A tribute, a short marriage and more

Family Law|March 3rd 2017

A week in family law

President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has paid tribute to his predecessor Sir Nicholas Wall, who died earlier this month, having reportedly taken his own life after being diagnosed with dementia. In a lengthy tribute Sir James said: “Sir Nicholas Wall was indisputably one of the outstanding family lawyers of our generation. He combined great intellectual rigour with humanity and compassion. His appointment as President of the Family Division in April 2010 crowned a most distinguished career in family law. He was well known for his kindness and generosity to colleagues at the Bar and on the Bench, and for his patience and courtesy in dealing with those who appeared before him, especially those without the benefit of legal representation.” Certainly a tragic loss.

Moving on, I was very interested to hear the views of Supreme Court Justice Lord Wilson regarding the issues of no-fault divorce and cohabitees’ property rights. To hear such an eminent and distinguished judge express his disappointment that we still do not have either of these things is poignant, but at the same time encouraging. If more members of the senior judiciary were to ‘come out’ in favour of these essential reforms then perhaps the government may finally be persuaded to act.

A successful city trader has appealed to the Court of Appeal to have her divorce settlement to her ex-husband reduced by £1.5 million, to £1.2 million. Julie Sharp ended her four-year childless marriage. In November 2015 Mr Sharp was awarded £2,737,000 in a “clean break” settlement, out of assets of £6.9 million, almost all of which came from Mrs Sharp. Mrs Sharp has asked for the award to be cut to £1,197,000, arguing that the judge’s 50-50 division of the assets was “intrinsically unfair”. However, Mr Sharp has insisted that he made a major contribution to the marriage in managing their properties, and he took redundancy in 2012 to oversee the renovation of their six-bedroom manor house near Cheltenham. The Court of Appeal has reserved its judgment. The case has renewed the debate over how long a marriage must be before the equal sharing principle applies.

Children living in the poorest neighbourhoods of the UK are almost ten times more likely to be taken into care or placed on a child protection plan than those from affluent areas, a study has revealed. The Child Welfare Inequalities Project found that one in 60 children is in care in England’s most deprived areas, compared with one in 660 in the least deprived. Lead investigator Paul Bywaters explained: “We’ve known for years that child abuse and neglect is linked to poverty, but there’s been a fundamental gap in our understanding of how a child’s family circumstances and neighbourhood deprivation or locality impacts their chances of the state intervening to improve their life chances. Our ultimate aim is to make reducing inequalities in child welfare a key policy objective, in the same way that tackling inequalities in health and education have been prioritised in recent years.”

A social worker named and criticised by a judge as having altered care records to make them more critical of a mother and thereby strengthen the local authority’s case for a care order has lost a legal bid to have the findings overturned. Mr Justice Baker refused Linda Fraser permission to appeal findings from a March 2016 ruling handed down by District Judge Exton, sitting in the Family Court in Bristol. No care order was made in the case and Exton ordered that Fraser be named in a published version of the ruling. Fraser’s application was heard in July last year but the judgment has only been made public this week. In her appeal Ms Fraser relied on evidence that she was under very considerable stress and suffered significant mental health problems. However, Mr Justice Baker found that Exton was “entirely within her discretion” to draw her conclusions as to Fraser’s motive, and held that there was “no real prospect” of an appeal court concluding that Exton’s findings against her were “wrong or unfair”.

And finally, I wish to take issue with the researchers who claim that mothers suffer from a lack of sleep after they have children far more than fathers do. They obviously weren’t in my household in the weeks after my son was born…

Have a good weekend.

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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