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What family lawyers were talking about this week… by John Bolch

Well, the first thing they were talking about was pre-nuptial agreements, after a report that the Law Commission is to recommend that they be made enforceable. In fact, the Law Commission is not due to publish its report upon the matter until the 27th of this month, so we will have to wait until then for confirmation.

Single parent charity Gingerbread has warned that children will lose out as a result of the proposed charges for using the new Child Maintenance Service. The warning came as both houses of parliament debated the proposed charges earlier this week. The Government wants separated parents to come to their own private arrangements, without using the new service, and says that the charges will ‘incentivise’ them to agree arrangements. I’m not so sure. Anyway, it seems that the debate is academic, as the plans were passed by parliament, despite a warning from former Lord Chancellor Lord Mackay that the charges for single parents were ‘unjustified in principle’.

It has been reported in The Guardian that cuts to council spending are threatening the existence of child contact centres. I have posted previously here about contact centres and their funding. They provide an essential service and, as I said in my previous post, I really don’t know what we would do without them. Let us hope that they are not another victim of current austerity.

I was pleased to note that the so-called ‘shared parenting’ presumption in clause 11 of the Children and Families Bill has been amended. The presumption states that courts should ‘presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare’. Like many others, I feared that the presumption could lead to separating parents assuming that they are legally bound to equally share access to their children. Now, thanks to a campaign by a consortium of children’s charities led by Coram Children’s Legal Centre the clause has been amended to clarify that ‘involvement’ means involvement of some kind, either direct or indirect, but not ‘any particular division of a child’s time’. This seems eminently sensible, and will help ensure that the welfare of the child remains paramount.

The latest divorce statistics, for 2012, have been published by the Office for National Statistics. These showed a slight increase in the number of divorces in England and Wales compared to 2011, although nothing particularly significant. Perhaps of more interest was the finding that for those married in 1972, 22% of marriages had ended in divorce by their 15th wedding anniversary whereas for those married in 1997, almost a third of marriages had ended by that time. It is interesting to speculate whether this trend will continue into the future. If so, then I calculate that less than half of those who tie the knot in ten years time can expect to still be married fifteen years later – a sobering thought.

Lastly, as if to confirm what I said yesterday about domestic violence being a problem that occurs in all walks of life, it has been reported that Lord Edward Somerset, an aristocrat from one of Britain’s grandest families, has been jailed for two years after admitting beating his wife over a 22-year period. It seems that he assaulted her after she confronted him over his addition to drink and drugs, both of which are common factors in domestic violence cases.

Not a happy note to end on. Have a peaceful weekend.

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. Liam V says:


    Why would you be pleased that a presumption of both parents being involved in a child’s life had been scrapped?

    Surely, research shows that to be in the best interests of the child?

    If 50/50 access is a default division in some countries with a much higher standard of child well being than our own, why is it such a no-no for yourself and others?

    Lastly, how did the scrapped presumption of involvement suggest 50/50? I wasn’t aware of any suggested division?

    Genuinely interested in your answer.

  2. Tristan says:

    Separating parents ought to be legally bound to share access of their children as equally as they would have the right to go to court and have that legal presumption set aside. This is in accordance with universal rights of parents and children regarding family life.

    The legal presumption ought always to start from a right of parent and child to remain together after parental separation. The other way round is why UK family law remains in its present permanent state of crisis.

    There is no evidence from anywhere in the world other than the imagination of phony organisations like Coram and fellow travellers like the writer above, why a proper legal presumption for access would somehow be confused with a right to a specific 50:50 time sharing arrangement.

  3. John says:

    Regarding the Child maintenance issue of the government wanting separated parents to make their own agreement. I totally agree with this course of conduct, and mediation should be used where necessary.

    The CSA/CMEC where the ‘bane of my life’, through sheer incompetence and prolonged and continued maladministration. If it is not bad enough having to endure a separation/divorce, the CSA/CMEC caused me unnecessary stress, in their attempts to criminalise me for being a parent.

    What happens between parents and their child/children, belongs in a mediation process, or the courts where necessary, with professional, qualified personnel, and not in the hands of incompetent, unqualified civil servants.

    The CSA/CMEC, conspiring together with a bitter and twisted mother, have been the cause of me losing contact with two children.

  4. Peter Murphy says:

    So a coalition of feminist-led charities created the ‘Consortium For Shared Parenting’, which is er, opposed to shRed parenting, to prevent children from having the right to a relationship with both parents, thus ensuring there will be more victims like Baby P and Daniel Pelka, murdered by mum and mum’s new boyfriend, and that more children are raised in fatherless homes, with all the consequent higher risks of abuse, involvement in crime, lower educational outcomes, earlier age of first drug use, earlier age of sexual experience etc.

    I swear to God, this country moves more beyond parody every day.

  5. Tristan says:

    Peter, you’ve spotted the cynicism inherent in organisations like Coram and the NSPCC. That they have the audacity to cloak themselves under the banner of shared parenting merely demonstrates just how deeply cynical they are.

    Tim Loughton, as Children Minister before Cameron stupidly sacked him as a sop to the single parent lobby, once called the NSPCC “reprehensible” for opposing legal shared parenting and he was right. Best thing for an individual to do is not give them any money, as well as speak out like you.

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