Three weeks in family law
With the Xmas and New Year break, and my review of the year overflowing into a third post, it is now three weeks since my last Friday review of events. This is a quick summary of what has been going on during that time (admittedly not an awful lot, in a period notorious for its lack of serious news):
A consultation launched by the Department for Work and Pensions is proposing new powers to help tackle child maintenance arrears. The proposals include removing passports so that parents who persistently do not pay the child maintenance they owe could face being banned from holding or obtaining a UK passport for up to 2 years; improved calculations, taking into account income from capital, foreign income, notional income from assets and unearned income; and deductions from business accounts, so that the Child Maintenance Service could seize funds from sole trader and partnership accounts to pay off a parent’s unpaid maintenance bill. The consultation also outlines proposals to address historic unpaid child maintenance built up under the old Child Support Agency, and options for writing it off.
More than two-thirds of people in family court hearings in front of magistrates have no lawyer, according to a survey by the Magistrates Association for BuzzFeed News. This, say the magistrates, is leading to injustices and long, confrontational court hearings where children ultimately are the victims.
As I said at the time:
“…none of this is rocket science. It is both a damning indictment of the government’s decision to abolish legal aid, and a vindication of lawyers who act for parents in children disputes. The message is clear: don’t believe what you read in social media and elsewhere about lawyers being the enemies of parents and children. The opposite is true.”
The Court of Appeal has overturned a ruling by the High Court that a transgender Ultra-Orthodox Charedi Jew who left her community to start a new life as a woman should have no direct contact with her five children. The woman brought an application for direct contact with her children in 2015, but Mr Justice Peter Jackson (as he then was) held that the risk of psychological harm posed to the children by having direct contact with their father was too great, on the basis that they, as well as their mother, would be ostracised by the Ultra-Orthodox Charedi community. The woman appealed, and the Court of Appeal held that Mr Justice Jackson did not address ‘head on’ the human rights and discrimination issues that arose, and especially, that even secluded religious communities within society are not above the law of the land. In making a final order for indirect contact only, he “gave up too easily” on making direct contact work. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed, and the case was remitted back to the High Court for further consideration. Surely, the correct decision.
In its latest report the House of Commons Education Committee has concluded that children in foster care must be given better information about their placements, placed with their siblings where possible, and have access to advocacy services. The Committee finds the foster care system is under pressure and that the government needs to conduct a fundamental review of the whole care system to ensure children get the support they need. The report calls on the government to do more to prevent unnecessary placement breakdowns, increase the number of foster carers in the system, and improve working conditions by establishing a national college to support carers. I don’t know enough about this topic to comment, save to say that any support for foster children and carers must be welcome.
Mrs Justice Theis has criticised a gay couple whose marriage ran into difficulties after they had a surrogate daughter. In the case the couple entered into a surrogacy arrangement with an American surrogate mother. The child was born in September 2014. The couple jointly applied to the English court for a parental order, which would make them the child’s legal parents. However, the couple then separated, and only one of them proceeded with the application. Hearing the application, Mrs Justice Theis said that the couple had abdicated their responsibility to ensure that the child’s welfare needs were met. She refused to make a parental order as she held that the man, who is not British but lives in London, had not established that he had a domicile of choice in this jurisdiction, as was required before an order could be made.
And finally, if you have not read it already, may I recommend this post by Stowe Family Law Senior Partner Julian Hawkhead, in which he looks forward to the challenges and opportunities that 2018 will bring for the firm, including further expansion, new technology and new initiatives, both on a local and national level. Exciting times!
Have a good weekend.