Digital divorce, surrogacy and grandparents: A week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|May 11th 2018

Divorce goes online…

As I discussed here on Tuesday, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Ministry of Justice have launched a fully digital divorce application process across the country.

As they explain: “The online service offers prompts and guidance to assist people in completing their application, and uses clear, non-technical language. The whole process can be completed online, including payment and uploading supporting evidence.”

Over the coming months, HMCTS intend to make the rest of the divorce process digital, right up to the application for the decree absolute (although the pronouncement of the decree nisi by a judge will continue to happen in a courtroom).

As I said in my previous post, it all sounds quite wonderful and simple, and perhaps it is, but most users of the system will still need some proper legal advice.

The digital divorce system is, of course, part of the government’s much-vaunted £1 billion programme to modernise and upgrade the justice system. Whilst the launching of a digital divorce system is seen as a positive, it seems that that is not the case with everything about the programme. A report into the progress of the programme, published by the National Audit Office (‘NAO’) on Wednesday, concludes that:

“HMCTS faces a daunting challenge in delivering the scale of technological and cultural change necessary to modernise the administration of justice and achieve the savings required. It has responded to early concerns by extending the timetable and improving its governance and programme management. But there is a long way to go to achieve the planned transformation and overall HMCTS is behind where it expected to be at this stage.”

Auditors found that the cost of the programme has already risen by £200 million, to £1.2 billion, and the NAO said that:

“There are unresolved funding gaps, and trying to fit savings around spending commitments and demand pressures could undermine services.”

HMCTS has already reduced the scope of the programme and scaled back planned benefits. All of this is very worrying, particularly given the drastic cutbacks to the ‘old’ justice system, for example by court closures. The new system must deliver, if we are not to end up with something that is less than we had before.

Read the full article here

A call to change surrogacy laws

I start my weekly round-up with the news that the Law Commission of England and Wales and the Law Commission of Scotland have started a review on the laws surrounding surrogacy.

Following calls for urgent reform of “old-fashioned” laws that make surrogate mothers the legal parents of the children they deliver, the Commissions agree that there are significant issues to address.

The transfer of parentage from the surrogate mother to the intended parents can create difficulties for the intended parents making medical decisions about the child as the process can take up to two years because of complicated bureaucracy and long waiting lists.

Professor Nick Hopkins, Law Commissioner for England and Wales, said:

“Our society has moved on from when surrogacy laws were first introduced 30 years ago and, now, they are not fit for purpose. For many, having a child is the best day of their lives and surrogacy can be the only option for some who want a genetic link to the baby. But the issues are difficult and there is no quick fix.”

The regulation of surrogacy also requires an improvement, so standards can be monitored and kept high. Yes, it really is about time this was looked at again.

Keeping in touch with grandparents

And finally, as I also discussed here on Tuesday, MPs have been debating changes to the law to help grandparents maintain contact with their grandchildren.

In the debate, in the House of Commons on the 2nd of May, Nigel Huddleston, the Conservative MP for Mid Worcestershire, put forward two proposals as to how the law might be reformed to help grandparents. Firstly, he proposed doing away with the need for grandparents to apply for the leave, or permission, of the court before they can proceed with their application for a child arrangement (i.e. contact) order.

Secondly, he suggested that the ‘shared parenting presumption’ in section 1(2A) of the Children Act 1989 be extended to include grandparents or extended family members, so that the court should presume, unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of those people in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare.

As I indicated in my post at the time, I’m not sure that these proposals will actually make much difference to grandparents who are unable to agree on contact with the parent(s) of the child.

Read the full article here

That’s all for this week. Have a good weekend.

Author: John Bolch

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.

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