A tax allowance, civil partnerships, and more

Family Law|September 29th 2017

A week in family law

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said that lawyers should embrace technology, as people increasingly expect to access services online. Speaking at the inaugural conference of YRes, Resolution’s network of family law professionals at the start of their careers, the President, whilst acknowledging that not every case was suitable for online hearings (particularly care cases), indicated that more cases would be resolved using digital technology in the future. He said: “When faced with the choice of opening a laptop in the kitchen, and talking to a judge via Skype; or running the gauntlet of travelling to a crumbling court building which may be many miles away – what do you think the litigant would prefer?” He also spoke of the need to embrace electronic file management, warning his audience: “If we lose the current opportunity we will still be on paper files when you’re coming up to your retirement.” Hmm. I remember that the paperless office was promised over twenty years ago, but never seems to have materialised.

More than two million couples eligible to claim marriage tax allowance are still failing to do so, according to HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). The tax allowance, which can be claimed by married couples or those in a civil partnership if they meet certain conditions, is worth up to £230 a year. However, since it was introduced in 2015, only 2.2 million couples have claimed it, from 4.4 million eligible. It has been suggested that part of the reason for the low take-up is the complexity of making a claim. However, an HMRC spokesperson said that the application process had been simplified. Whatever, it can hardly be said that the allowance has been a roaring success, and it certainly doesn’t appear to have done anything to encourage marriage, as some of its proponents hoped.

The NSPCC has reported that they received 4,749 calls from adults concerned about abusive or violent behaviour around children last year, a 77 per cent increase from 2012-13. Interestingly, rather than using the figures to suggest that there had been a huge rise in the number of children affected by domestic abuse, the Chief Executive of the NSPCC Peter Wanless had a much more positive response, saying that the increase “shows that more people are speaking up on behalf of frightened children living in violent homes”. Let us hope that he is right.

Still on the subject of domestic abuse, the Home Office has awarded funding to a project by children’s charity Barnardo’s designed to help boys who have been subjected to sexual abuse and exploitation. Barnardo’s say that: “The grant will allow the UK’s leading children’s charity to work with at risk boys and young men to identify ways they fall into abuse and help them recover from abusive experiences.” An excellent initiative.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that there were 890 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2016, an increase of 3.4% compared with 2015. This is the first annual increase since the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples was announced in 2013. I’m not sure that the increase is statistically significant, but a statistician at the ONS said that it showed that a minority of same-sex couples still prefer this option to marriage. Meanwhile, in a press release Resolution, the association of family lawyers, predictably said that the statistics would be of interest to policymakers and anyone monitoring the debate about extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples. Rather less predictably, in a logical sleight of hand they also managed to use the statistics to remind the world of “the pressing need for legislation to provide cohabiting couples with basic rights should they separate”. Never miss a chance to get your message across…

And finally, I’m sure the good people at the Marriage Foundation were casting envious glances at the Chinese this week, when news emerged that they can refuse to allow a divorce to go through if the couple score too highly on a relationship test. Personally, I can’t find fault with this excellent idea. There is no chance, for example, that couples who want a divorce would purposely answer the questions wrongly…

Have a good weekend.

Image by Hamza Butt via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

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  1. Paul says:

    Problem with this test is that the second you write it down people learn to circumvent it. Like the depression test at the Dr. You know exactly what answers to give to get the result you want. Im sure their will be soliciters who will be more than happy to coach people through the test to get the result they want.

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