A WEEK IN FAMILY LAW
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has given divorcing couples relief from higher rates of stamp duty, in his Autumn Budget. The higher rates, which imposed a 3 per cent surcharge on those buying properties in addition to their main home, were introduced to crack down on the buy-to-let market. While the policy was aimed at landlords, it had the unintended consequence that in certain circumstances couples going through a divorce would have to pay the higher charge. Mr Hammond has now moved to give couples in this situation relief from the additional rate. However, the Budget wording suggests that a court order may be required in order for the exemption to apply – informal arrangements between separating couples may not be enough. Hopefully, this particular stamp duty change will have the desired effect, as against the abolition of stamp duty on homes up to £300,000, which was meant to help first-time buyers, but appears to have actually helped home owners, who have used the measure as an excuse to increase the price of their properties.
The annual bulletin on domestic abuse in England and Wales, for the year ending March 2017, has been published The Office for National Statistics (ONS). According to the bulletin an estimated 1.9 million adults aged between 16 and 59 years experienced domestic abuse during the year, 1.2 million of whom were women, and 713,000 of whom were men. The group most likely to be victims of domestic abuse are women aged between 16 and 19, 11 per cent of whom say that they have experienced domestic abuse in the last year. A shocking statistic. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as the ONS says that its analysis of the figures indicates a gradual downward trend in levels of domestic abuse.
Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has warned that millions of unmarried couples living together are unaware that they are at severe financial risk as a result of the current legal system. To coincide with its ‘Cohabitation Awareness Week’, the association has published the results of a poll it commissioned which indicates that two-thirds of people in cohabiting relationships are unaware that there is no such as thing as ‘common-law marriage’. For an example of the sort of hardship that a cohabitee can suffer when their relationship ends and for a summary of what a cohabitee who is aware of their lack of rights can do to protect their rights (including signing a cohabitation agreement), see this post.
Returning to the topic of domestic abuse, four thousand women and children fleeing abuse will be locked out of refuges under government proposals, the charity Women’s Aid has warned. The charity say that plans announced by the Prime Minister to place councils in charge of ring-fenced supported housing funds could see more than a third of refuges across England forced to close down, according to a survey they have carried out. Thirty-nine per cent of the refuge services that responded to the survey said that they would have to close their doors under the proposals, and a further thirteen per cent said that they would be forced to reduce the number of bed spaces available. According to Woman’s Aid, this would result in the loss of more than 588 refuge spaces in the 61 refuge services that responded to the survey, which they say would mean an estimated 2,058 more women and 2,202 more children being turned away. These services are absolutely vital for the safety of women and children affected by the blight of domestic abuse – let us hope that a way is found to ensure that they are not closed down.
And finally, a story that will surely not be news to most family lawyers: research published by Cafcass shows that nearly a third of family cases ‘have been in court before’. The only thing I find surprising about this sad statistic is that the fraction is not larger – if a family is unable to sort out arrangements for children without going to court, then they are unlikely to be able to manage future arrangements without further court intervention. The research also looked into the reasons why these cases keep going back to court, and hopefully their findings might be useful in reducing the number of ‘return cases’ in future.
Have a good weekend.