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Kara Swift
Kara Swift
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Family law and its people: image and truth

Date:10 DEC 2013

Professor Chris Barton, a Vice-President of the Family Mediators Association and Academic Door Tenant, Regent Chambers
Grenville Jay, Barrister, Regent Chambers

This article considers the gap between public opinion and the truth  with regard to family law and its main personnel, together with how that gap might be closed. After looking at the  impressions given in fiction, politics and the media, attention turns to what family lawyers themselves say,  via professional organisations, advertisements and blogs. This is followed by an analysis of opinions expressed by some of the users themselves. The survey ends with an account of the - considerably more favourable -  views of social scientists arising from their research findings.

The authors' own conclusions are that negative mythology arises from assumptions such as that the parties themselves are never unreasonable, disputes come to trial only because they are egged on by the lawyers, family lawyers only do it for the money, are overpaid, are parasites, maximising their returns from a court-based system of confrontation, and that the court system plays no role in deflecting or restraining  contentious attitudes. Barton and Jay also suggest  that there remains a problem of expectation - family lawyers can rarely do more than offer sensitivity and technical skill - before concluding that, eg, more awareness -  communicated to the public at large, not just scholarly revelations  -  of what actually happens in court would  help to move  disapproving perceptions nearer  to some happier realities.

The full version of this article appears in the December 2013 issue of Family Law.