Divorce Petition fee hike

The Ministry of Justice reported late last week that there would be a 34% increase in divorce fees as of Monday 21 March 2016. This is despite strong opposition from many family lawyers who opposed the hike when the Ministry of Justice consulted on the issue last year.

You might be wondering, if you are about to commence divorce proceedings, why your Solicitor had not made you aware of the increase in the Court fee, which will now cost petitioners £550 as opposed to £410. This is because no formal announcement has been made by the government despite both houses of parliament having approved it. The information has come out of the various divorce units across the country who only found out late last week, a few days before the fee hike was due to be implemented.

It is disappointing that the Government decided not to wait for the Justice Select Committee’s findings from their inquiry in relation to court fees, but instead decided to hike the fee without making any announcement and without any formal consultation process. It has been reported that the actual administrative cost to the Ministry of Justice to issue divorce proceedings is around £270, meaning a profit based on the new hike of £280! Jo Edwards, Chair of Resolution has pointed out that this amounts to a ‘tax on divorce’ only two years after an increase. Ms Edwards shared this view with MPs at a House of Commons Justice Committee Hearing in December last year.

The £140 increase in the Court fee is unfortunately going to mean that many people will not be able to afford to divorce, which in turn will leave financial matters unresolved and keep couples financially tied to one another several months or years after separating. As Ms Edwards so eloquently put it “divorce is not a choice to litigate – it’s a necessary part of the legal process to bring a relationship to an end”. The fee hike shows no consideration for the pain and financial hardship suffered by many couples deciding to divorce.

If you are separating or considering getting a divorce it is important that you also deal with arrangements relating to any children and the financial aspects arising on divorce. At Gorvins we offer a personal, practical and collaborative service which assists when dealing with cases of a sensitive nature. If you need advice please contact me on 0343 507 5151 or email enquiries@gorvins.com and I would be more than happy to help you.

CAFCASS Case Increase – Cause for Concern?

As first published here; republished with permission.

February 2016 was a busy month for CAFCASS who have experienced a 10% compared to last year in new private law cases from 2,932 to 3,237 referrals. This is in stark contrast to the decline seen in 2014/15 when applications dropped by 27% on the previous year, with May 2014 being the lowest number of new cases received on record.

Who are they?

CAFCASS is short for ‘The Children and Family Court Advisory Service’.  They are an independent organisation which represents children in family court cases and ensures that the children’s voice is heard and decisions are taken in their best interests.

What are ‘private law’ cases?

This is a term used to refer to applications made following separation or divorce about the arrangements for children, such as where they will live and who they will spend time with.

What does the increase mean?

An increase in referrals means that more parents than ever are resorting to sorting out child arrangements through the Courts, rather than between themselves, via mediation or through solicitor correspondence. As a family lawyer this is concerning as it makes me wonder whether client’s are being given the right advice or whether their expectations are being managed appropriately. That being said, there are situations when an application to Court is entirely justified, for instance where contact is being denied and communication has broken down between parents.

Does CAFCASS always get involved?

CAFCASS will only become involved in a case at the request of the Court and after informing the parents/guardians. After this CAFCASS will carry out safeguarding checks with the Police and Local Authority and then conduct a telephone interview with both parties to see whether either has any concerns about the safety and welfare of the child(ren).

The CAFCASS officer will attend the first Court hearing to try and ascertain whether there are any areas of concern and to narrow the issues in dispute between the parties. After the hearing, the Court may direct CAFCASS to prepare a report regarding the child’s welfare, known as a ‘Section 7 report’. However it is the Court that makes the final decision after considering the evidence in the case, the CAFCASS report and the welfare checklist referred to in my previous blog ‘Madonna’s Mother’s Day Melancholy’.

What can you do if the current child arrangements are not working?

Family circumstances inevitably vary over time and the arrangements put in place five years ago may need to be reviewed and varied accordingly as your children increase in age. Unfortunately it is not possible for Courts to plan for every conceivable eventuality when making an Order. If your current child arrangements are not working then it is possible to vary these by consent, with the agreement of both parties or via Court proceedings.

At Gorvins we are committed to helping parents try to resolve their difficulties amicably without the requirement of Court proceedings where possible, but if this becomes necessary then we will strive to achieve the best outcome for a Client, always taking into account the child’s best interests. To discuss sorting out child arrangements with a member of our expert team, call us on 0343 507 5151 or email enquiries@gorvins.com.

No such thing as a “quickie” divorce

Last week it was widely reported in the media that the Blackadder star, Rowan Atkinson, worth an estimated £70 million, was granted a “quickie” divorce in 65 seconds from wife Sunetra after 24 years of marriage at London’s Central Family Court on grounds of his unreasonable behaviour.

There have been a string of quickie celebrity divorces reported in recent years, Mission Impossible star Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Beatles star Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills and X-Factor judge Cheryl Fernandez-Versini and England defender Ashley Cole.

So what is a quickie divorce and is it reserved for the rich and famous?

Unfortunately the media are perpetuating a family law myth; there is no such thing as a quickie divorce. Whilst no two divorces are identical and some are quicker than others, broadly speaking the process is the same and there are no celebrity shortcuts!

Divorce Procedure in England & Wales

There is only one ground for divorce and it’s not unreasonable behaviour as reported above, it is the “irretrievable breakdown of the marriage”, which is demonstrated by one of 5 facts:

  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Adultery
  • Two years’ separation with consent
  • Five years’ separation without consent
  • Desertion

One party known as the ‘Petitioner’ issues a Divorce Petition with the Court. The Court will then send a copy of the petition to the other party, known as the ‘Respondent’, accompanied by an Acknowledgement of Service form which they are required to complete and return to the Court.

Once received, the Court will send a copy of the Respondent’s acknowledgement to the Petitioner, who is then able to file an application for Decree Nisi with the Court. If the Court is satisfied that the Petitioner has sufficiently proven the contents of their petition and the Respondent does not wish to defend the proceedings, they will certify the Petitioner’s entitlement to a divorce and the matter will be listed for a Decree Nisi pronouncement hearing. If one party doesn’t agree to the divorce, you can still apply for a Decree Nisi but the Court will list the matter for a hearing where a Judge will decide whether to grant you a Decree Nisi.

This is not the final decree and the marriage is not dissolved until the Decree Absolute is granted. The Petitioner can apply for the Decree Absolute six weeks and one day from the date of Decree Nisi, but it is common to delay making the application until a financial settlement has been reached. There is no way of circumventing this process whether you’re Cheryl Fernandez Versini or Joe Bloggs!

So why are the media talking about a ‘quickie divorce’?

The suggestion that the Atkinson’s were divorced in 65 seconds is incorrect – what the media are actually referring to is the length of time it takes a Judge to pronounce the Decree Nisi. When the Court lists the matter for a Decree Nisi pronouncement hearing as referred to above, it will also list around 20-30 cases at the same time. A Judge such as District Judge Alderson in the Atkinson’s case, will pronounce the Decree Nisi’s in open Court – which is where the media lay in waiting for a juicy celebrity story.

Neither party is required to attend Court on this date as it is standard practice that the Decree Nisi is pronounced in the absence of the parties, which is why Mr and Mrs Atkinson were not in attendance. The only reason you would want to attend this hearing would be to make representations about costs if they were not agreed.

So how long does divorce actually take?

If everything proceeds smoothly divorce could take as little as 4-6 months, but in most cases it can take 6-12 months for the parties to reach a financial settlement. Delays are often seen in exchanging disclosure, protracted negotiations or due to one party issuing Court proceedings.

What can I do to speed things up?

Whilst you cannot circumvent the divorce process you can avoid the type of delays mentioned above by following these 3 steps:

  1. Obtain legal advice early on – if you’re thinking about divorcing it can be a daunting experience accompanied by anxiety about what the future holds. A good divorce lawyer can advise you as to the settlement options open to you in your case and which is likely to have the best result for you.
  1. Talk to your spouse – if you can agree at the outset who will be the Petitioner and Respondent and the content of the petition, including the fact to be relied upon and who will pay the divorce costs, proceedings will be issued more quickly. Similarly, if you are able to agree financial matters between you it will save time and money, but this should not be at any cost – which is why I suggest obtaining legal advice first. Even if you do reach agreement, it is important that you instruct a solicitor to embody your agreement into a Consent Order within divorce proceedings to be submitted to the Court for approval.
  1. Get your house in order – the Petitioner will need to provide their original marriage certificate to the Court, if you can’t find it apply for a certified copy from the Registry. To achieve resolution of financial matters, your Solicitor will need to identify the matrimonial assets available for division before advising as to how they should be divided. You can assist by collating information about your respective financial positions for e.g. 12 months’ bank statements, mortgage redemption statements, property valuations, cash equivalent transfer values for pensions etc.

If you are thinking about divorce or any family law matter please do not hesitate to contact me on 0343 507 5151. The Family and Matrimonial team at Gorvins can advise you as to the likely length of proceedings and the best way to protect your interests on divorce. If you prefer, you can send an email addressed to me at enquiries@gorvins.com.

Surrogacy Law Leaves Baby Boy Parentless – Time for Change?

A baby boy born to a surrogate mother as part of a commercial surrogacy arrangement has been left without a legally recognised parent in the UK due to a curiosity in the law. The surrogacy arrangement was made between an American mother and a UK man, however a UK court refused to recognise the man as the boy’s father because he is single.

The boy was born just over one year ago in Minnesota after the father paid £30,000 to become a parent using his own sperm, a donor egg and a surrogate mother. Whilst the man is genetically the boy’s father and is recognised as the boy’s sole parent by an American court, even with complete agreement from the surrogate mother the UK courts cannot legally formalise the agreement under the law. This has meant that the boy is left without a family and is a ward of the court under the law.

The case has highlighted a glaring problem in the legal framework and one which seems to be contrary to equality principles. senior Family Judge Sir James Munby, stated that this could not be a permanent solution but that he did not have the power to grant a parenting order to the man.

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008 dictates that parenting orders in surrogacy cases may only be granted to couples. Couples may be married or cohabiting and same-sex or heterosexual. However, the law on surrogacy does not match that of adoption where single people are permitted to become parents.

Sir James Munby in his judgement outlined that parliament discussed amending the law around seven years ago to enable single parents to be granted parenting orders however, this was not carried forward. It was considered by parliament that surrogacy is a fundamentally different arrangement to adoption or IVF treatment as the woman is making the agreement to hand over the child to someone else prior to conception, the junior health minister of the time stated that this arrangement was of such ‘magnitude’ that it required a couple. However the Barrister working on behalf of the man involved, Elizabeth Isaacs QC, outlines that the couple requirement was an offence to the principles of 21st Century family, she said there should be:

“no discrimination against the increasingly different kinds of family which society is creating” and added that the welfare of the boy which should be the courts primary consideration is not being properly served by his current circumstances. However, as the law is clearly stated in primary legislation, it will be up to parliament to rectify the law before the boys arrangements can be changed.

Sir James Munby discussed the difference in the law of adoption and surrogacy describing it as “both very striking and, in my judgment, very telling”. He highlighted that it must represent a clear difference of policy as both in 1990 when the law was created and in 2008 when it was again discussed, Parliament determined that surrogacy required a couple and thus a distinction from the law of adoption. However, this case may pave the way for a change in the law as it will still be open to the man to bring a legal challenge claiming that the law under the 2008 Act is incompatible with human rights, given the situation the he and his biological son now find themselves in.


Image credit: Norbert Eder, Flickr

Ashley Madison Account Hacked? Well, Your Divorce Can Still Be Private

As the Tampa Bay Times reported a few months ago, a website hack has meant that thousands of spouses have been caught red-handed while trying to cheat. AshleyMadison.com, a website that bills itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating,” was targeted by a “hacktivist” group who made public the website’s clientele list and their personal information.

This hack has left many marriages on the rocks. No matter how you look at it, divorce is difficult, and so hopefully most of the marriages can be saved with the help of trusted clergy or a marriage and family therapist. But the train may have already left the station for many of the marriages.

Though the hack may have made Ashley Madison’s clientele list public, separating spouses can still maintain a modicum of dignity and keep the details of their divorce private. The collaborative divorce process gives spouses the opportunity to spare their children, family, friends, and others from learning the specifics of why they are separating by resolving their divorce issues in private conference rooms rather than in a public courthouse. In collaborative divorce there are no court reporters, no transcripts, and no judging by a public official.

The collaborative process is a voluntary process, and so each spouse must agree to it. They each retain attorneys who pledge to focus solely on helping the spouses reach a full out-of-court settlement; the attorneys are contractually-barred from engaging in costly and destructive contested proceedings (they cannot file contested pleadings or motions, and they cannot appear at trials or other hearings where the parties are not in agreement).

This means that, unlike the traditional divorce process, spouses in the collaborative process are not seen as “opposing parties” but as teammates. Attorneys do not use their legal skills to engage in opposition research, but to help the clients reach an agreement that is acceptable to both.

As a spouse may have been caught cheating, there is likely to be a lot of anger and mistrust. The collaborative model recognizes that divorce is not just a legal process, but also an emotional process. This is why a neutral facilitator, who generally has mental health training, is usually engaged to help spouses cut through the emotional clutter that might otherwise block an agreement and help them focus on the future and what is most important to them (i.e., the children).

In any divorce, Florida law requires there to be certain financial disclosure. In the traditional divorce, financial documents and information are made part of the court record. In a collaborative divorce, a neutral financial professional is oftentimes engaged to serve as a repository of the spouses’ financial information and ensure that they can verify the other spouse’s information. The financial professional can also help develop support and asset distribution options that are specifically tailored to the particular family and ensure that both parties have a financial plan to help them transition from married to single life.

Though your Ashley Madison account may have been made public, the details of your divorce can still remain private via the collaborative process.

If you have questions about divorce, schedule a consultation with Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover is managing attorney at Family Diplomacy and now practices exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution. He is president of Next Generation Divorce, a 501(c)(3) and Florida’s largest collaborative practice group. He is also on the Executive Board of the Collaborative Family Law Council of Florida and on the Research Committee of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals.

Tips for a Thorough Child Support Agreement

Top Tips for a Thorough Child Support Agreement (Based on family law in Queensland, Australia & generally):-

As the unavoidable unfortunately happens, your child’s welfare has to be prioritised. Divorce or separation is never easy, but this does not mean your child’s interests will be compromised.

More than ever, this is where your child’s crucial years must be constantly nurtured. It’s always best to consult with a Family Law expert to maintain a well-covered settlement.

Here are some tips you’ll need to consider as you draft and finalise your child support agreement:

  • Time spent with each parent
  • Budget capacity of ex-spouses
  • Payment schedule
  • Logistical arrangements
  • Miscellaneous support
  • Time spent with each parent

It’s equally important for the mother and father to be around as a child grows up. As much as possible, a balance between time spent and payables (monetary obligations) must be made.

While 50-50 shares are optimal, each ex-spouse’s financial situation might vary. The other one may have enough income to cover for most of the obligations, but will lack enough quality time to spend for the child. The opposite situation may apply for the other parent.

In this case, special and non-working holidays might be given to the busy parent. This may serve as a life’s highlight to the little one, as a whole day will be dedicated for bonding.

  • Budget capacity of ex-spouses

The child support agency will most probably calculate the budget needed for the child, until he or she reaches 18. Both parents may refer to these publications released by the Australian government, so as to estimate the budget they’ll need to devote for their children:

These publications and links can come up with customised budgets after gauging your situation (profession, educational attainment, working skills, living situation, etc.). All these will be factored in, towards estimating how much you can pay within an agreed schedule with your ex-partner.

  • Payment schedule

Aside from rates, payment schedules are one of the most challenging items to be agreed between ex-spouses. Payments are usually made on a monthly basis, depending on the frequency needed by the child. Ideally, the child’s needs should be prioritised over the parents’ payment capacity.

A Court Order is highly advisable to maintain regularity of payments. You may agree for either parties to both have District Attorneys or DAs on stand-by, should either of the two refuse to give their justifiable obligations.

  • Logistical arrangements

Each partner must be within reach to cover for the child’s needs. This means distance should not be a factor for both ex-spouses, regardless of which state or country they may be based. It is actually ideal for either of the parties to be within a few kilometres from each other, since quality time with their child will be of utmost priority.

If either of the two would constantly have a hectic schedule, then a bank account may be made as a supporting facility for the child. Both partners can schedule for fund transfers, so the budget may be acquired within specific periods of time.

  • Miscellaneous support

Future plans or insurance agreements should also be arranged, apart from setting some quality time and budget for the child. There are insurance policies which take care of a child’s health and other unforeseen incidents, such as accidents, injuries or critical illnesses.

Should an illness be diagnosed, a monthly payment fee can be agreed to cover for treatments. Some conditions may affect a child as he or she grows up which is why aside from clinical support, the little one may need to be cared for by other means (support groups, care centres, therapists, etc.).

Your child needs utmost support during this difficult time. These pointers should guide you in thoroughly covering for your little one. His or her quality of life while growing up will be highly dependent on what you’ll arrange with your ex-partner, and how you’ll follow through on the agreement. For an objective and optimal set up, a family lawyer’s expertise will be necessary.

Image Credit: Hagerty Ryan

Tampa Divorce Lawyer Rejects Court System

The court system publicly pits husband versus wife, mother versus father, according to collaborative lawyer Adam B. Cordover. On the heels of the fifth anniversary of his law firm, he declares that he will no longer take part and announces his firm’s new focus and name as Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm.


“When a person steps into a courthouse to file for divorce, he or she is entering an adversarial system pitting spouse versus spouse,” says Tampa attorney Adam B. Cordover. He has seen families publicly tear themselves apart in the court system, and he has decided to do something about it. Cordover will now practice exclusively in out-of-court dispute resolution, with a focus on collaborative divorce, mediation, direct negotiations, and unbundled legal services.

And on July 31, 2015, the fifth anniversary of the establishment of The Law Firm of Adam B. Cordover, P.A., Cordover has changed his firm’s name to reflect this new focus. His firm is now “Family Diplomacy: A Collaborative Law Firm.”

“We have wonderful and caring judges, but they are limited in a system that turns parents into ‘opposing parties’ and attorneys into opposition research experts,” says Cordover, who will no longer appear in contested court hearings. “There are better, private methods, such as collaborative divorce, to help families resolve their differences and still maintain a relationship and their dignity once the divorce is finalized.”

Collaborative divorce, sometimes called collaborative law or collaborative practice, starts with a pledge by both spouses and their attorneys: Everyone will focus solely on reaching an agreement outside of court. In the unlikely event that the parties cannot reach an agreement, the collaborative attorneys withdraw and the parties may retain trial counsel (nationally, the collaborative success rate is around 90%, similar to the settlement rate of all divorces).

Each spouse in a collaborative divorce is represented by his/her own attorney, who will not waste any time, money, or energy on costly discovery tactics, motion practice, or trial preparation. Confidential discussions are had in private conference rooms rather than hearings in public courtrooms. The spouses agree to be open, honest, and transparent, and to focus on the future rather than the arguments of the past. The spouses and their attorneys work as a team to address all issues rather than as adversaries to attack each other. Experts are jointly retained to help tailor parenting plans specific to their children’s needs and financial solutions to help each spouse hit the ground running in their newly single lives.

All types of couples have decided that collaborative practice is right for them: business owners who want to minimize public exposure of their finances or trade secrets; professionals and high-profile individuals who want to keep embarrassing private personal details out of the limelight; gay and lesbian partners who never were officially married but want to work out the dissolution of their relationship; and parents who recognize that, though their marriage may be ending, a relationship of some sort will need to continue with the other parent for many years to come.

“My goal is to help families resolve their divorce issues as peacefully as possible,” says Cordover. “I have witnessed ‘War of the Roses’ and ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ divorces, and I no longer wish to be a part of them.”

Learn more at www.FamilyDiplomacy.com or 813.443.0615.

Parents defending themselves after Legal Aid Cuts could be damaging for Children

As legal aid availability continues to be cut, an increasing number of parents with little to no legal knowledge are being forced to represent themselves in Court for family cases.

Most of these cases are situations whereby custody or time splits for children from an estranged or separated couple is being decided. Whilst finding adequate legal support for low income parents has always been a struggle, since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act in 2013, which was defeated 14 times in the House of Lords, the problem has undoubtedly become far more serious.

Solicitor firm providers by category of civil legal aid work (Government Statistics)

Financial Year/Quarter Legal Help Mediation Civil Representation
2012-13 Apr-Jun 2,570 148 2,683
Jul-Sep 2,490 146 2,647
Oct-Dec 2,456 144 2,639
Jan-Mar 2,384 150 2,645
2013-14 Apr-Jun 2,381 166 2,596
Jul-Sep 2,294 176 2,536
Oct-Dec 2,199 172 2,665
Jan-Mar 2,124 168 2,547
2014-15 Apr-Jun 2,065 155 2,459
Jul-Sep 1,926 153 2,365
Oct-Dec 1,846 162 2,321
Jan-Mar 1,830 159 2,224


As this table (1) shows, the number of solicitor firms that have been providing legal aid has decreased significantly over the last three years, whilst the number of firms providing legal aid for mediation proceedings has not changed much over time.

The consequences of this drop in legal aid providers has been a dramatic drop in access to legal aid, with overall legal aid provision in 2012-13 dropping by more than 500,000 to 1.6 million cases. More specifically, family hearing legal aid provision dropped by 200,000 to 132,000 and social welfare legal aid dropped by 230,000 to 65,000.


In almost every type of case, legal aid provision has dropped significantly, with criminal cases experiencing the least withdrawal of legal aid support.

The LASPO 2012 Act, which was enacted in 2013, took legal aid off the table for family cases (unless there was proof of domestic violence) and housing and debt cases (unless they significantly impacted the family) and most clinical negligence cases.

Resulting issues

The inevitable truth is that the vast majority of cases where legal aid has been removed involve people who are vulnerable due to poverty, abuse and lack of access to education.

Another resultant issue is that increasing instances of self representation is leading to cases that do not take into account how long the case takes to complete, or the impacts of a contested hearing.

Increased self-representation has inevitably lead to more extended hearings, which are clogging up the system as legal definitions and paperwork issues cause delays. Without appropriate legal knowledge, both parties in a custody hearing are likely to lack legal sense, be less clear and cause confusion in arguments.

A confused and extended hearing is liable to create more animosity and frustration, which will only negatively impact the child further.

“The Children Act says that the welfare of the child is paramount in these cases, which is a given. But it also says delay is the enemy of a child’s best interests, and so anything which means that the resolution of a child’s interests takes longer, must be damaging to the child.”
– Crispin Masterman (Family Judge)

Potential solutions

The government has suggested that in decreasing the provision of legal aid, they are encouraging families and parties to seek mediation rather than attempting to represent themselves in Court. This works well in theory, as mediation is often more amicable and can lead to a smoother settlement.

However, the table shows that people are not seeking mediation, with the instances of mediation barely changing whilst self-representation rises and legal aid drops.

The Ministry of Justice has put into action changes to provide legal aid for mediation hearings for both parties, and hopefully this will result in an increase in this cheaper, quicker and less stressful alternative to the court system being taken up more frequently, although as I have commented in an article for ADR Times, this move does have all the hallmarks of ‘using a sticking plaster to treat a severed limb’.


The continuing consequences of the LASPO 2012 Act are still being realised, but support and solutions are being put into place. The Ministry of Justice is aware of the weaknesses in the decision, but looks likely to stay the course; it will attempt to improve the civil justice system in the long run, whilst fighting the teething issues that the current system is showing.

Although these changes will save the government money, until sustainable long term solutions are available to those who truly need legal help, the vulnerable and those in poverty will suffer in the short term.

In the meantime, there are non-governmental directions a worried parent or spouse can take. There are no-win, no-fee lawyers (that will still end up costing you) and there are also legal charities that are able to support some cases (but still not enough).

Grandparents: the silent sufferers when their children get divorced

When parents get divorced, they are encouraged to sort out arrangements for any children between themselves, so that things can remain as amicable as possible. The best interests of the children should be the focal consideration and both parents should continue to have a strong involvement in their lives, so long as there are no welfare issues to consider.

The concept of ‘custody’ was traditionally used to define who children of divorce would predominantly live with; however, this has been abolished and, instead, parents will make ‘child arrangements.’ The change in terminology was an attempt to remove the concept of one parent being the ‘winner’ and one the ‘loser’, and to keep parties focused on making decisions based on what is best for the children.

In the event parents cannot agree on arrangements in relation to their children, they can apply to court for a child arrangement order to be made. Their right to apply is an automatic one, which means that although a parent may worry about the outcome of the application, they can relax somewhat in the knowledge that the court will make the best decision for the children.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for grandparents in such circumstances. When their children decide to divorce, this can mean an uncertain future in relation to contact with their grandchildren. This is due to the fact that if one of the children’s parents decides they do not want the grandparents to maintain contact with the children, the grandparents do not have an automatic right to apply to court for a child arrangement order to be made. Instead, they must apply to the court for permission to make an application for such an order.

It goes without saying that grandparents in the above position should always attempt to negotiate with whichever parent is making contact difficult for them. However, when such negotiations aren’t successful, many people argue that grandparents should have an automatic right to apply to the court for a child arrangement order.

The above argument is based on the fact that many grandparents have extremely close relationships with their grandchildren, and it can be traumatic for both the children and the grandparents when such relationships come to a very sudden halt upon divorce. Many people also find it unfair that relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren should stop because of ill-feelings between the parents. Neither the grandparents nor the children should be punished because of any animosity between parents.

Whilst there have been parliamentary debates about the difficulties grandparents face in maintaining contact with their grandchildren after divorce, no action has been taken yet. In the 2008 report, ‘Beyond the nuclear: Including the wider family’[1], it is pointed out that the government argues that if grandparents had an automatic right to apply for contact, this could impact a child’s rights being paramount. The government claims that it would be hard for a child’s welfare to be considered, or for their rights to be protected, if grandparents were not required to request permission to apply to court.

The main problem with the government’s argument is that it is not consistent. Any potential welfare issues that could emerge from providing grandparents with an automatic right to apply for contact surely already attach to the existing automatic right that allows parents, or those with parental responsibility, to apply for contact.

It is important to note that no one is campaigning for grandparents to have an automatic right to contact, as this could indeed be detrimental. Instead, they should simply be granted an automatic right to be acknowledged and considered in child arrangements.

Providing grandparents with an automatic right to apply for a child arrangement order, would signify the important role they play in many families. Eliminating the need to request permission to make an application to court would remove one huge hurdle that grandparents currently often need to go through during an already emotionally draining and troubling time. This would make the process easier and, hopefully, in cases where it is appropriate, allow contact to resume as soon as possible.

[1] http://www.fnf.org.uk/phocadownload/research-and-publications/research/Including_the_Wider_Family.pdf


One rule for him and another for her as Oklahoma Supreme Court dismisses Sue Ann Arnall’s appeal

In November 2014, Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources, was ordered to pay his ex-wife Sue Ann $995.5 million in what was described as one of the biggest divorce settlements in history. With the award representing only a fraction of Mr Hamm’s estimated $18 billion empire, Sue Ann appealed, claiming that she should be entitled to a much heftier settlement due to her significant contributions during their 26-year marriage. Conversely, Harold made his own appeal, arguing that the almost $1 billion figure was excessive.

On 28/04/15, the Oklahoma Supreme Court dismissed Sue Ann’s appeal in a 7-2 decision, stating that she had forfeited her right to appeal in January, when she took possession of the marital property that had been awarded to her and cashed a cheque for $975 million. The Supreme Court did not dismiss Harold’s appeal.

The two dissenting judges branded the above decision ‘old fashioned’ and ‘draconian’. They suggested that if the only way to maintain the right to appeal was to reject the tendered cheque, this would allow the husband absolute and unfettered control over the marital property during the pendency of what could be a lengthy appeal. Not only would this provide Harold with the opportunity to deplete the marital property (admittedly a rather onerous task considering the extent of his wealth), but it would also leave Sue Ann, and other women in such a position, potentially unable to afford the cost of living in the interim period between the court ruling and the appeal. Surely it is inequitable for those who are unhappy with a court decision to have to choose between affording to live and appealing a ruling?

Not only does the Supreme Court’s ruling seem outdated, but more importantly it appears to be bias towards Harold. For if the court thinks that accepting the tendered cheque removes the right to appeal for the wife, then surely, using the same logic, writing the cheque should also remove the right for the husband. Using the basic concept of offer and acceptance, it could be argued that if there is a ‘no returns’ policy for Sue Ann, then there equally shouldn’t be room for Harold to recall the cheque that he presented to his ex-wife. It is potentially inequitable and inconsistent of the court to draw a distinction between the party’s actions.

Ironically, Oklahoma is an equitable distribution state, which means that divorce settlements must be just and reasonable. One of the big considerations for judges dealing with such disputes is what each spouse needs in order to move forward following their separation. Understandably, the judges who reviewed Sue Ann’s appeal would have found it very difficult to sympathise with an argument, claiming a life with only $1 billion is not worth living; however, they should have also considered factors such as her contributions during the marriage, as well as providing a more impressive basis for dismissing her appeal.

Craig Box, one of Mr Hamm’s attorneys, has said that it is too early to comment on whether or not Harold will appeal. However, the likelihood is that he will not and that, instead, he will be delighted with the dismissal of his ex-wife’s appeal. There is even room to suggest that Harold was content with the initial ruling in November, and appealed against it himself simply to highlight his disdain for Sue Ann’s appeal. After all, although $995.5 million is more money than most people could ever dream of earning, it is only a minute fraction of his overall wealth and therefore he could well have been relieved with the county court’s decision.

One thing that has been made very clear by the Supreme Court’s ruling is that the Oklahoma state does not believe equity necessarily requires equality. Whereas the UK has gained a reputation for being the ‘divorce capital of the world’ due to its generous divorce settlements that often entail a 50/50 split of assets, the Oklahoma courts clearly do not mirror this approach.