Statistics, court profits and more

Family Law | 21 Jul 2017 1

A week in family law

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has been busy this week.

Firstly, they have published population estimates by marital status and living arrangements in England and Wales, for the period from 2002 to 2016. The statistics showed that there were 24.1 million people in England and Wales who were married in 2016, amounting to 50.9 per cent of the population aged 16 and over, and that the majority (61 per cent) of the population aged 16 and over in England and Wales were living in a couple in 2016. They also showed that the percentage of people aged 16 and over who are married has decreased over time, from 54.8 per cent in 2002 to 50.9 per cent in 2016.

Emily Knipe of the Population Statistics Division at the ONS commented:

“In England and Wales, being married continues to be the most common marital status for those age 16 and over in 2016. This is despite the proportion of the population who are married decreasing by 3.9 percentage points since 2002 and the proportion of the population who are single increasing. The population who are in a marriage between same-sex couples has more than doubled since 2015.”

Secondly, the most recent ONS marriage data has shown that older people in England and Wales are getting married and divorced in greater numbers. The number of brides and grooms aged 65 and over went up by 46 per cent in a decade, from 7,468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014. However, between 2005 and 2015 the number of men divorcing aged 65 and over went up by 23 per cent and the number of women of the same age divorcing increased by 38 per cent. The ONS says that the increase in older people ending and forming new relationships is likely to be because they are living longer. In 2004, an average 65-year-old man could expect to live for a further 17 years and a woman for a further 20 years. Continuing a long-term trend, in 2017, this has increased to 19 years for a man and almost 22 years for a woman.

All very interesting, although quite what we should make of this latest avalanche of data, I have no idea. Perhaps divorce lawyers should consider opening branch offices in retirement communities?

Moving on, a consultation has been launched by the Ministry of Justice to facilitate the de-linking of financial applications from divorce/civil partnership dissolution proceedings. The main proposal is to remove the possibility of making a financial remedies application within the divorce petition/application for civil partnership dissolution, as can be done now. The rationale behind the proposal is to make the divorce application and financial remedies application completely separate, now that they are dealt with in separate locations – the divorce in one of the eleven regional divorce centres and the financial remedies application in the parties’ local court. At present most people who issue divorce proceedings leave their (possible) financial claims in the divorce petition, even if they do not intend to proceed with those claims. This provides them with some protection, for example if they should remarry, as a financial claim cannot be made after remarriage. It will therefore be important that applicants in matrimonial and civil partnership proceedings are given proper guidance regarding making financial claims.

The annual report of HM Courts and Tribunals Service, covering the year ending March 2017, has revealed that the government made more than £100 million in profit from court fees during the year. In the course of the year the service brought in £186 million from family justice fees charges and £602 million from civil justice fees charges. However, once spending on civil justice was taken into account, the government recorded a surplus of almost £102 million. This, of course, means that when court proceedings are issued the litigant is effectively paying a tax, over and above the actual cost to the system of the proceedings. I wonder how many people are aware of this. I suspect that if the general public were told about it there would be an outcry. After all, people only go to the courts if they have a problem that needs resolving – why should they be penalised by having to pay a tax? Surely, the most that they should ever be required to pay is how much the proceedings cost to the system? In a sense the problem is even worse for family litigants, who are usually unable to recover the fees from the other party.

And finally, a cautionary tale for inattentive husbands. A woman in Taiwan has divorced her husband after he was found ‘guilty’ of failing to respond to her internet messaging. Now, a husband in such a situation might think that he can get away with ignoring his wife by saying that he never saw the messages. Unfortunately for this husband, the messaging service let his wife know that he had read the messages to which he did not respond. The moral clearly is: don’t read messages from your wife…

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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    1. dr. manhattan62 says:

      “the most that they should ever be required to pay is how much the proceedings cost to the system?”

      Yes i would say so. Govt should never be making a profit from the courts.
      they should donate that £100 million to good causes or use it to build new homes amid the housing shortage.

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