The International Association of Matrimonial Lawyers (IAML) session titled “Catching up with the EU Maintenance Regulation: are England et al ‘Little Englanders’?” was presented by Tim Amos QC of Queen Elizabeth Building and hosted in the offices of Charles Russell which afforded a stunning view of the City night skyline. But why would I submit myself to an hour’s lecture on the technical intricacies of a new European law relating to maintenance on a Thursday evening? Three reasons:
1. I always advocate the value of “product” knowledge to marketers – if you don’t understand at least some of the advice and services provided by your clients, how can you help them promote them? I have spent the past couple of years presenting courses for CLT on developing private family law practices and the least I could do was to show willing now and again, put myself into my clients’ shoes and find out about their fast changing increasingly global world.
2. I have a fondness for QEB barristers, and for Tim Amos QC in particular. If there is anyone who can make dry, technical regulations accessible and interesting then it is he. And whilst I was extremely worried when he started by saying that some aspects were boring and complex, he delivered. I don’t know how but he made it possible for me to understand the vast majority of the material he covered – and I’m not even a solicitor!
3. I have a number of friends and colleagues who have divorced and had to grapple with multiple jurisdiction issues when their husbands/wives/kids were overseas. On a personal note, I know how frustrating it is to try and obtain child support when father lives in Barcelona (I gave up in the end!). I was genuinely interested to know if EU law would help those in a similar plight.
I am not going to pretend to understand the full impact of all the material presented. It served to show me that there are certainly occasions when having a knowledgeable lawyer will make a significant difference to your chances of success. The key things that struck me, as a layperson, as I listened were as follows:
a) The EU regulations are adopted by 25 of the 27 States. The UK and Denmark signed up late and there are therefore slight variations for dealing with these things in this country. The point was made that whilst the UK messes about arguing about whether we are in or whether we are out, the rest of Europe just gets on with it. And, as a result, we sign up late to stuff where we have missed the opportunity to contribute. I am probably a ‘Little Englander’ at heart, and this was a very real illustration of what happens as a result. I didn’t expect to have my political views modified on a Thursday evening with a glass of wine in my hand at a law office!
b) Conversely, the new regulation – as far as I can tell – means that maintenance orders agreed in other European countries cannot be reviewed in the UK – but they must be enforced. This sounded rather ominous.
c) Pre-nups (as far as maintenance goes) – if signed in other EU States – are effective in the UK. So why all the fuss about the Radmacher case, and not about these regulations?
d) Legal Aid, despite what we read in the press about its erosion, is still supported for European maintenance claims for children under 21. I was surprised to see it there enshrined in European law.