John Bolch on what family lawyers were talking about this week…

Family Law|Industry News|May 23rd 2014

A group of thirty-seven academics have said that they have serious concerns at proposals to allow private contractors to take over some child protection services in England. A Department for Education consultation is seeking views on how to run services outside of local authority control. The academics criticise the performance of some of the firms that may do the work, in a letter to The Guardian. Ministers said it was a consultation and local authorities would not be forced to employ outside organisations.

A Swiss court has awarded £2.6bn to the former wife of a Russian oligarch, in a record-breaking divorce settlement. The ruling, which was dated the 13th of May but not made public until this week, requires billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev to pay his ex-wife Elena 4 billion Swiss francs – which represents half of his wealth – in what Elena’s lawyer called “the most expensive divorce in history”. Dmitry’s lawyer announced on Monday evening that the oligarch would appeal against the judgment. Who said London was the divorce capital of the world?

More than 50,000 letters were sent out this week by the Department for Work and Pensions to parents in England, Scotland and Wales who currently pay and receive child maintenance through the old Child Support Agency. The letters warn that if the parents are unable to agree on child maintenance payments they will be charged if the Government is forced to intervene, under new rules which will be introduced later this year. Fiona Weir, chief executive of single parent charity Gingerbread said that they were “very concerned that closing CSA cases and bringing in charges may deter some parents from making new child maintenance agreements or pressure single parents into unstable arrangements, and children will lose out on vital support.”

A former model and fashion director has seen her second husband threatened with jail at the High Court in a dispute over their £45 million marital assets. Alisa Thiry was awarded £32 million after splitting from French Connection co-founder Stephen Marks in 2004. She then married Belgian businessman Didier Thiry. The couple owned a Caribbean beach house but are now in a divorce dispute. Mr Justice Newton, sitting in the High Court, ordered that Mr Thiry be jailed for four months for a “flagrant” contempt of court. Mr Thiry, who is in Belgium, had been ordered to give his ex-wife information about a £13.8 million loan on the 12th of March, but did not comply. The judge gave him a chance to apply to purge his contempt, by providing the information and apologising.

The Court of Appeal has decided that the Legal Aid Agency (formerly the Legal Service Commission (‘LSC’)) was wrong to refuse to pay in full from the legal aid budget for an expert witness report ordered for a child by the family court. The case followed the LSC’s refusal to pay more than one third of an expert’s fees because it believed that the parents should have been required to pay the other two-thirds. The Lord Chancellor, for the LSC, argued that parents who are not legally aided should pay their share of the expert’s fee. The Court of Appeal accepted the argument of the Law Society, which intervened in the case, that where an expert’s report is sought by the child alone, it will be legitimate for the legal aid budget to bear the full cost.

And finally, David Norgrove, who chaired the Family Justice Review in 2011, has been reappointed as chair of the Family Justice Board. He has been the body’s inaugural chair since it was set up in 2012 and will be in position for a further two-year term from the 9th of June. Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said: “I am delighted that David Norgrove has been reappointed as the chair of the Family Justice Board. He has played a key role in identifying and driving through the reforms that have firmly put children at the heart of the system.”

Have a good weekend and Spring bank holiday.

Photo by  ex_libris_gul via Flickr

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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