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

According to Mr Justice Mostyn, the case SA v PA (Pre-marital agreement: Compensation), reported this week on Bailii, ought to have been a simple case to resolve. However, it had two legal complications. First, the husband laid ‘considerable emphasis’ on a Dutch pre-marital agreement signed the day before the marriage, which took place in Amsterdam. Second, the wife claimed that her maintenance award should be significantly enhanced by reference to the principle of ‘compensation’, due to the fact that she gave up her ‘high-powered career’ to look after the four children. Mr Justice Mostyn held that, subject to the question of maintenance, it would be fair to implement the capital division specified by the agreement, as the wife knew exactly what she was signing up to. However, he did not consider that this was one of those “highly exceptional cases” where the wife was entitled to compensation.

A set of family law barristers, Renaissance Chambers in London’s Gray’s Inn, have blamed legal aid cuts for closing down. In January members of the set voted to dissolve at the end of their financial year, on the 31st of March. Practice manager Elaine Cheeseman said that the vote was precipitated by the departure last year of 25 members, due to uncertainty about what was happening at the family bar as a result of the legal aid cuts.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (‘NICE’) has published new guidance to raise awareness among those coming into contact with victims of domestic violence. The NICE says doctors and nurses should receive training to help them ask about abuse, to respond effectively and to encourage patients to seek help from specialist services. The new guidance also calls for greater co-operation between different agencies, such as health service providers, the police, housing services and schools.

The Department for Work and Pensions has published the latest quarterly statistics for the Child Support Agency, for the quarter to December 2013. Amongst the main findings were that in that quarter 84.1% of all cases in which maintenance was due had either received maintenance via the CSA collection service, or had a maintenance direct arrangement in place, and that maintenance had been collected or arranged by the CSA on behalf of 887,200 children, slightly less than the previous quarter. 53.7% of cases received in September 2013 were cleared within 12 weeks, a decrease from 87.8% in September 2012.

Coercive control and emotional blackmail would become criminal offences under a proposed bill aimed at protecting victims of domestic violence. Plaid Cymru parliamentary leader Elfyn Llwyd MP is to present the bill in the House of Commons. If it is passed, then it would criminalise all aspects of domestic violence, offering victims greater protection and placing duties on the police to investigate.

The biggest talking-point of the week, of course, occurred on Thursday when the Law Commission published its eagerly-awaited report on Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements. As was anticipated, it recommended that “qualifying nuptial agreements” should be enforceable. As perhaps was not anticipated, it really didn’t recommend much else, certainly in terms of law change. It did recommend that the Family Justice Council produce authoritative guidance on what constitutes “financial needs”, but it made no recommendations at all on the issue of what was “non-matrimonial property”. We will, of course, have to wait and see whether the government chooses to go ahead with the recommendations that it did make.

Have a good 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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