A difficult decision, an expensive row, and more

Family Law|March 10th 2017

A week in family law

The government has dropped controversial plans to allow councils to apply for exemptions from children’s social care law, the Department for Education has confirmed. The plans would have allowed local authorities to seek exemptions from statutory duties on child protection for up to six years, to allow them to test new ways of working in children’s services. However, more than fifty organisations opposed the plans, including the Care Leavers’ Association, the British Association of Social Workers and the trade union Unison. They argued that the exemptions would erode vital legal protections for children. I’m no expert on public law matters, but I have to agree with Professor Eileen Munro, who described the plans as a “serious danger”.

Last weekend a certain national newspaper ran a story claiming that husbands are being ‘bullied’ out of generous divorce settlements by breadwinning wives. The story pointed out that with more women being the breadwinners these days men are being awarded more generous divorce pay-outs, some also receiving ongoing maintenance payments from their ex-wives. However, the story continued, lawyers believe many more husbands are missing out on money they are entitled to, after being told by their ex-wives that ‘real men’ wouldn’t do such a thing. Hmm. The idea that wives can be breadwinners too is hardly news in 2017, and nor is it news that some of them may use any tactic to try to persuade their exes to settle for less!

Moving on, in another story that demonstrates the extremely difficult decisions that our family courts have to make, the parents of a seven-month-old baby are challenging doctors in court to keep their son on life support. Connie Yates and Chris Gard’s son, Charlie, is suffering from a rare genetic condition, and is receiving 24-hour treatment at London’s Great Ormond Street hospital. Sadly, there is no accepted cure for the disease and the hospital is therefore seeking permission from the court to remove him from life support so that he can be allowed to die naturally. However, his parents say a pioneering procedure offered in the United States could save his life, and they have launched a campaign to raise funds to pay for the treatment.

A divorcing couple have been engaged in a bitter and expensive row over a holiday cottage that they own in a remote village in County Galway. When it was suggested that the couple might share the cottage, or that the wife might find another property in the village she told Mr Justice Holman that the “village isn’t big enough for both of us”. The couple are said to have run up legal costs of £800,000. Thankfully, it has since been reported that the couple have settled the argument, with the husband agreeing that the wife can have the cottage. Mr Justice Holman told them that he was “very, very glad” that agreement had been reached. He said:

“Obviously I regret it could not have been sooner and some of these massive costs saved.”


There was some good news in the Budget. The government announced new funding totalling £20 million to “support organisations working to combat domestic violence and abuse, and to support victims” over the life of the parliament. Chancellor Phillip Hammond said that this would take the total funding for implementing the government’s ‘Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’ to £100m over the life of the parliament.

Chief executive of Women’s Aid Polly Neate welcomed the funding, saying:

“The extra £20 million of funding announced today for services to support women and children who have lived through the fear and trauma of domestic violence and abuse is desperately needed – and warmly welcomed. It’s not a moment too soon, as Women’s Aid’s most recent national survey found that a third of domestic abuse services are running with no dedicated funding.”

And finally, this week’s prize for research findings of dubious utility goes to the American lawyer search website Avvo, which has published a study telling us that men think about divorce more than women. I suppose it could be useful to divorce lawyers, if only they could find some way of converting those thoughts into action…

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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