A week in family law
So, we have a hung parliament. Quite what this will mean for family law and the various promises made by the parties is not at all clear, but I suspect that all talk of family law reform is likely to be shelved for a while, at least until matters that are considered to be of more importance are resolved. Quite when that will be is anyone’s guess.
OK, I’m sure you’ve all heard quite enough about the election, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.
Moving on, we have had a barrage of statistics regarding the child support system from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week.
Firstly the DWP published information on cases being processed under the 2012 child maintenance scheme by the Child Maintenance Service (CMS), covering the period of August 2013 to March 2017. The DWP says that the CMS’s caseload stood at 322,800 as of the end of March 2017, an increase of 11 per cent from December 2016, and that there are about 350,000 children benefitting from the scheme. Outstanding Maintenance Arrears were £113.7 million in March 2017, 17 per cent higher than the December 2016 figures.
Secondly, the DWP published statistics on the progress of the Child Support Agency (CSA) case closure programme, from June 2014 to March 2017 (the CSA is closing, to be replaced by the CMS). These showed that over 9 out of 10 cases with a CSA liability have started the Case Closure process, that 597,000 cases have had their CSA liability ended, and that 21 per cent of cases where liability has ended via Case Closure have now applied to the CMS, under the 2012 scheme.
I’m afraid I simply don’t have either the time or the inclination to even consider the implications of all these figures – make of them what you will.
One of the least surprising pieces of news this week was that family lawyers have reported seeing ‘far more acrimonious’ allegations in unreasonable behaviour divorce petitions since the Court of Appeal decision in Owens v Owens, as predicted by Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Julian Hawkhead. For those who have not been following, Mrs Owens was refused a divorce because the judge found that, despite the fact that the marriage had irretrievably broken down, she had failed to prove that Mr Owens had behaved in such a way that she could not reasonably be expected to live with him. Mrs Owens appealed against this decision to the Court of Appeal, but her appeal was dismissed in March this year. Since then lawyers have found that divorce petitions are being prepared with far more serious allegations than previously, so that they are not rejected by the court. The worry is that this will lead to more animosity, which in turn will lead to fewer divorce cases being resolved by agreement. Oh for a no fault divorce system…
A study by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has suggested that children whose parents have an acrimonious divorce are three times more likely to endure a lifetime of colds as adults. Researchers said anxiety in childhood may influence their susceptibility to disease up to 40 years later. The study involved quarantining 201 healthy adults, exposing them to a virus that causes a common cold and monitoring them for five days for the development of a respiratory illness. Those whose parents separated and were not on speaking terms were found to be more than three times as likely to develop a cold compared to those whose parents stayed together or split up amicably. Hmm, I’m not sure that family lawyers could sell this to their clients as another reason to divorce amicably…
The Supreme Court has declined to grant the parents of Charlie Gard permission to appeal to the Court. Lady Hale explained that parents are not entitled to insist upon treatment by anyone which is not in their child’s best interests.
“It is quite clear that the hospital was entitled to bring these proceedings, and the judge was required to determine the outcome of these proceedings. In doing so, he applied the right test and his factual findings cannot be challenged on appeal. It follows, that the proposed appeal does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance and so permission to appeal must be refused.”
The parents have taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), and the Supreme Court further stayed the High Court’s decision that treatment could be withdrawn until 5pm today, to allow the ECHR to consider whether there is an arguable case that there has been a breach of article 8 rights to privacy and family life. Let us just hope that this awful case is quickly brought to a conclusion, if it has not by the time you read this.
And finally, my favourite story of the week came in the post about people revealing their post-marriage surprises. The particular ‘surprise’ that I liked best was the one about the husband who discovered that his wife had been married six times previously. What I really liked was the husband’s response to this revelation, when he commented that he had been “denied some critical need-to-know information”. Yes, you could say that…
Have a good weekend.