A week in family law: Cases and court fees

Family Law|Industry News|March 18th 2016

It’s (almost) all about cases this week:

A transgender sixteen year old can cut off all contact with his adoptive parents, Mr Justice Keehan has ruled. The boy, who was adopted when he was six, was referred to the Tavistock gender identity clinic with gender dysphoria in 2014 and later changed his name by deed poll. His parents struggled to come to terms with the decision and, to his “very great annoyance and distress”, continued to call him by his previous name. The boy decided that he no longer wished them to be involved in his life and therefore sought a declaration that they should not receive any information about his day-to-day life, nor about his assessment and possible treatment at the Tavistock Clinic. Mr Justice Keehan granted the declaration, after holding that the boy was entitled to make the decision he had, and that the court must respect that decision. A sad case. Like Mr Justice Keehan, I hope that the time will come when the boy and the parents can be reconciled.

A case in which a wife was awarded most of the family’s wealth made headlines in the media this week. The wife gave up her career as a recruitment consultant in order to look after the home and the children, while her husband continued with his successful career as managing director of a software firm. The family had enjoyed a high standard of living, but the couple’s “extravagant” spending, both during their marriage and after their bitterly contested divorce, brought them “to the brink of financial disaster”, reducing multi-million-pound family assets to just £560,000. Of that, the wife was awarded half a million pounds, while her husband was left with just £66,000. He was also ordered to pay £77,000 for unpaid maintenance and other debts “from his share”, effectively leaving him with nothing from the marriage. Details of the case emerged as the husband launched an appeal against the financial settlement, and against a six-week suspended prison sentence which he received for non-payment of maintenance. The case made the headlines with the suggestion being that the outcome was manifestly unfair to the husband. The Court of Appeal may yet find that to be the case, but there was a clear justification for awarding the lion’s share to the wife: the housing needs of her and the children were given priority.

A local authority has been ordered to pay a 10-year-old boy £5,000 in damages after it failed for three years to seek to revoke an order placing him for adoption. The placement order was made in February 2011, together with an order authorising the council to withhold contact between the boy and his mother. Due to the boy’s very serious behavioural difficulties no appropriate adopters able and willing to care for him were found. Accordingly, in November 2011 the plan for the boy was changed to one of long-term foster care. In February 2012 the appropriate local authority panel formally agreed the change of plan, and later that same month his mother was informed of his changed status. His Honour Judge Rundell said that at that stage the council should have sought to revoke the placement order. Had that happened, a guardian would have been appointed to protect the boy’s interests, and the mother would have had the opportunity, if she was so minded, to seek contact with him. However, the application to revoke the order was not made until February 2015. We seem to be having a spate of cases involving judicial criticism for local authorities, including the case last week involving delay in issuing care proceedings, and another case published this week which Mr Justice Newton described as “an object lesson in how not to pursue a care case”. Hopefully, lessons will be learned.

I will be brief about the last case I want to mention, as I have already written in detail about it here. In FK v ML (Child’s Objections) Sir Peter Singer ordered that a thirteen year old boy should be returned to Ireland, despite his strong objections. The case is a model example of the 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention in action.

And finally, as Marilyn Stowe announced here, the anticipated increase in the court fee for issuing divorce proceedings, from £410 to £550, will be implemented next Monday, the 21st of March. As Marilyn explained, the increase has gone ahead despite the fact that the actual administrative cost of divorce is just £270, so the new fee will generate a profit of nearly £300. Marilyn described it as a ‘misery tax’, penalising people whose marriage has broken down. I think that description is quite apt – there is no excuse to be making money from people who are already going through one of the most traumatic events in their lives.

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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