International cases, Family Courts under pressure and more

Family Law|September 30th 2016

A week in family law

This may have been the last week of the legal summer vacation, but it was not short of family law news stories:

Mr Justice Holman has directed a solicitor to meet her client in Saudi Arabia, to ascertain her instructions. The client, a 21 year old woman who had previously lived in Wales, had claimed that for the last four years her father had been preventing her from leaving Saudi Arabia.

At a hearing in August Mr Justice Holman had made an order requiring the father to permit her to leave, by 11 September. Despite this, the woman is still in Saudi Arabia, and has sent an email to her solicitor apparently indicating that she wishes to stay there, in order to continue to rebuild her relationship with her father. However, there have been other communications from her, as a result of which her solicitor has assessed her instructions as “equivocal”.

Mr Justice Holman has therefore directed that the solicitor should meet the woman in Saudi Arabia in order to obtain clear instructions, and ensure that the woman is able to make an informed decision free from pressure or influence. It all sounds very sensible, although exactly how one can be certain that the woman is speaking freely, I’m not sure.

An actress who previously worked for the BBC has been cleared of abducting her child, following an international dispute over the child with her former boyfriend. The actress had been accused by the father of leaving Australia with the child after agreeing to live in Sydney with him. The father then made an application for the child to be returned to Australia, under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction.

However, Deputy High Court Judge Alexander Verdan QC found that the child was not habitually resident in Australia and accordingly the mother’s removal was not an abduction. The father’s application was therefore dismissed. Nothing special in all of this, but it is useful for such matters to receive publicity in the general media.

A report setting out research evaluating seventeen projects funded under its Help and Support for Separated Families programme has been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The programme, which was set up after legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters, aims to help parents avoid conflict when separating, and collaborate in the best interests of their children. The projects provide at least one of the following:

  • talk-based services involving mediation or a therapeutic intervention;
  • information-based services providing legal advice, information and signposting;
  • help with contact arrangements for non-resident parents.

The research found that of the thirteen projects that measured parental collaboration at the start and end of the intervention, nine showed statistically significant improvements, although when measured seven months after the start of the intervention, collaboration levels had fallen back somewhat. The research also found that parents with shared care arrangements were significantly less happy with their contact arrangement than either parents with care or non-resident parents, and that while parents engaging with projects tended to see an improvement in contact arrangements, the projects had less impact on child maintenance arrangements. All of which indicates that the programme is helpful, but of course it is no replacement for legal aid.

The Ministry of Justice has published its latest quarterly statistics for the Family Court, for the period April to June 2016. Amongst the key findings were that 66,328 cases started in family courts in England and Wales in that period, a ten per cent increase from the same quarter in 2015; that the number of public law cases started increased by 24 per cent over the 12 months to June 2016; that the number of private law cases started increased by 16 per cent from the equivalent quarter in 2015; and that the average time for the disposal of divorce cases with financial remedy claims has been steadily increasing, from 20.5 weeks at the start of 2015 to 24.9 weeks in April to June 2016. All of which seems to me to be pretty bad news for anyone working in the family courts, and for anyone wishing to use them.

And finally, perhaps the most instructive story of the week was the one about the Saudi wife who discovered that her husband was having an affair when she found messages from the other woman on the social media app Snapchat. The moral of the story is clear: if you must have an affair with someone, then probably best not to broadcast it to the world via social media.

And with that profound piece of twenty-first century relationship advice, I wish you a good weekend.

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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