Pat retires at the end of this month and I find myself reminiscing daily about the times we have spent together and the huge changes in family law we have seen – and those that haven’t been.
Pat is a wonderful solicitor. Her judgement is second to none and her contribution to family law in South Yorkshire is, in my opinion, unrivalled. She is respected by her peers, the judiciary and most importantly her clients.
I will miss Pat. In the last 24 years, the longest we have gone without seeing each other is five weeks. I feel privileged to have worked alongside her and be trained by her and I cannot imagine what life will be like without her in the office.
We have become great friends and I have many memories and pictures of her – Pat at my wedding, holding my new born child, at his christening and so on. At every positive event in my life, Pat has been there to celebrate with me and she has supported me at my lowest points. The great thing is I know this will continue.
Family law has seen a number of changes in the last 24 years. Some were welcome and some less so. There can be no doubt the introduction of the Children Act and parental responsibility for unmarried fathers have gone a long way to ensuring children enjoy relationships with both parents after separation.
The abolition of the terminology ‘custody’ and ‘access’ has helped encourage parents to focus on the children’s interests and acknowledge that contact with both parents is actually a right. Some of the most welcome developments have been the introduction of the “yard stick of equality” and the concepts of sharing and compensation in family law. Pension sharing orders have also allowed for what most would acknowledge are fairer settlements, particularly after long marriages.
During Pat’s time in family law there has been a rise in the popularity of mediation and more recently Collaborative Law. Both processes give separating couples an opportunity to find solutions together rather than letting the court impose outcomes upon them.
So what other changes might she have liked to see? It is hard to believe that despite huge steps in children law for unmarried parents, there has been very little progress with regard to cohabitees, particularly considering the increase in couples now living together, rather than marrying.
One thing we all genuinely hoped would be introduced is the concept of no fault divorce. At present, until a couple has been apart for two years the only grounds on which they can start proceedings are adultery or behaviour. When we are encouraging the amicable resolution of issues, can there be any justification for forcing ex-partners to attribute blame for the breakdown of a marriage? Is that really better for children?
Family law has come a long way in the last 24 years and I have seen and worked through those changes alongside Pat. Who knows what the next two decades will bring? I for one will not be around to report. I hope, instead, to be taking afternoon tea with Pat – two former family lawyers enjoying friendship and retirement.