Needs, money, maintenance and more

Family Law|May 19th 2017

A Week In Family Law

A multi-millionaire husband who was ordered to pay his wife the sum of £4.25 million after just 23 months of marriage has failed to have the award overturned on appeal. The husband, who is worth about £37 million, appealed against the award, claiming that it was more than was required to meet the wife’s needs. However, Mr Justice Mostyn in the High Court dismissed the appeal, finding that whilst the award was generous, and other judges may have awarded less, it was well within the discretion of the judge. A useful demonstration of how our discretionary system works (and also of how it makes it difficult for lawyers to advise clients on what the outcome of their case will be!). The case also makes me wonder whether it is time we had a new word for ‘needs’.

In the latest edition of his View from the President’s Chambers Sir James Munby has called for a complete de-linking of divorce and ‘money’ cases, so that they are started and pursued by completely separate processes. Divorce cases would continue to be dealt with by the eleven regional divorce centres, whilst all family financial cases, including those not currently linked to divorce proceedings, would be dealt with by new specialist ‘Financial Remedies Courts’, which would presumably be local to where the parties live. The President hopes that the new courts will be piloted “as soon as sensibly possible in late 2017 or very early 2018”. Whether that timetable will prove optimistic I don’t know, but as I said here, I don’t see any great difficulties with the idea (so long as it does not require new money), and it may indeed bring benefits.

You never know what you are going to come across next when you read family law reports. I suppose the same goes Family Court judges when they look at the next cases on their lists. In Hillingdon Council v SM & Others Mrs Justice Theis had to decide what was best for an Afghan boy believed to be about twelve years of age, who was found unaccompanied at Heathrow Airport in November 2015. The local authority placed him with foster carers, and subsequently issued care proceedings. According to the boy, his father was killed and his mother then made arrangements for him to leave Afghanistan and come to England, where he will have a “better and safer life”. Mrs Justice Theis found that the whereabouts of the boy’s mother were unknown, and that it would therefore be impossible to return him to Afghanistan at this time. As there was no one to look after him, she ordered that he should be taken into care.

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its latest report on children benefiting from effective family-based child maintenance arrangements (i.e. arrangements agreed by the parents), after contacting the Child Maintenance Options service, which provides them with information and support. The report shows that 16,900 children (representing 16 per cent of clients) are benefiting from effective family-based arrangements made after contact with Child Maintenance Options between August and October 2016. Doesn’t sound like a lot to me. It should also be noted that ‘effective’ doesn’t necessarily mean that the absent parent is paying all they should pay under the child support maintenance formula. It can, for example, mean that only ‘at least some of the agreed amount is always/ usually received on time’. Doesn’t sound very effective to me.

There has been a rise in referrals of children affected by domestic abuse, according to a child protection charity. Buttle UK, which provides support to children in crisis, has published figures showing it received 9,909 referrals about children affected by domestic abuse during 2016, a figure which represents an increase in referrals of just under a third on the previous year, when the charity supported 7,446 children affected by domestic abuse. No less than 3,384 of the children referred were aged four or under. Worrying figures. Buttle chief executive Gerri McAndrew has called for all political parties to identify and prioritise the needs of these children in their manifestos.

And finally, the most dramatic story of the week must be the one about the jilted Indian woman who apparently kidnapped her former boyfriend at gunpoint in the middle of his wedding to another woman, which had been arranged by his family. The added dramatic twist is that the local police chief believes the man went willingly, and that the entire event was staged by the lovers to escape the arranged marriage. I think we should all look out for the next exciting episode of this story…

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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