A week in family law: marriage, divorce and more

Family Law|Industry News|April 29th 2016

It’s been a busy week for family law news, with stories ranging from marriage to divorce, and beyond. Here are the highlights.

The first two stories emanated from Resolution, the association of family lawyers, which held its annual conference in Gateshead last weekend:

Firstly, Nigel Shepherd, the association’s new national chair, used his first speech in the role to issue a rallying cry for family lawyers to continue to call for no fault divorce. He said: “It’s wrong – and actually bordering on cruel – to say to couples: if you want to move on with your lives … one of you has to blame the other. The blame game needs to end, and it needs to end now. We will continue to make the case to government, supported by charities, the judiciary and the many others who support no fault divorce.” Quite. I have given my own views on the subject here this week, in this post, together with some ideas as to how we can get the message across, in particular to government.

Secondly, in response to new laws designed to protect victims of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Resolution has published a screening toolkit on FGM, so that members are better equipped to identify and support vulnerable girls and women. The toolkit aims to support family lawyers in raising the topic of FGM with their clients, by identifying key questions and issues to discuss in order to help victims access the dedicated support services available. Cris McCurley, from Resolution’s Domestic Abuse Committee, who produced the toolkit, said: “Sadly there are still thousands of women and girls in the UK who are at risk of FGM. Family lawyers can often be the only person FGM victims feel able to discuss their injuries with. In my experience, you never know when a disclosure of FGM might happen, so the toolkit is something I’d urge all family practitioners to have to hand, whether or not they consider themselves people who deal with issues around FGM.” Sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

The Court of Protection has extended a reporting restriction in relation to a woman who died after refusing life-saving treatment. This is the case of the woman who said that she no longer wished to live because she had lost everything in her life that “sparkles”, in particular her youth and beauty. Mr Justice Charles handed down the decision after media organisations had applied for the woman to be identified on the grounds that her anonymity should not continue after her death. He ruled that there was no public interest in the woman being identified, agreeing with the woman’s daughters, who said that “much of the publicity was precipitated not only by a wish to report and comment on the bases on which the Court reached its decision but also to attract prurient interest in their mother’s sexual and relationship history”. This, of course, is one of the problems with transparency: is the media actually interested in how the courts work?

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its latest statistics in relation to the 2012 child support maintenance scheme. These show that the Child Maintenance Service’s caseload rose by 21 per cent in the three months to February 2016; that 87 per cent of ‘case groups’ were contributing towards their current liability; and that 88 per cent of the money due has been paid under the 2012 scheme. It all sounds so marvellous, so why am I not impressed? For the answer, see my post here yesterday.

Newly published data from the Office for National Statistics has shown that the number of marriages in England and Wales fell by almost nine per cent in 2013, the first decrease since 2009. Commenting on the figure, Elizabeth McLaren of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch of ONS said: “The fall could indicate the continuation of the long-term decline in marriages since 1972 or could be due to couples choosing to postpone their marriage to avoid the number 13 which is perceived as unlucky by many cultures.” Whatever, it is clear that people will live their lives in the way that they choose, and that attempts to promote one way of living over another are not only insulting but also completely pointless.

And finally, that well known family law expert Gary Lineker has suggested that “there should be a mathematical equation” to sort out finances on divorce. It’s a nice idea. Unfortunately, however, Gary did not tell us his equation when prompted to do so by Marilyn Stowe on Twitter. It seems, therefore, that we will have to stick with the current system whereby those awful judges continue to do the wrong thing, by deciding what is fair.

Have a good May Day bank holiday weekend.

Image by Farid Iqbal Ibrahim via Flickr

Author: John Bolch

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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