Domestic violence and contact, three interesting judgments, and more

Family Law|August 4th 2017

A week in family law

Domestic violence is a factor in nearly two thirds of child contact applications, a study has found. The study, which was published jointly by Women’s Aid and Cafcass, found that 62 per cent of applications relating to where a child should live or spend time involved domestic abuse as a risk factor. The fathers’ rights charity Families Need Fathers (FNF) has criticised the study, describing it as a “one-sided publication that is clearly intended to influence practice in the family courts”, and saying that it “betrayed the trust” of fathers. The group pointed out that Women’s Aid primarily campaigns against domestic violence committed against women and girls, and added that the study focuses on allegations of abuse “rather than reality”, claiming that it is experiencing a rise in reports of unfounded allegations. Cafcass has strongly refuted claims that the report is biased, telling the Marilyn Stowe Blog that the study is gender-neutral, with the data showing where allegations of domestic abuse have been made by men and women. I won’t get into the argument, but I do agree with FNF when it points out that more allegations of domestic abuse are of course likely when the system says that parents can’t get legal aid unless there has been abuse.

A High Court judge has written a judgment in the form of a personal letter to a 14 year-old boy. In the letter Mr Justice Peter Jackson explained why he had rejected the boy’s request to move with his father to Scandinavia. He said that whilst he respected the boy’s views, he did not take them at face value because he thought they were significantly formed by the boy’s loyalty to his father. He went on to say that he had no confidence at all that a move to Scandinavia would work and that he thought it would be very harmful for the boy to be living so far away from his mother. He also expressed the hope that the boy’s father would stay in this country, for the boy’s sake. The judgment has been praised in many quarters, although I do wonder how the boy reacted to the receipt of the letter.

A mother has been allowed to remove her child’s middle name, against the father’s wishes. The judge dealing with the case said of the name:

“The middle name is a normal well established name. It is not eccentric or in itself offensive. However, the mother’s case was that, as a result of its association with a notorious public figure, it is infected with bad connotations.”

The father opposed the change, saying that he wanted to preserve the middle name as part of the child’s identity. However, the judge agreed that continuing use of the middle name would damage the child’s emotional welfare. He therefore gave the mother permission to remove the name. The father appealed against the decision, but his appeal was dismissed. For a discussion of what names the court might find unacceptable, see this post, and for a response to the suggestion in some quarters that the grant of legal aid to the mother was a waste of taxpayer’s money, see this post.

In an interesting judgment the High Court judge has ruled that a council cannot force the removal of an online protest petition set up by a mother in order to protest against the adoption of her children. Southend council had sought to use an injunction to force the mother and father to take down the petition relating to their children’s care proceedings. The council contended that the petition risked causing emotional harm to the children, who are in foster placements. However, Mr Justice MacDonald dismissed the application, saying that the parents’ right to freedom of expression outweighed the risk to the children. Hopefully, the judgment will not be seen by other parents in a similar position as a green light to set up petitions of their own, rather than engage properly with the authorities – Mr Justice MacDonald did warn that his decision should not be seen as a judgment on the merits or demerits of online petitions in general.

And finally, it seems that the old rhyme about what a bride should wear at her wedding may have been re-worded, at least for wives-to-be in the southern state of Tennessee: “Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a… 9mm handgun.” That at least was how a bride in Murfreesboro prepared for her nuptials. And when, after tying the knot, she got into a drunken argument with her groom, she pulled the (thankfully unloaded) weapon from her dress, pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger, bringing the unhappy couple’s honeymoon to an abrupt end. As I said on Twitter, I’ve heard of a shotgun wedding, but that is ridiculous…

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. Sam says:

    Reading that,”The grant of legal aid to the mother was a waste of taxpayer’s money…” struck a chord with me.

    In a case that is in no way directly related, I am wondering just what rights does the person who is the respondent have, to oppose the granting of legal aid? Such as when they have information that proves the grantee, the receiver of legal aid, has considerably more assets than they let on?

    More importantly, if, when they supply that information to the competent authorities, it is rejected — to whom can they appeal? Is there any over-arching authority which can review the decision — or is the decision incontrovertible, and unable to be changed? So that tax payers’ money is glibly WASTED, with no come-back whatsoever?

    If the person seeking legal aid is quite prepared to lie about their assets, and for whatever reason Legal Aid accepts their word, what can be done about it? Unless there IS some higher authority which can look into the matter more deeply, the grantee can run rings around the system — and the person they are fighting.

    More importantly, it is the taxpayer who is losing out — supporting somebody who has no legitimate right to financial support from a government body which simply doesn’t bother to do it’s homework.

    Some would call that “dereliction of duty” — but if so, to whom can one complain?

  2. JL says:

    Do I have to pay a settlement to my abusive husband? I used
    to earn a good wage as a head teacher, Now I am on benefits because I am suffering post traumatic stress disorder owing to domestic violence – both physical and emotional. I have not worked for over a year and was told by doctors that I am still suffering. My husband earns a good wage – at least thirty thousand pounds plus!. He recently left the house because the courts has recently ordered him to pay the mortgage. He is expecting me to pay him off but I can not as I am not working. He is demanding 30, 000 pounds. settlement. His contribution over 10 years of ,marriage was – at maximum 400 pounds per month (for all the bills, food utilities etc.) Owing to the impact of domestic violence, I am now unable to provide him with expensive life style he liked. My concern is about surviving and healing. I was forced to leave the house I I bought because threatened to kill me. He is earning a above average earnings. 30,000 plus. I am unsure how it works and I feel very vulnerable. I offered 10,000 and don’t believe I can offer any more as cant afford to because of the impact of being strangled and having knives pushed into my throat on several occasions. The solicitors see to be more focus on how much I should pay him!! What advice can you tell me please?

    • Stitchedup says:

      “Now I am on benefits because I am suffering post traumatic stress disorder owing to domestic violence – both physical and emotional”
      I’m surprised your husband has a job, physical violence should be very easy to prove and would normally attract a prison sentence.

      • B says:

        Unfortunately it may be easy to prove , but that would actually require police forces that would be wanting to prove it. Far too many women are being let down. Abused by men of entitlement and then further abused by the system.

        • Stitchedup says:

          Given clear evidence of physical violence the police would jump on a case and the attacker would feel the full force of the law. The Police also have a positive action policy which essentially means arrest man first, ask questions later. Of course, the police then risk being in breach of PACE code G if the arrest hasn’t met the necessity test.

  3. Paul Apreda says:

    Well I cant possibly allow an opportunity to AGREE with John Bolch to pass……
    In this article he states – ‘I won’t get into the argument, but I do agree with FNF when it points out that more allegations of domestic abuse are of course likely when the system says that parents can’t get legal aid unless there has been abuse’
    This is significant of course, particlarly as we are about to see how far the President was successful in reining in the worst excesses of former Gingerbread trustee Stephen Cobb and his pals in Women’s Aid who have re-written PD12J after we were instrumental in it being paused back in January. Significantly Munby responded to a call for the making of false allegations to be recognised as DV at the FNF AGM in March. The President said
    ‘I’m very attracted by the idea, it needs careful thinking and I’m going to think about in the context of Practice Direction 12J. It is, as you will imagine, exceedingly controversial, it will be exceedingly controversial in some quarters but that’s not a reason to shy away from it and I’m not frightened away by controversy’.
    We’ll see just how far Cobb and Women’s Aid have forced the President to back away from this in the next few days when PD12J is published

  4. Mags says:

    I just wanted to add that in dealing with a friend’s case recently he didn’t even realise that he was a victim of domestic abuse. He was alienated from his family, his ex took control of all the finances for the house, withdrew affection, constantly belittled him, and then she started abusing him via the police and courts by making false allegations and appealling every order and judgement that was made. This is controlling and coercive behaviour and falls under domestic abuse. All men should be made aware of this. I have seen it destroy someone. It is discriminatory that as soon as the female cites domestic violence she is immediately considered a victim and the man an abuser. Having to prove that he did not do what she says he has done. Innocent until proven guilty should be strictly adhered to in accusations of DV. And the man should be provided with the questionnaire that determines whether he has suffered any abuse. The whole system is bad news.

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