A week in family law: Tax breaks, divorce, and more

Family Law|Industry News | 27 Feb 2015 0

It’s been a very mixed bag of news this week, with stories covering a variety of topics, but no single one standing out.

First up, the Government’s scheme to offer tax breaks to some married couples and civil partners has opened for registration. The marriage allowance, which was unveiled by David Cameron in 2013, could reduce a couple’s annual tax bill by up to £212, by enabling one spouse or civil partner to transfer some of their tax-free personal allowance to the other. The allowance will come into effect on 6 April 2015. Quite why, in the twenty-first century, couples who have tied the legal knot should receive more favourable treatment under our tax laws than those who have not is beyond me.

The family lawyers’ association Resolution has called for sweeping changes to the laws surrounding divorce and separation. Launching its Manifesto for Family Law in Central London, Resolution’s Chair, Jo Edwards, argued that the current laws are in desperate need of change. The Manifesto identifies six key areas where Resolution says changes are needed to our family justice system. Those areas include the introduction of no-fault divorce, property rights for cohabitants, clarification of the law on finances after divorce and a ‘Parenting Charter’ to help parents understand their responsibilities when they separate. I have already set out my thoughts upon the Manifesto.

Justice Minister Simon Hughes has confirmed that last year there were seven applications a day by grandparents for a court order to see a grandchild after the divorce or separation of the child’s parents. In 2013/24 there were 2,517 applications for child contact orders or child arrangements orders. The figures for 2012/13 and 2011/12 were 2,649 and 2,319 respectively. Always alert to an opportunity to promote mediation, National Family Mediation has responded by saying that the government must take the blame for the lack of information and education about alternative approaches to settling family disputes.

The former wife of a millionaire racehorse surgeon has been told by a judge to get a job as she had “no right to be supported for life” at his expense. Ian Wright was ordered to pay £75,000 maintenance and school fees each year when his marriage to Tracey Wright ended in 2008. However, last year Mr Wright went to the High Court and won a cut in his bills. The Court of Appeal upheld the decision, saying divorcees with children over seven should go to work. The decision has been described as a ‘game changer’ in terms of the law relating to spousal maintenance, although whether this turns out to be the case, we will have to wait and see.

The High Court has granted permission for a couple who wish to challenge the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships to pursue their application. The judicial review proceedings have been instituted by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who wish to register their union as a civil partnership, rather than marry. Whether this is a good use of the court’s time, I will leave the reader to decide.

Domestic abuse charity SafeLives has called for victims of domestic violence to be identified and given help much faster than is currently the case. According to a study by the charity, victims of domestic violence are abused for almost three years before they get the help they need, and some are subjected to more than 50 incidents during that time. Obviously, it would be highly beneficial if victims were identified and helped earlier, but I have to have some sympathy for the busy professionals such as GPs who seem to be on the receiving end of criticism in this report.

Finally, some good news: legislation allowing for the creation of babies from three people has been approved by the House of Lords, making the United Kingdom the first country to explicitly allow the procedure. Hopefully, the legislation will prevent 150 children a year suffering from mitochondrial disease, or mitochondrial failure.

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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