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Divorce statistics, a Supreme Court decision and more: a week in family law

It has been a busy and interesting week…

First up, statistics for divorces in England and Wales for 2013 have been published by the Office for National Statistics. Main points from the statistics included that there were 114,720 divorces in England and Wales in 2013, a decrease of 2.9 per cent since 2012, when there were 118,140 divorces, and that the number of divorces in 2013 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44. The statistics also showed that for those married in 1968, 20 per cent of marriages had ended in divorce by the 15th wedding anniversary whereas for those married in 1998, almost a third of marriages (32 per cent) had ended by this time. Whether the drop in the number of divorces is due to more marriages lasting or simply to the increase in the number of couples cohabiting, as has been suggested, is an interesting question.

Meanwhile, the association of family lawyers Resolution has published the results of a poll regarding the experience of parental separation or divorce upon children and young people. The ‘headline’ finding of the poll was that eight out of ten of the children and young people who took part in the poll said that would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy, rather than stay together. Other findings included that 62 per cent of children and young people polled disagreed with the statement that their parents made sure they were part of the decision-making process about their separation or divorce, and that half indicated that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live following their parents’ separation or divorce. The poll has led to furious reactions in some quarters, with it being suggested that lawyers are only encouraging parental separation for their benefit. However, it’s not about the lawyers – it’s about what is best for the children. Conflict is what damages children, whether before or after parental separation.

Moving on, in a remarkable case a family court judge has named a social worker and her two managers, recommending that their work and actions be investigated by their employers, Ofsted and the Health and Care Professions Council. In Re A, B, C, D & E (Final Hearing) Judge Mark Horton, sitting at Portsmouth Family Court, found that the three had illegally taken children into care, breached a family’s human rights, altered the report of another social worker, lied under oath and withheld evidence from the court. He said: “Given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them … so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case.” A truly appalling and disturbing case.

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal by a Moroccan father whose son was brought to the UK by his mother against the father’s wishes. The appeal in J (A Child) concerned the application of the 1996 Hague Convention on Jurisdiction, Applicable Law, Recognition, Enforcement and Co-operation in respect of Parental Responsibility and Measures for the Protection of Children (the 1996 Convention), in particular the scope of the jurisdiction conferred by article 11 of the Convention in ‘all cases of urgency’ on a contracting state where a child is present but not habitually resident. The Court of Appeal had held that this was not an urgent case because the father could have made an immediate application to the Moroccan court for a return order. However, the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal, holding that it is open to the English courts to exercise the article 11 jurisdiction in cases of wrongful removal under the 1996 Convention. The Supreme Court also made an interesting suggestion that the father could apply for interim contact, to preserve his relationship with his child while the case was being dealt with.

Lastly, the President of the Family Division has issued Guidance on Arbitration in the Family Court. I was particularly glad to note that the Guidance specifically states that it does not apply to, or sanction, any arbitral process based on a different system of law other than the law of England and Wales and not, in particular, “one where there is reason to believe that, whatever system of law is purportedly being applied, there may have been gender-based discrimination.”

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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