Family Law Newcastle and Sunderland

Ethics in Family Law


My name is Jacqueline Emmerson and I am Managing Director of Emmersons Solicitors, a firm I set up 20 years ago. This article is taken from a presentation I was asked to make to my local church about Ethics and the Law.

As you can imagine, in my professional life I have dealt with both the best and worst of human behaviour and morality. Becoming a solicitor is a hard road, not to be undertaken lightly. I am proud of the title, it is a professional title and with that comes professional obligations. The Law Society expects certain standards from its members. For example, as an officer of the court, I am expected to present the truth to the court at all times, even if my clients would rather I hid information from a judge.

Linking my work in Family Law to the Ten Commandments those that stand out are obviously thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal and honour thy mother and father.

My work as a family lawyer began in 1990 during my articles of clerkship. It is my early cases that have had the greatest impact upon me. As someone who had just left college, I was shocked at the things people were prepared to do to one another within a relationship. I had a huge desire to help those subject to domestic violence.

The first case I dealt with of that nature involved a lady who did not realise that she was being sexually assaulted by her husband. She was extremely vulnerable and I quickly had to take on board that by allowing her to proceed with an application for an injunction she was at further risk. Her actual concern was about being beaten up by her husband. Of course, there were children involved as well. They loved their father, his violence was normal for them. Now I was being tasked with breaking up this family, either father was about to become homeless or mother and the children had to leave and go to a women’s refuge, not nice for them.

My boss, of course, had been doing the job for years. He could see the situation for what it was. In the religious context, these children could not really be expected to honour their father. My client and the children needed to be protected and quickly. So I made my emergency application to the court to have the father evicted from his own home, I had him served with the documents that same day. I also contacted the local women’s refuge to obtain some support for my client and I contacted the police to put them on notice, that my client, who had moderate learning difficulties, would need protection. I am pleased to say that my client received the support she needed which enabled her and her children to live a life free from violence.

I represent some parents who can only see a divorce or separation from their own point of view. They think that their children will be as delighted about their new partner as they are! They can’t see that they may have just destroyed the trust of their children. Some of these parents really do take honour thy mother and father to heart whilst ignoring thy must not commit adultery.

My job is to persuade my client that they need to see things entirely from the point of view of their child. This requires tact. It can often progress in small steps, handy suggestions, examples given of what has worked well in the past. Access to Children, also known as Contact or Arrangements For Children stems from the right of the child to have a good relationship with all of his or her relatives, it is not the right of the parent to see the child.

Round Table Meetings or Collaborative Family Law can be very useful to iron out the problems that a separating couple may face. In this scenario, both parties meet with their respective lawyers and spend a couple of hours reaching an agreement. The important thing is to let each parent feel that they are being heard. In one case a chap had left his wife and children for another woman. In four months the children did not see their father other than in the company of this stranger who had replaced their mother. At the first Round Table Meeting his wife spent the first fifteen minutes outlining how she felt, she had had no previous opportunity to let her husband know how she and the children felt that is, devastated. The husband was shocked to learn that they felt this way. In his mind all was rosy in the garden, he was in love, he thought everyone else would share his joy.

In that case, the family were helped to move on. Dad was not to take his girlfriend when he saw the children it was to be their family time. Dad also acknowledged what he had done to his wife. Now she felt a bit better about the situation and so the angst was removed when dad came to collect the children.

Often the job of the lawyer is to make the best of a bad situation, we can’t make it perfect. I still haven’t forgotten that I was trained at the College of Law to try to encourage people to reconcile wherever possible. I am always happy to give advice to folk on how to get help to save their marriage. We sometimes refer clients to family therapists who can help to iron out emotional issues; often it’s the baggage from a party’s own parents that is killing the marriage.

The role of a solicitor is complex, doing the right thing for my clients and their children are essential. Eg. Giving parents a chance when they are using heroin, are alcoholics or have mental health issues is hard work. My attitude has always been to try to get them the help they need. It is not right to tell them from the off that they stand no chance of having their children returned to them and then do nothing to help.

Treating clients with dignity and compassion are essential elements in the role of a solicitor. Professional ethics should be taken very seriously and my job is also to pass on my ethics and integrity to the next generation of lawyers who I train.

If you need help with your divorce or separation, then why not contact us for a Next Steps Divorce Advice Session and to see how we can help you. We can be contacted on:

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