A week in family law
I had wanted not to mention the election again, but Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has other ideas. Its National Chair, Nigel Shepherd, has called upon the major political parties to commit to modernising family justice in their manifesto. Resolution makes four proposals, which it claims “will make a huge, positive difference to the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people that separate each year”. In a letter to each of the major parties, Mr Shepherd calls on them to make a commitment in the next Parliament to allow couples to divorce without blame, to give cohabiting couples some basic legal rights, to ensure there is fair access to the family justice system, and to give people more financial clarity on divorce. Well, it seems that one party at least may be listening, as I understand that the leaked draft Labour Party manifesto includes commitments to introduce no-fault divorce and to reinstate legal aid for family matters. Let us hope these are in the final manifesto, and that the other parties follow suit.
Mr Justice Mostyn has condemned new child support rules which can lead to wealthy parents paying little or no child maintenance. In the case, Green v Adams, the father was a millionaire but lived on his capital and only paid “the pitiful minimum sum of £7 a week”. In such cases under the old rules the amount of the maintenance could have been varied upwards, on the grounds that the non-resident parent had “assets”. However, the rules were changed in 2013 and the “assets” ground of variation was not included in the new regime. Mr Justice Mostyn called upon the government to consider urgently the reinstatement of the “assets” ground. I agree. The idea that a millionaire parent is only paying £7 a week for their child’s maintenance is an insult, not just to the parent caring for the child, but to the child as well.
Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, has ruled that the security services do not need the permission of the court before questioning teenagers who have been made wards of court as a result of radicalisation fears. Courts can make wardship orders to control the movements of youngsters, and decide whether they should have passports, and it had been thought by some senior officers that a judge would have to give their consent before a child who had been made a ward could be interviewed. However, the President said that this was not necessary. This seems a sensible decision (as well as, I’m sure, a legally correct one) as, as was mentioned in the judgment, in the majority of cases there will be no time, in any event, to seek the court’s leave before the interviewing of a minor in such circumstances.
A couple have been criticised for the “crazy” amount of money they have spent on legal bills during their divorce. The couple have spent an eye-watering £1.5 million so far, arguing over assets worth £10 million. In a memorable quote Mr Justice Holman warned them that if they don’t negotiate there would be nothing left, and instead of getting Maseratis they would be left with ‘a beaten up old Ford’, if they were lucky. How many times have we heard judicial warnings of this type? And how often have they been heeded?
The future government should do more to support healthy couple, co-parenting and family relationships to improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and make significant savings to the public purse. This is according to the Relationships Alliance 2017 Manifesto, which was launched in anticipation of the general election (which is apparently happening on 8 June). It seems that everyone is getting in on the act of telling the next government what family policies they should adopt. As for this one, I’m not so sure.
Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for April 2017, and the figures show welcome decreases. In that month the service received a total of 1,029 care applications, which is 16 per cent decrease compared with those received in April 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,219 new private law cases, which is a seven per cent decrease on April 2016 levels
We are once again playing the ‘Is this the biggest divorce award ever in this country?’ game, following the publication of Mr Justice Haddon-Cave’s judgment in AAZ v BBZ and others, in which the wife was awarded the sum of £453 million. Whether it is the biggest, I neither know nor care. However the judgment is interesting, and I will be commenting upon it in my next post.
And finally, the most remarkable story of the week must be the one about the woman who swallowed thousands of dollars to prevent her husband from getting his hands on the money. Thankfully, the woman has made a full recovery, and some of the money was even recovered (I think if I was the husband I would say she could keep it). Even so, it is my professional opinion as a divorce lawyer that swallowing money to defeat a claim by your spouse is probably not the best idea.
Have a good weekend.