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An inheritance claim, mediation figures and more

A week in family law

A woman who was left nothing in a man’s will despite living with him for 42 years has been awarded a share of his £1.5 million estate. Joan Thompson, 79, claimed reasonable financial provision from the estate of her late partner, Wynford Hodge, who died in February 2017. The court granted her one of Hodge’s properties worth £225,000, together with £28,845 to renovate the property, and £160,000 for her future maintenance and care. The award was made despite Mr Hodge specifically explaining in his will why he had not left anything to Mrs Thompson. Some may criticise the award as being contrary to the principle of testamentary freedom, but it is really nothing more than the proper application of the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act, which was passed way back in 1975 with the intention (as the name suggests) of ensuring that proper provision is made for dependants of the deceased.

Quarterly legal aid statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of cases that went to mediation between October and December 2017 were down by 15 per cent on the same period in 2016, and currently stand at around 1,500, the lowest quarterly number of starts since legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters in 2013. Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) during the period were down by 12 per cent compared to the previous year, and currently stand at around a third of the levels they were before legal aid was abolished. All of this is painfully ironic, given the fact that encouraging mediation was the government’s flagship policy to ‘replace’ legal aid. It is even more ironic that the reason for fewer mediations is that no legal aid means no lawyers, and they were the ones who made most of the referrals to mediation. You couldn’t make it up…

There has been further praise for the judgment of Deputy District Judge Reed in the care/adoption case Jack (A Child : care and placement orders), in which she took great pains to couch the judgment in terms that the parents could understand (the father in the case has a mild learning difficulty, and finds reading difficult). As I said here, hopefully, the judgment will be a model for similar judgments in other family cases.

Moving on, I was wrong last week when I said that the decision that the application by the parents of Alfie Evans to the European Court of Human rights was inadmissible seemed to be the end of the legal proceedings regarding Alfie. We have since heard that the matter has been back before Mr Justice Hayden, who has endorsed an end-of-life care plan for Alfie. Details of the plan have not been made public, but I’m sure we are all thinking about Alfie and his family at this awfully difficult time.

And finally, a wife who was seeking to have her maintenance (which was at a rate required to meet her income needs, which the judge had assessed to be £175,000 per year for life) increased may well now be regretting taking her case to the Court of Appeal. I’ll not go into the arcane intricacies of her argument, but suffice to say that not only did she fail, but the Court of Appeal allowed the husband’s cross-appeal, with the result that the maintenance will now end in three years’ time. Ouch. In the course of the hearing before the Court of Appeal counsel for the wife expressed concern that recent public debate about how the courts determine a spouse’s claim for maintenance might somehow intrude into the determination of the case.  In particular, he suggested that the expression “meal ticket for life” was often deployed without regard to a spouse’s fair entitlement, which might properly include long-term maintenance. To this Lord Justice Moylan responded: “I understand why he suggests that the expression “meal ticket for life” can be used as an unfair trope.  However, I would make clear that my determination of this appeal has been based solely on my view of the proper application of the 1973 Act and the principles identified above to the facts of this case.”

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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