A week in family law
The debate over publicity and privacy in financial remedy cases may be about to be clarified. An application for a reporting restriction order by a former wife involved in financial remedy proceedings has been rejected by the Court of Appeal. Tina Norman had claimed that her financial affairs were “private business”, and that there was no public interest in the disclosure of her identity. However, editors at a number of media organisations objected to Ms Norman’s application, saying that the principle of open justice should prevail. The Court of Appeal agreed and ordered that journalists could name Ms Norman and her ex-husband in reports of the case. The judgment will be published at a later date, and no doubt many family lawyers will be eagerly awaiting it.
Changes to the court rules that apply in cases concerning arrangements for a child in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic violence or abuse perpetrated by another party, or that there is a risk of such violence or abuse, have been recommended Mr Justice Cobb. The changes include: displacing the presumption that involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare where the involvement of a parent in a child’s life would put the child or other parent at risk of suffering harm arising from domestic violence or abuse; amending the rules to include a requirement for the court to ensure that the court process is not being used as a means in itself to perpetuate coercion, control or harassment by an abusive parent; and amending the rules to afford further protection for the alleged victim of abuse from cross-examination by an alleged unrepresented perpetrator. I hope that these changes will, if implemented, have the desired effect of protecting victims of domestic abuse, although I’m not sure that they will actually make a lot of difference.
This has been ‘Family Mediation Week’, a campaign aiming to raise awareness of out-of-court options for families going through divorce or separation. To mark it, the charity the Family Mediation Association has said that the public need to be better informed of the availability and benefits of mediation. For my part, I am all in favour of the use of mediation in appropriate cases, although it is not, of course, a panacea for resolving all family disputes.
In a worrying piece of news the BBC has reported that a victim of domestic violence was assaulted after a social worker twice disclosed the address of her safe house to her abusive ex-husband. It was apparently claimed that the social worker believed it was the husband’s “parental right” to know where his children were. The social services department involved has apparently apologised, but this really is not good enough. Safe houses, or refuges, are vital for the safety of victims of serious domestic abuse, and it is essential that their addresses are not disclosed – all professionals involved in domestic abuse cases should know this.
A new Family Procedure Rules Practice Direction has been published to facilitate the launch of the first small online divorce pilot. The location and timing of the pilot is not yet known, but this does confirm that we are at last moving towards a virtual divorce system.
The Court of Appeal has set aside a number of orders made in a financial remedies case, after finding a series of procedural errors with how the case was handled. In Iqbal v Iqbal the husband appealed against various orders, including an interim periodical payments (maintenance) order, judgment summonses and the final financial remedies order. Giving the leading judgment of the Court of Appeal Sir Ernest Ryder said that the husband was not given the ‘elementary procedural protections’ he had a right to expect, as orders were made against him without him being given the opportunity to respond. He went on to say that ‘on any numbers of bases’ the decision made at the conclusion of the final hearing was procedurally unfair, to the extent that it should be set aside. He directed that the application for a financial remedy order be re-heard.
And finally, the big story of the week was the one about the Nigerian couple whose 18 year marriage broke down over an argument about a mobile phone battery. Apparently, the husband took exception when the wife tried to remove the battery from his phone, an argument ensued and the wife then went straight to the divorce court. Personally, if someone removed the battery from my mobile phone, thereby disconnecting me from unsolicited calls and messages and all the other junk I receive on it, I would think they were doing me a favour…
Have a good weekend.