I finally reach the last part of this much-longer-than-originally-intended review of the year.
On the 5th of November the Department for Work & Pensions (‘DWP’) published a response to its consultation on child maintenance charges. The Department confirmed that it intends to deduct a proportion of child maintenance from families who need to use the new child maintenance collection service. The government said that the 4 per cent collection charge for single parent families, as well as a 20 per cent charge for the paying parent if they won’t pay voluntarily, will act as an incentive to both parents to collaborate and arrange maintenance payments between themselves. However, the 4 per cent charge will only be applied in cases where the Child Maintenance Service itself decides that the non-resident parent is unlikely to pay maintenance, and collection is needed. The decision was met with dismay in some quarters, where it was argued that it means single parent families will be punished for the other parent’s failure to pay.
The DWP announced on the 25th of November that the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) was open to all new applicants for child maintenance. Existing cases being dealt with by the Child Support Agency have still to be transferred to the CMS, and the government has indicated that the CMS will not begin charging until it “is fully up and running and judged to be working successfully”.
Meanwhile, on the 22nd of November, we got the eagerly-anticipated judgment in Young v Young. Mr Justice Moor found that Mr Young’s net assets were £40 million, and he therefore awarded Mrs Young half of that, i.e. £20 million, which by coincidence equated with the amount he had assessed as her reasonable needs. He also had strong words for the conduct of the case by both parties, saying that it was about as bad an example of how not to litigate as any he had ever encountered. Mrs Young was not happy with the award, and has indicated that she may appeal.
On the 4th of December there was a rather different kind of judgment handed down by the Supreme Court in Re KL (A Child). The case concerned a child who had been brought here from Texas by his mother. The father sought his return. The complication was that mother had actually been given permission by an American court to bring the child to this country, but that decision was subsequently overturned on appeal. The Supreme Court took the view that Texas was the child’s home, and that was, therefore, where he should be brought up.
December was actually dominated by another case: the so-called ‘forced caesarean’ case. This began as a story in a national newspaper suggesting that after suffering a ‘panic attack’, an Italian mother temporarily in this country was forced by social services to have a caesarean section so that they could snatch her baby from her. Naturally, this caused outrage in the usual quarters and forced the family justice system into defending itself – led by President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, who took over the case for himself. It soon became clear that the facts weren’t quite as originally stated (for example, the order for the caesarean had actually been sought by the health authority, rather than social services). The case culminated (for now) in the judgment of the President in P (A Child). In this he granted a reporting restriction order. In the course of the judgment he said that the case was a demonstration of the ‘pressing need for radical changes’ in the way the family courts approach transparency, i.e. informing the public about what they are doing. In particular, he said that many more judgments should be published.
And that is where I shall leave this narrative. I’m sure there will be many who will consider that I have left out important events, but hopefully I have provided a flavour of the year in family law.