Pressure on the courts, stellar contributions and more

Family Law|December 23rd 2016

A week in family law

The Ministry of Justice has published statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales, for the period July to September 2016. These confirm the recent surge in child care applications, indicating that the number of care cases starting increased by 21 per cent over the previous 12 months, to 4,932 in July to September. Similarly, the number of children involved in care applications increased by 20 per cent over the same period, to 9,082. In all, 64,109 cases started in family courts in England and Wales in July to September 2016, a 4 per cent increase from the equivalent quarter in 2015. The number of private law children cases started in July to September 2016 increased by 14 per cent from the equivalent quarter in 2015, to 12,687. What is going to happen if these increases don’t abate is surely the gravest concern for all involved in the family justice system.

Figures published by the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency for the period July to September 2014 show that applications for civil representation in private family law supported by evidence of domestic abuse rose by 26 per cent compared with the same period last year. The increase is believed to be due to a relaxation of the time limits for reporting domestic violence. In April this year the government announced that it was increasing the time limit, from two to five years, following a Court of Appeal decision in February that the two year time limit was invalid. A rare but welcome piece of good news on the legal aid front.

The majority of separated parents using the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) are managing child support payments themselves, according to research published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The research shows that 68 per cent of parents with a ‘Direct Pay’ arrangement – meaning the non-resident parent is paying their child maintenance directly to the receiving parent rather than via the CMS – had their arrangement in place three months after receiving their child maintenance calculation from the CMS, and that a year after setting up their arrangement, 62 per cent of parents using the Direct Pay service still had that arrangement in place. The research is actually part of a 30-month review into the impact of charging by the CMS. It doesn’t say an awful lot about that, but what is does say is hardly a glowing endorsement of the Government’s charging policy.

Randy Work, an American financier, is seeking a greater share of a divorce settlement, on the basis that his ‘genius’ as a financial investor, which made him a fortune of more than £140 million, amounted to a ‘stellar contribution’ to the matrimonial assets, such that he should be entitled to a greater than half share of those assets. Last year Mr Justice Holman in the High Court rejected that argument and awarded Mr Work’s wife Mandy Gray half of the assets. Mr Work has appealed against that decision, and his appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeal in February. For an eminently sensible view of the whole idea of ‘stellar contributions’, see this post by Marilyn Stowe.

Doctors should stop providing life-support treatment to a police officer who has been in a minimally conscious state since 2015, the Court of Protection has ruled. As I explained here a few weeks ago, PC Briggs was riding his motorbike to work in July 2015, when he was hit by a car. Since then he has been on clinically-assisted nutrition and hydration. His family argued that this would not accord with his sense of independence and dignity, and his wife applied for the treatment to be withdrawn. Doctors treating Mr Briggs had opposed the withdrawal of treatment, but Mr Justice Charles ruled that it was not in his best interests for treatment to continue and that it was lawful for treatment to be withdrawn. He said Briggs should now be moved to a hospice to be given palliative care in his final few weeks. The Official Solicitor is understood to have applied for permission to appeal the decision.

And finally for 2016, my favourite story of the week comes from the sometimes weird but always wonderful country of Japan. A couple of months ago we heard that Japan is facing a “demographic time bomb”, with the number of children in the country falling, due to a lack of interest in sex and relationships, particularly amongst young men. This week I read in The Independent that one company over there has decided that the solution is a virtual holographic wife. She certainly won’t nag, but quite how she’s going to solve the demographic problem I’m not so sure. It also seems pretty bad news for divorce lawyers over there. Or can you divorce a holographic wife?

Whatever, have an excellent Xmas and New Year holiday.

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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