Maintenance variation, adultery and more

Family Law|August 18th 2017

A week in family law

The proper approach to applications to vary maintenance orders is to be considered by the Supreme Court, in the case Mills v Mills. The facts of the case are that the parties were divorced in 2002. Their financial claims were settled by a consent order which, amongst other things, provided the wife with a capital sum and required the husband to make maintenance payments to the wife of £1,199 per month. In 2014 the husband applied to discharge the maintenance order or, in the alternative, for a downward adjustment. His case was that the wife (i) had lost the capital she had been awarded in 2002 through gross financial mismanagement and (ii) was in a position to work more in order to increase her earnings. The wife sought an upward variation of the maintenance, on the basis that she was unable to meet her basic needs. The judge held that the order should continue without any variation. The Court of Appeal allowed the wife’s appeal, and ordered that the maintenance be increased to £1,441 per month. The Supreme Court has granted the husband permission to appeal on the single ground: whether, provision having already been made for the wife’s housing costs in the capital settlement, the Court of Appeal erred in taking these into account when raising her maintenance. The Supreme Court hearing date has not yet been fixed, but I await with interest the outcome.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for July 2017, and the news was mixed. In that month the service received a total of 1,238 care applications, which is a five per cent decrease compared with those received in July 2016, giving some much-needed relief to the pressure on the system. As to private law demand, the news was not so good: Cafcass received a total of 3,709 new private law cases, which is a ten per cent increase on July 2016 levels, and also higher than the levels for the same month in 2014 and 2015. Considering that in a large proportion of these cases one or both of the parents are unrepresented, that is an awful lot of pressure on the courts dealing with these cases.

Prisoners who regularly receive visits from family members are much less likely to reoffend, according to a new report published by the Ministry of Justice. The report says that research shows prisoners who receive visits from a family member are 39 per cent less likely to reoffend, and that close ties between prisoners and key family members can significantly reduce the risk of reoffending, which costs society £15 billion every year.

Lord Farmer, who prepared the report, said:

“My report is not sentimental about prisoners’ families, as if they can, simply by their presence, alchemise a disposition to commit crime into one that is law abiding. However, I do want to hammer home a very simple principle of reform that needs to be a golden thread running through the prison system and the agencies that surround it. That principle is that relationships are fundamentally important if people are to change.”

The Ministry of Justice has already started developing a strategy which will take forward recommendations from the review. All sounds very promising.

A new ‘do it yourself’ divorce form could lead to more adultery accusations, lawyers are warning. They say that the new form invites people to ‘name and shame’ adulterers, and that this could add unnecessary conflict and complexity to divorces. The form, which was designed to be easier to complete by those without a lawyer, includes a box where details of the name and address of the person with whom the respondent can be inserted.

Margaret Heathcote, vice-chairwoman of Resolution, said:

“Generally speaking, we don’t name the third party. It increases the conflict from day one. There’s no need. But because the box is there, the indication will be to fill it in.”

As I explain in this post, I am not really sure that the form will have this effect – what will lead to more co-respondents being named is more petitioners proceeding without legal advice, not the wording in the form.

And finally, resisting the temptation to comment upon the story of the Zambian man who repeatedly skipped work in order to conceive a child, the other big news story of the week was about the study indicating that brand preferences could affect relationships. Hmm. Not sure what it says about the strength of a relationship if a preference for Pepsi over Coke is enough to cause it to break down…

Have a good weekend.

Author: John Bolch

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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