The group, led by Family Law Solicitor Philippa Bruce, held its first meeting earlier this month, attracting undergraduate and postgraduate students from across all stages of their law degree studies.
Philippa began by setting out the facts of a case she’d just concluded:
- In September 2018, the Clinic took on a case for a mother who was trying to keep her home from being sold by her ex-partner (the property’s co-owner). The property had been significantly adapted to meet the needs of her adult son who suffers from a muscle weakening disease called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Adaptations included a ground floor extension with wheelchair access, and a wet room with hoists to help her lift him.
- The case was particularly complicated as the parties had never been married and had already been before the Court (in 2015). On that occasion, the Court ordered the mother could retain the property until her son was 18 (after which time it should be sold).
- Just after her son turned 18, the mother approached the Law Clinic to see if it might be possible for them both to remain living in their adapted home. Even though her son was now an adult, he was still vulnerable and dependent on both her and the adaptations within the property. The Clinic set about exploring the options…
The group began by exploring the key facts – the parties were joint owners of the property; they were unmarried, and an order had already been made in 2015. Rather unexpectedly, the team learned that the case was not confined to family law principles. They talked about how property is legally owned and registered, how mortgages work, the principles of express and implied trusts and inferred intention. Some drew upon their knowledge of studying land and equity in the second year, others used common sense to interpret the options available to the client. This led to an interesting discussion with lots of great questions.
Philippa explained how most students, when they begin studying family law, don’t know that the law treats married and unmarried couples differently. The Clinic students who worked on this particular case over the past two years had to grapple with the realisation that the law determining what should happen to property when an unmarried couple separate, is inflexible and unforgiving. They learnt that although the law can sometimes feel unfair, you have to look beyond this and consider what can be done to help the client.
The case generated endless legal research, long discussions between students and their supervisor (Philippa) and a fair amount of thinking outside of the box. In the end, what it all came down to was negotiation. In August 2020, despite the chaos of the pandemic, a settlement agreement was reached. Philippa was delighted to report to the group that the mother is now able to remain in her home with her son.
The Family Law discussion group will meet once a fortnight on Thursdays at 1.00pm to deliberate current cases that are being dealt with in the Clinic. The sessions are a chance to look in depth at the relevant law and discuss how that law has been (or will be) applied to real life problems. For many students this helps to bring to life the theory they have studied in other modules.
All Law students are welcome to join the discussion group. The next session will be on 5 November 2020 at 1pm.
Just go to the Clinic’s moodle page: https://moodle.kent.ac.uk/2020/course/view.php?id=3562), sign a membership form and access the Zoom link to the group. Whilst you are there, check out the other fantastic ways that you can get involved with the work of the Clinic to enhance your education!