A week in family law
A Russian oil billionaire is appealing against an order requiring him to pay £453 million to his former wife. Well, I suppose if I were ordered to pay such a sum, I’d give an appeal a punt too. Seriously, Farkhad Akhmedov’s lawyers are claiming that the order, which required him to give 41.5 per cent of his “staggering” wealth to his ex-wife Tatiana Akhmedova, showed “manifestly unjust” favouritism towards his wife (and presumably towards wives in general) by the courts in this country. I guess what it will all boil down to is that he considers that his contribution towards the marriage, in terms of his huge wealth, was worth considerably more than his wife’s contribution towards the welfare of the family, in particular raising the couple’s two sons. Yes, that old chestnut again.
The report of a review into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales launched in 2016 by the then Home Secretary Theresa May has been published. The review was ordered primarily because of concerns that some Sharia councils were discriminating against women who use their services on matters of marriage and divorce. It made three recommendations for reform. Firstly, that civil marriages are conducted before or at the same time as the Islamic marriage ceremony, so that all Islamic wives, some of whom do not civilly register their marriage, have the protection of the law of England and Wales. Secondly, that awareness campaigns, educational programmes and other similar measures be put in place to educate and inform women of their rights and responsibilities. Thirdly, it recommended the introduction of regulation Sharia councils. However, the Home Office has indicated that it would not be taking forward this recommendation, saying: “Sharia law has no jurisdiction in the UK and we would not facilitate or endorse regulation, which could present councils as an alternative to UK laws.” I agree, and for my thoughts on the review, see this post.
Next, a warning for anyone who is determined to “have their day in court”. A divorcing couple who have spent almost a third of their wealth on legal fees as their acrimonious divorce continues have been told by a judge that their case is a “scandalous waste of court time”. Mr Justice Holman said that Barbara Cooke and Michael Parker had “completely lost touch with reality”, having spent almost £2 million of their total assets of £6.6 million on lawyers’ fees. His comments were made at a pre-trial hearing. He estimated that about another £200,000 would be spent on lawyers if the case went to trial, and therefore urged the couple to negotiate. Sounds like excellent advice.
Moving on, civil partnerships for straight couples are back on the agenda, with Tim Loughton MP’s Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) private members’ bill having received an unopposed second reading on 2 February. However, as has been pointed out here, the Bill would only require the Secretary of State to “make arrangements for the preparation of a report assessing how the law ought to be changed to bring about equality between same-sex couples and other couples in terms of their future ability or otherwise to form civil partnerships”. The Bill would not therefore actually bring in civil partnerships for all, and may even result in a decision to scrap civil partnerships entirely. Still, at least the matter seems to be progressing to a decision – as things stand now there is clearly an inequality, with civil partnerships only being open to same-sex couples.
And finally, in more good news for reformers, The Times has reported that our new Lord Chancellor David Gauke “has agreed to examine the case for reforming divorce laws that force couples into damaging and false allegations of blame.” I have been calling for this (i.e. no-fault divorce) for years, but unlike some I shall take no credit for the fact that Mr Gauke is clearly heeding my advice. Not that Mr Gauke is admitting that I had anything to do with it (somehow I don’t think I am one of the ‘respected figures’). He said: “I know The Times has campaigned vigorously for reform of family law, including fault-based divorce, and a number of respected figures have voiced their support for change. I acknowledge the strength of feeling on this issue and will study the evidence for change.” We should not, however, get too carried away, as he added that he would not “rush to a conclusion”. Hopefully, when he does reach a conclusion, it will be the right one.
Have a good weekend.