What are family lawyers are talking about this week? By John Bolch

Children|Divorce|Family Law|Industry News|Relationships|October 11th 2013

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published a bulletin presenting annual statistics on civil partnerships that were formed in the United Kingdom in 2012. Key findings included the provisional number of civil partnerships in the UK in 2012 (7,037), an increase of 3.6 per cent since 2011, as well as the average age of men forming a civil partnership in the UK in 2012: 40. For women the average age was 37.6 years – both these figures represent a small decrease in average ages in comparison to 2011. However, perhaps of more interest to divorce lawyers was the finding that the provisional number of civil partnership dissolutions granted in England and Wales in 2012 increased by 20 per cent since 2011, from 663 to 794. The ONS bulletin says that the rising number of dissolutions is a consequence of the increasing number of civil partners living in the UK, although many in the media asw the jump in dissolutions as having something to do with the proverbial ‘seven year itch’, civil partnerships having first become available in 2005.

Cafcass has released its latest statistics for new private law cases and care applications, for the month of September. The number of new private law cases received by Cafcass increased by 6 per cent over the September 2012 level, but thankfully care demand has continued to decrease, by 6 per cent compared to September 2012. Welcome relief I’m sure, for all those hard-pressed people involved in public law proceedings. However, Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas has warned that the decreases do not necessarily represent the start of a sustained drop in demand for care applications.

As has already been mentioned here, the case of TB v DB, which concerned a mother’s allegations against the father in a residence dispute, was published yesterday. The case didn’t involve much law (the judge, Mr Michael Keehan QC, merely had to decide whether, on the balance of probabilities, the mother’s allegations were true), but it is a vivid demonstration of the lengths to which some angry parents will go to try to thwart the other parent’s attempts to have a proper relationship with their child. Such cases are all too familiar to family lawyers, although perhaps the mother’s actions here were rather more extreme than in most such cases. Hopefully, the case will make it very clear that false allegations will be investigated by the court, and that it will be difficult to ‘get away’ with them. The report only deals with the court’s findings regarding the allegations and we do not therefore know the ultimate outcome. We must hope, however, that the mother’s actions do not have too severe an impact upon the child, and his relationship with his father.

High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge has called for an overhaul of what he calls ‘outdated divorce laws’. Speaking at a conference in London this week he proposed that an independent commission be set up to take a ‘new and fresh’ look at the current divorce laws, which have been unchanged for 40 years. He also suggested that more effort should be made to seek alternatives to court, saying that the “days of gladiatorial wars of titans” are over and that “the dinosaurs have had their day”. I don’t disagree with him, although I’m not sure that my views as to how divorce law should be reformed would necessarily match his. I do find it somewhat ironic, though, that these words should come from the founder of the Marriage Foundation, which to many people (including myself) appears to be promoting marriage on the basis of a rose-tinted view of how life used to be in the 1950s, before the present divorce laws enabled unhappy couples to part company.

And finally, as I described yesterday, lawyers have warned of the menace of meddling children when acting for older divorcing couples (so-called ‘silver splitters’). The claim is that the children are sometimes more interested in preserving their inheritance than the welfare of their ageing parents. Whether this is truly anything new I cannot say, but it does serve as a reminder that family lawyers often experience the worst of human nature. This in turn reminds me that during my career as a family lawyer I was often asked how I could do this sort of work without it driving me to drink. I’m still searching for a good answer.

Now, where’s that bottle of wine?

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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  1. Luke says:

    I am genuinely baffled by Sir Paul Coleridge’s belief in the chances of the Marriage Foundation to be successful. The marriage rate is the lowest it has been for 100 years – given the current wealth redistribution template in Family Court then anything other than a minor revival is unrealistic isn’t it ? Personally I think the marriage rate in the long run will decline even further.

    Basic maths shows it is terrible for the wealthier party/higher earner to enter into marriage as it currently stands and in my experience people eventually cotton on to the cost/benefit of any given action. I am extremely doubtful that these laws will be changed in the short/medium term to significantly affect this calculation.

    Am I missing something here or are Sir Paul & Dismal Duncan Smith completely out of touch with how the average person lives ?

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