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Family Law

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04 JAN 2011

Penny Booth: So here we are in 2011, and what have we got?

Penny BoothWe are talking about - making prostitution legal, surrogacy (with special reference to same-sex male couples becoming fathers), prenuptials and contracts, late-onset parenthood (sounds like a medical condition - probably more of a headache than late-onset migraine) and just the merest hint of supporting the family entity - oh yes, and a bit of sex. Not necessarily in that order, eh?

It is good to read that we might well have prenuptial agreements but I want to hear the arguments for and against debated in Parliament. That way, the public will get hold of it and have a chance to voice their views through media coverage and, we hope, in our brave new ‘big society' the Honourable Members will hear what we have to say about it all. Since we can't have a referendum on everything, the MPs had better ‘listen up'. I still can't help feeling that we have had our current system for so long (and the consequent case decisions influencing the application of the law in our common law approach) that prenups really are for the wealthy and will have little impact for the majority of people - a percentage of not very much remains ‘not very much' whether you agree to it or not.

Should there be a limit on parenthood? (Yes - I think that you should only have to put up with active parenthood for so many years before you earn time off purgatory, but that's only the effects of seasonal holidays bearing down on me). Mother Nature does tend to step in and ‘self-limit' (for good reason, I think) opportunities to be the parent of a baby, child, teenager as one gets older it is no joke to perform the duties. I think when it happens ‘by accident' then that is one situation, but to engineer late-onset parenthood (whether singular or both of you) does not appear to me to be the best use of dwindling health resources, nor does it seem fair on the resultant child - brought into the world deliberately with elderly parents and life beckoning. I'm with Tony Archer and his mother on that one - anyone following Helen and her chosen singular parenthood on the Archers, Radio 4?

The effective reduction of child benefit over the next 18 months or so is probably ‘a good thing' overall - but it hardly seems fair to bring it in so quickly. I know, I know... it would not be a reduction in spending to support the ConDem coalition Government were it brought it more gradually, but that doesn't make it fair. If you are doing it simply to reduce expenditure, then make that clear - if it is a policy to persuade people that they should only have children they can afford to keep, then you really are going to need more time on that one. There are so many other measures coming in (VAT-smack-in-the-face this week, for example - we are all going to get ‘vatted' in the mouth) that will squeeze families over the next few years, and a change to the availability of child benefit, whilst I agree with it, needs to be combined with a longer period and a better policy for self-sufficiency.

Legalise prostitution? Charging for sex is not actually illegal - touting for custom, running a bawdy house or living off immoral earnings is. Well, legalising whatever it is might help sex-workers bullied by pimps but it won't be popular with those living in areas where it occurs, and I am not sure what it does to alleviate the reasons behind selling sex and its related activities as a poor career-choice for anyone.

Surrogacy - always going to make the headlines and Christmas is no exception. Just in time for the Family Law (or Medical Law?) examination papers for summer 2011, Elton John hits the headlines with somebody else's crying. At least the papers had more to say about the age of Elton John's entry into parenthood than the fact that he is a gay man in a civil partnership entering into parenthood. Let's not forget, though, that surrogacy raises ethical issues of money in exchange for parenthood and those who are financially well-off being able to get what they want because they are rich; there is the potential of the abuse of the woman whether the baby is genetically related to her or not. For some readers it may raise issues of the ethics of parenthood for gay couples. Interesting, that point - ask yourself whether you would be bothered about the story if it were the situation of a homosexual couple adopting rather than making a surrogacy arrangement and you will see what I mean. Further and better particulars may have crossed minds - did they both donate the sperm, was it free-choice or first-past-the-post and was the egg hers?                               

Too much information to compute... Happy New Year!

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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