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A week in family law: FGM protection, a challenged will and more

A fairly quiet week in family law, typical for this time of year, but there have been some news stories:

In one of the first cases of its kind, a female genital mutilation (FGM) protection order has been issued by the High Court against a father of three girls aged six, nine and 12 years. The girls’ mother, who had herself been subject to FGM, gave evidence that the father had been subjecting her to pressure to have the procedure performed on their daughters. Both parents are Nigerian. Zimran Samuel, the barrister representing the girls’ mother, told the judge that the girls’ father had been “putting pressure” on the mother to have the procedure done in the UK or in Nigeria. FGM is illegal in both countries. Let us hope that the publicity that the case has received this week serves as a deterrent to others.

An unofficial north-south divide in how divorces are arranged is driving growing numbers of wives to have their cases heard in London, in the hope of a more generous financial/property settlement, it has been claimed. The suggestion is that provincial opposition to the idea of providing women with indefinite spousal maintenance has led to a growing perception that courts in London are more likely to award maintenance payments to women that do not run out after a fixed period of time. Whether there is any truth in this perception, I could not say.

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a woman should receive a third of her mother’s £486,000 estate, from which she had been deliberately omitted. Melita Jackson never forgave her daughter Heather Ilot for eloping at the age of 17. Instead, she left her wealth to the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross animal charities. The decision has caused something of a furore in the media, where it is considered to be contrary to the idea of testamentary freedom, whereby a person can leave their estate to whoever they wish. Some lawyers have also suggested that the decision could lead to many further such cases. However, I am with Marilyn Stowe, who takes the view that the case was exceptional, and should not be treated as “the new normal”.

A “fabulously wealthy” heiress is to be repaid £3.6 million from the estate of her ex-husband who committed suicide just twenty-two days after a consent order was made, providing for her to pay him a lump sum of £17.34 million. Mr Justice Moor reduced that sum to £5 million, on the basis that the rest of the sum had been awarded to meet the needs of the husband, and was therefore no longer required. The wife had made the claim after she discovered that the husband had left his estate to his brothers, rather than to the parties’ children. The case was a rare successful ‘Barder appeal’ against the consent order, as I explained here in this post.

And finally, in a worrying case Ms Justice Russell has heavily criticised social workers for the way they treated a father fighting to prevent his child’s adoption. She accused the social workers at Brighton and Hove Council of making claims they “weren’t qualified to make”, and said that the authority adopted a “seemingly belligerent behaviour and an oppositional stance” towards the father and, by extension, his children. The child was returned to the care of the father. Not a good advert for the child protection system, particularly coming just when so many are endeavouring to improve its image.

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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