A week in family law
The High Court has held that a trustee in bankruptcy cannot pursue the financial claims of a deceased bankrupt, following the bankrupt’s divorce. In the case Robert v Woodall Ms Woodall’s former husband committed suicide after he had been made bankrupt. The trustee applied to pursue financial orders against Ms Woodall within the divorce proceedings, but the court struck out the application, on the long-established basis that a financial claim on divorce does not survive the death of either spouse. The trustee sought permission to appeal against the striking out, but the High Court held that the trustee’s appeal had no real prospect of success, and his application for permission was therefore dismissed. At the end of a year when established wisdom no longer seems to count for very much, it is reassuring that at least our courts are not afraid to still apply a bit of common sense.
The latest statistical bulletin for divorces in England and Wales, for the year 2014, has been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Amongst the ONS’s main findings was that the number of people divorcing in England and Wales fell by 3.1 per cent in that year, continuing the recent downward trend. The divorce rate also fell, by 5.3 per cent from 2013 to 2014, to 9.3 divorces per thousand men and women. Nicola Haines of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch at the ONS gave this explanation: “Compared with 2004, divorce rates in 2014 were lower for all age groups except women aged 55 and over. Likely factors include increased cohabiting and increasing age at first marriage. Previous research indicates a higher risk of divorce among those marrying at younger ages, whilst cohabitation may be reducing the number of weaker relationships progressing to marriage.” Marilyn Stowe gave her views on the figures here, and I also chipped in with a few thoughts of my own, here.
This week there were two stories about domestic violence that both included figures that were, on the face of it at least, quite shocking.
First we were told that between 2009 and 2015 936 women were killed by men in England and Wales, 598 of them (that’s 64 per cent) by their current or former partners. This appalling figure came from The Femicide Census, which tracks and analyses the deaths of women killed by partners, ex-partners, male relatives, acquaintances, colleagues and strangers. Polly Neate, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, which supported the project, said: “The killing of women, especially when women are killed by an abusive partner or ex-partner, is often reported as an isolated incident. There is an abject failure to look at patterns of behaviour. We accept fatal male violence as an inevitability, not a conscious choice that a man has made to end a woman’s life. This dangerous culture needs to change. We need to learn the lessons. And by viewing these cases of femicide altogether, we can learn.”
Close on the heels of these disturbing figures came the latest release from the ONS on domestic abuse in England and Wales, for the year ending March 2016. The headline finding in the release was that there were an estimated 1.8 million adults aged 16 to 59 who said they were a victim of domestic abuse during that year. Unsurprisingly, women were more likely to report having experienced domestic abuse than men. Other findings included that a large number of domestic abuse-related incidents were recorded by the police (1.03 million) in the year and that following investigations, the police concluded that a domestic abuse-related criminal offence was committed in approximately 4 in every 10 (41 per cent) of those incidents (421,000).
My goodness, nearly two million adults experiencing domestic abuse and an average of nearly 100 women dying at the hands of their partners every year? Domestic violence is an epidemic, and I’m not sure anyone really knows what the cure is. As Polly Neate said, we need to change the culture. Educating children about it from an early age could help towards that end, but clearly much work remains to be done.
And finally, the most important information I gleaned as a divorce lawyer this week was that researchers from the University of Melbourne in Australia have suggested that marriages which take place on ‘gimmick’ days, such as Valentine’s Day or those with special number sequences (like 11/11/11 or 01/02/03) were more likely to end in divorce. If I were still practising I would be standing outside the local Register Office on those days, handing out my business card to the (temporarily) happy couples.
And on that mercenary note, I bid you all a good weekend.