So. We thought we would talk with a divorce lawyer from another country to get a sense of divorce issues in other jurisdictions. To that end, we invited UK solicitor (former solicitor) John Bolch who is the author of the divorce blog, Family Lore, for a fireside chat about all things divorce in England. Here is an excerpt from our talk:
DIVORCE SALOON: Hello Mr. Bolch! So nice to chat with you today.
JOHN BOLCH: Hi. Thanks for asking me. Oh – and call me John!
DIVORCE SALOON: Okay. John. First of all, we should introduce you to our audience. Better yet, why don’t you introduce yourself. Tell us please who you are and what do you do?
JOHN BOLCH: I am a solicitor qualified in England and Wales. For about 25 years I specialised in family law, until I left practice last year. I am the author of the Family Lore blog, which was the first blog in the UK written by a family lawyer, and its companion site, Family Lore Focus. I am also the author of Do Your Own Divorce, a guide for litigants in person.
DIVORCE SALOON: Oh wow. We had no idea you were so accomplished or that you were a pioneer blogger. Now we are totally humbled that you have agreed to speak with us….So as a divorce solicitor… Well, let me start by asking for a quick primer for those of us across the pond who do not know the difference between a barrister and a solicitor. What does a divorce barrister do as compared to a divorce solicitor? How does one become a divorce barrister as compared to a divorce solicitor? And why would a practitioner choose to be one versus the other?
JOHN BOLCH: In a nutshell, barristers do advocacy and give advice, and solicitors do everything else (although many solicitors are also advocates). Essentially, clients instruct solicitors, and solicitors instruct barristers. A barrister would say that a lawyer is a solicitor because they are not good enough to be a barrister, and a solicitor would say that a lawyer is a barrister because they like the sound of their own voice! As to qualification, both sides of the profession begin with a law degree, but then they do quite different vocational training courses, followed by training in a barrister’s chambers or a solicitor’s office, as appropriate.
DIVORCE SALOON: Interesting. There are so many follow up questions to that but we are pressed for time as you are very busy. But I should say, here in the United States, an attorney can only practice in the state in which he or she is admitted after sitting for a bar examination. At that point, he or she can practice in any area of law in that particular state, but no other state unless admitted to each individual state. I assume that a solicitor or barrister in England, once admitted, can practice throughout the country without having to pass another bar examination. Is that correct? What is the process for admission to the family law bar in your jurisdiction? What is the procedure for “specialization”, (if there is a procedure), in any particular area of the law?
JOHN BOLCH: Yes, a solicitor or barrister qualified in this country can practise (English spelling!) anywhere in England and Wales. There is no mandatory specialist training in any area of the law, although many lawyers here are members of specialist panels or organisations, which require specialist training.
DIVORCE SALOON: I see. Now, we realize that elections are coming up in England? How about those Tories? Do you think that their tax policies/proposals towards married couples will help rid London of the dubious reputation of being the “divorce capital of the world?” Or will the expense of footing these tax cuts simply turn England into the new Greece?
JOHN BOLCH: More likely the latter I think! Yes, unfortunately we have an election coming up in the next few months, although no date has yet been fixed – we have a strange (some would say unfair) system whereby the government gets to choose the date of the election. The Tories have decided that the family should be a major election issue, promising to promote marriage by giving tax breaks to married couples. Personally, I seriously doubt that such a policy will make any discernible difference.
DIVORCE SALOON: Wow. The government randomly chooses the date of election? That’s wild! Well, why do you think that London has emerged as the divorce capital of the world? What is beneath this disturbing trend in your opinion? What has caused this massive disequilibrium in the institution of matrimony in London and the rest of England?
JOHN BOLCH: Well, firstly there is no great difference between the approach of the courts in London as against the rest of the country – it’s just that most of the ‘big money’ cases are commenced in London. As to why we are considered to be the divorce capital of the world, this is because in recent years our courts have been comparatively generous towards wives in big money cases, so that wives that have a choice have issued proceedings here, hoping to achieve a better settlement. This goes back to a case ten years ago that introduced the ‘yardstick of equality’, which replaced an essentially needs-based approach, and resulted in wives in big-money cases receiving much bigger settlements.
DIVORCE SALOON: Quite. It’s always about the money. Well, let’s discuss the state of divorce and family law practice in UK, from a practitioner’s perspective for a moment. What are the emerging trends occurring at the moment that worry you the most as a practitioner?
JOHN BOLCH: Thankfully, I am no longer a practitioner, as I mentioned earlier. Having said that, I suppose that the greatest concern is the lack of resources going into the system, which is causing cases to take longer and longer – as it is, some courts are barely functioning, and I can only see the situation getting worse, as the recession is likely to cause further cutbacks. This is especially worrying in respect of cases involving the welfare of children.
DIVORCE SALOON: Quite. The recession is killing everybody. One of our contributing writers has written a eBook called The Recession Made Me Eat It. You should get a copy for a good laugh….Anyways, the other day, you discussed on your blog, Family Lore, an article in the Times that “highlights the increasing concerns of those in the family justice system at the proposals to further open up the family courts to the media.” Can you tell us what is your opinion on this proposal? Should the media have more or less access to the family court proceedings in Britain?
JOHN BOLCH: In my view, the ‘problem’ of ‘secretive’ family courts is blown up out of all proportion by groups seeking an opening up of the courts, such as the media. Having said that, I’m not against more media access subject, of course, to proper safeguards to protect the children that the system is dealing with.
DIVORCE SALOON: Interesting. I almost expected you to object to that vehemently. Well, I guess with proper safeguards there’s no harm…Well, so I was reading your blog this morning and I have a very important question: What is “Viagra for bloggers” and how can one obtain it?
JOHN BOLCH: You should really ask my fellow UK blogger Charon QC – this was a figment of his fertile imagination! However, for the right price I could tell you where to get some…
DIVORCE SALOON: Oh my word! LOL. Thank you for stopping by, John.
JOHN BOLCH: My pleasure. Keep up the great work at Divorce Saloon!
DIVORCE SALOON: Thanks. We’ll try.
Bio – John Bolch studied law at Reading University and The College of Law, Chester. He was admitted as a solicitor on April Fool’s Day 1985, which has always seemed somehow appropriate. For the next twenty-four years he worked almost exclusively in family law, dealing primarily with divorce, ancillary relief (financial/property settlements on divorce), private law children matters and cohabitee disputes. He was also a member of Resolution and of the Law Society’s Family Law Panel. Mr. Bolch gave up practising in 2009 and now work freelance as a writer of family law. His first book, Do Your Own Divorce was published in August 2009. His second book, An Introduction to Family Law, is being published as part of the Insite Law Free Legal Resource Project. Mr. Bolch also runs the website Family Lore Focus, which includes Family Lore News, the Family Lore Case Digest and The Family Law Wiki.
You can email John Bolch at: john[at]familylore.co.uk
Interview conducted by Divorce Saloon Creative Director/Chief International Correspondent: Marion TD Lewis, Esq, LL.M