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Divorce Day, domestic abuse, and a new Lord Chancellor

A week in family law

It’s been a bit of a quiet week on the family law news front, although that’s not unusual for this time of year. Perhaps there are still a few post-Xmas hangovers out there.

There is, however, one piece of ‘news’ that never fails to appear at this time: ‘Divorce Day’. Like it or loathe it, this has become a fixture for the first working Monday of every January (or whenever), with about as many people telling you how busy it is for divorce lawyers, as telling you that it doesn’t actually exist at all. I’ve not got into that argument this year, but I do worry that the whole idea of ‘Divorce Day’ can be offensive, both towards lawyers and those whose marriages have broken down.

Moving swiftly on, the Department for Work and Pensions has done its bit for family law news outlets, by publishing a guide about the services they provide for people who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. As the guide says: “The government is fully committed to the prevention of abuse and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has a range of measures designed to support people who flee violent and abusive households.” The information contained in the guide includes special conditions for Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, the benefit cap, removal of the spare room subsidy, Discretionary Housing Payments, Migrant partner support and remission of the Child Maintenance Service application fee.” Useful stuff.

Still on the subject of domestic abuse, although not exactly news, changes to evidence requirements for legal aid for domestic abuse victims came into effect on 8 January. There will no longer be a time limit on abuse evidence, which previously stood at five years, and the range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse has been widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers. On his last day as Justice Minister Dominic Raab said: “We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases. Today’s changes will ensure that vulnerable women and children get legal support, so their voice is properly heard in court. Legal aid is available to people involved in private family disputes if they are victims, or are at risk of becoming victims, of domestic violence or child abuse. To qualify, applicants must provide objective evidence of the abuse while their case is also subject to means and merits tests.” A small step in the right direction.

There was one interesting case published this week, although it was actually decided last month: B v C (temporary leave to remove to non-Hague Convention country). As that name indicates, the case dealt with the thorny issue of whether or not a parent should be allowed to take a child to a country that is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. This is always a terribly difficult decision for a court to make, the problem being that if the child is kept in that country then it can be extremely hard for the other parent to secure the child’s return to this country, without the assistance provided by the Convention. In this case we are not told the identity of the country (or countries) concerned, but you can find a list of contracting states here. In a carefully considered judgment Her Honour Judge Vincent found that the risk of the mother abducting the child was “virtually non-existent”, and she therefore made an order granting the mother permission to take the child on holidays, including to non-Hague Convention countries.

And finally, the biggest story of the week was the unexpected news that David Gauke MP has been appointed Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, as part of Theresa May’s cabinet reshuffle. Mr Gauke will be the sixth Lord Chancellor in six years, and the first ever solicitor in the role. I won’t say anything more about the appointment here, as I give my views on it in this post.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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