or another—we could always end up finding massive, unexpected oil reserves (or easy ways of getting at more of the existing oil) far in the future, creating an entirely new production curve. Meanwhile, we already have the technology to generate our own oil from garbage, an infinitely renewable resource.

In short, if you want to worry about the price of oil, fine. If you want to worry about global warming, fine. I heartily support any and all efforts to develop alternative energy sources, conserve fuel, and protect the environment. But I can’t bring myself to worry about running out of oil. Either it will happen or it won’t, and if it does, it’ll be either sooner or later. But my money is on much later, by which time I fully expect the world will have either gotten over its oil dependence for other reasons or destroyed itself in any of several increasingly plausible ways. Either way: nothing to worry about.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on July 17, 2006.

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Author: Joe Kissell

My Recent Scratch and Dent Store Shops

My last trip to the scratch and dent store one ended up amazingly, discovering a great treasure: super frugal gluten free vegan raspberry cookies that my family devoured. I had some free time the other day between errands, so decided to run to the scratch and dent store in the hopes that I’d be able to buy more of those cookies… but unfortunately they only had a few of the packages there, so I

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Author: Penniless Parenting

3 Ways to Make Extra Cash for a Working Mom

We all know what its like to be short on both cash and time. Here’s some tips from a reader on how to make some extra cash, even as a full time working mom.

Do you find yourself running low on cash but it seems as if all you do is work? You could find many ways to make an extra income that does not require hard labor. It can be hard for mothers to find time and energy to work another job to

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Author: Penniless Parenting

An introduction to mediation and collaborative law

Whether your marriage is months, years or decades old there may come a day when you and your partner decide it is time to go your separate ways. There can be many reasons behind this, or just a single reason. Either way, if you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse are communicating well before and during the split, your divorce could be a candidate for alternative dispute resolution. “ADR” is not right for everyone, but it could be a good option for many approaching a divorce case.

Alternative dispute resolution is an umbrella term for collaborative divorce processes. Mediation is one of those divorce processes, in which a negotiation between the parties is facilitated by a neutral third-party, but not decided by that third-party. It allows the parties to speak directly with each other in order to communicate and to come to a resolution that they both can agree on. Negotiating often goes on between the parties, but they may include their own counsel with them during these mediation conversations.

If you and your partner are completely unable to get through a conversation without aggression or a breakdown in communication, mediation probably isn’t for you. However, many are able to communicate in a civil manner and mediation can be a great process by which a couple can help to decide their divorce resolution. This can be extremely helpful for child custody and parenting plan decisions that can be a factor in many divorces.

Understanding what process is right for you during a life-changing event like a divorce can make a huge difference in your personal experience and, potentially, the final outcome. It is up to you and your spouse to decide how to proceed. Obviously, both parties would need to agree in order for a mediation and collaborative law divorce strategy to be a viable and successful option.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

Dealing with an intractable children dispute, Part 2

Following on from my post yesterday, I now turn to the second Court of Appeal decision from early April concerning an intractable children dispute: L (A Child), which concerned an appeal by a mother against an order transferring the home of the child from that of mother and maternal grandmother in London, to that of father and the father’s new partner in Northern Ireland.

The appeal was heard by the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane. As he explained in the first paragraph of his judgment, the appeal concerned the approach to be taken in a case which, on the judge’s finding, falls short of attracting the labels “intractable hostility” or “parental alienation” (but nevertheless could certainly be described as an “intractable dispute”).

The facts of the case were that the parents separated some six years ago, when the child was two years old. He went to live with the mother and maternal grandmother, and he had had his main home with them since that time. In words sadly very similar to those of Lord Justice Jackson in yesterday’s case, the President explained that the child has been the subject of litigation in the Family Court since 2013.

In 2016 the court made an order by consent that the child should live with his mother, but providing for regular time with his father every third weekend in England, and for substantial periods in Northern Ireland during the school holidays.

In 2017 the child gave an interview to the local police in which he made assertions which, if true, indicated a lack of sufficient sexual boundaries in the father’s home. The matter was investigated by the court and in May 2018 His Honour Judge Tolson QC dismissed the allegations upon which the mother relied and found “to a very high standard of proof” that there had been no sexual or physical abuse by the father of his son. The child had been put up to say things to the police. The allegations, however, tainted all that followed.

The father applied for a change of residence. The application was heard by HHJ Tolson, who handed down judgment on the 3rd of December last. He noted various matters, including that Cafcass officers had outlined similar concerns since the litigation began. For example, a Cafcass officer had reported in July 2017 that they had significant concerns that the child was “caught up in a very acrimonious dispute between his parents and that inevitably he must be picking up on this.” Six months later another Cafcass officer reported that the child “described his mother entirely positively and his father entirely negatively.” Yet another Cafcass officer said that the child “was being emotionally harmed from the parental conflict”. Judge Tolson found that the mother and maternal grandmother had influenced the child against his father albeit, as indicated above, not to the degree that could be labelled “parental alienation”. He held that maintaining the placement with his mother and grandmother would not meet the child’s emotional needs and would cause him emotional harm in the future. He therefore concluded that the balance of advantage lay in a move to Northern Ireland.

The mother appealed to the Court of Appeal, arguing that the decision to transfer residence was premature, that the court had failed to ascertain the child’s wishes and feelings, and that the judge’s conclusions in respect of the balance of harm (i.e. between staying with the mother or moving to live with the father) were arguably wrong or insufficiently evidenced.

Before dealing with these three arguments the President made an important point. It has often been said that a transfer of residence is a “weapon of last resort” for the court to use when the primary carer is frustrating the wishes of the court. The President said that there was a danger in placing too much emphasis on the phrase “last resort”. He said that the test is, and must always be, based on a comprehensive analysis of the child’s welfare and a determination of where the welfare balance points in terms of outcome. Use of phrases such as “last resort” cannot and should not indicate a different or enhanced welfare test.

As to the child’s wishes and feelings, the President found that, in the circumstances of the case, the child’s Guardian had made the decision that to ask the question and to put this eight year old boy on the spot of expressing a choice would itself be emotionally harmful. Nevertheless, the Guardian had ensured that his voice had been heard “loud and clear” by the judge.

As to the arguments regarding balance of harm and prematurity of the decision, the President said that it may have been that the decision to move the child was finely balanced, but, as is well known, finely balanced welfare decisions are not susceptible to a successful appeal. It was not possible to say that the Judge was “wrong” in fixing the balance as he did in this case. The decision was not premature, as concern about the impact on the child of being at the centre of parental conflict was identified as long ago as 2013.

In short, the mother’s arguments had not been sustained. Accordingly, her appeal would be dismissed.

As I indicated at the beginning of my post yesterday, I believe that this case has useful things to say about intractable disputes between parents over arrangements for their children. It shows that the failure of a parent to address the court’s concerns can tip the balance in favour of a change of residence. And in particular it demonstrates once more that parental conflict must be cast aside, and the welfare of the child put first.

You can read the full judgment here.

The post Dealing with an intractable children dispute, Part 2 appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch


The town of Llívia

A little piece of Spain in France

As an American, I’ve always felt a bit embarrassed at my limited grasp of foreign languages. I have friends in Europe who speak four or five languages fairly fluently, and they rightly boggle when they hear that most Americans are monolingual. But for complicated historical, cultural, and political reasons, that’s just the way things turned out. However, I did take French classes in high school (and picked up quite a bit more during the years I lived in France), studied linguistics as a grad student, and picked up a handful of phrases in half a dozen other languages here and there, all of which probably makes me slightly less clueless as a tourist than many of my compatriots. I usually know at least enough to recognize which language I’m listening to. Years ago while driving through Europe, we stopped at a gas station in Austria near the Italian border, and when we asked for directions to a certain castle, the clerk’s response included French, German, and Italian words in the same sentence. I got the general drift of what he was saying, but I marveled at how intertwingled the languages had become in this border region.

All sorts of interesting things happen around international borders, especially when those borders are not clearly defined. While looking at France and Spain in an actual printed atlas (remember those?), I saw something I’d never noticed before: a tiny region in southern France surrounded by what appeared to be an international border, but without any label whatsoever to tell me what it was. Andorra, a small country that straddles the border between France and Spain, is nearby, but this little blip was farther east in the Pyrénées and clearly something different. The light bulb went on shortly thereafter when I was reviewing my list of suggested topics readers had sent in: someone wanted to see an article about a curious place called Llívia. That was the blip! Due to a series of weird historical, geographical, and linguistic flukes, an entire Spanish town ended up completely within the borders of France. But that’s just the beginning of the story.

All Around Town

Officially, Llívia is considered a Spanish enclave within France. It’s a small town of about 5 square miles (13 sq km), situated less than a mile (about 1km) from the Spanish border and connected to the rest of Spain by a single, small road. The town’s official website lists its current population as 1,456, though I’ve seen considerably lower and higher numbers. Whatever Llívia’s population may be, it’s historically important that it be considered a town rather than a village.

Llívia was a strategically important area as far back as the time of the Roman empire, and was considered the capital of the region known as Cerdanya, which includes portions of modern-day France and Spain. But it wasn’t until 1528 that Roman Emperor Charles V (known in Spain as Carlos I) formally designated Llívia a town—apparently more for reasons of history than of population. This decision was to prove momentous a little more than a century later, when France and Spain signed the Treaty of the Pyrénées and thus settled the dispute over the border between the two countries that had been the cause of decades of war. According to the terms of the treaty, the border was to run primarily along the main crest of the Pyrénées, and all villages north of that line were to become part of France. Spain insisted that, according to the letter of the law, Llívia must be excluded from French rule because it was not a village but a town—and that’s why Spain continued to control a parcel of land entirely inside France.

Llivid About That Border

In 1868, the border between the two countries was finally surveyed and delimited explicitly with a series of bordermarkers, numbering in the hundreds, including 45 just for Llívia. Most of these markers are simple chunks of stone, numbered consecutively and marked with “LL” on the Llívian side and initials representing the nearest French village on the French side; a few markers were made by carving numbers and letters into existing rocks. Locating and photographing these markers with the aid of maps or GPS has become a common tourist pastime.

Despite the seemingly conclusive nature of the bordermarkers, and despite the fact that Llívia is just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border, the two countries have tangled over the details of the border numerous times, with little pieces of land going back and forth according to the terms of the most recent lawsuit. One conflict involved the short road connecting Llívia to the rest of Spain: it was supposed to be neutral, but a certain French road crossed it. Each country felt its citizens should have right of way at the intersection, and ignored the other’s stop signs. Eventually an overpass had to be built, at Spain’s expense, to make the issue moot. At another, smaller intersection, a similar conflict was resolved by constructing a roundabout.

Que Parla el Català?

Good information about Llívia in English is hard to come by, though you can find some coverage on the web in French and even Dutch. When I first visited Llívia’s official website, though, I assumed it would be in Spanish. The text had a familiar look to it, but some of the words appeared to be Spanish while others appeared to be French. It took me a while to figure out that I was actually looking at neither Spanish nor French, but rather Catalan, one of the three official languages of the region of Spain known as Catalonia. Catalonia, which also encompasses Barcelona, is one of Spain’s 17 autonomous communities, with its own government and police force and considerable latitude to function, in many respects, independently of the nation as a whole. Thus, culturally speaking, Llívia is more of a Catalonian enclave than a Spanish enclave. (Times have changed since that first visit, by the way—the website is now also available in English, French, and yes, Spanish.) There’s now a popular movement pushing for Catalonian independence from Spain, which—if it ever takes off—could make Llívia’s status ambiguous once again.

Modern Llívia is scenic and quaint, known regionally for its annual music festival in August and a museum that contains Europe’s oldest pharmacy. You can stay in a three-star hotel and, during the colder months, enjoy good skiing nearby. If you happen to be passing through the Pyrénées, be sure not to miss it. (Helpful hint: going north, take the first right at Andorra and follow the signs…assuming you can figure out what language they’re in.)

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on June 12, 2006.

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Author: Joe Kissell

Site of the Week: Risky Biz

Suzanne Rose of Tennessee (and Suzanne Rose Consulting) started her blog recently, but swore me to silence for a while. Time’s up, Suzanne. Risky Biz dervives its name from the idea that running a law firm can be risky. It…

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Author: Jim Calloway