A week in family law: Two court cases and more

Family Law|Industry News | 18 May 2018 0

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It’s been a slightly odd week for family law news. As we will see in a just moment, there have been other things going on, but the news has been quite skewed by the unusual circumstance of not one but two-family law cases taking place in the Supreme Court. And not just that, but those cases have brought with them quite a storm of media interest, thrusting family law issues to the forefront of public attention.

First, though, the other news.

Statistics released by the Adoption Leadership Board have revealed that the number of adoptions continued to fall last year, but that the rate of decline has slowed. In 2016/17 4,370 children were adopted, 6.4 per cent down on the 4,690 adoptions recorded in 2015/16.

The annual rate of decline is around half that recorded in the previous 12 months – between 2014/15 and 2015/16 adoptions fell 12 per cent. The figures also showed that the number of children waiting to be placed with an adoptive family rose over the final three months of 2016/17.

At the end of March 2017, there were 2,470 children waiting to be adopted, a seven per cent increase on the 2,320 waiting at the end December 2016. Whether this continued decline in adoptions is a good thing or a bad thing depends upon your point of view, but I suspect that the government may not be too pleased, as increasing the number of adoption has been a flagship policy for some time.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for April 2018. In that month, the service received a total of 1,110 care applications. This figure represents a 6 per cent increase in comparison with April 2017. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,541 new private law cases. This is a 13 per cent increase compared with those received in April 2017, and is the highest demand for the month of April in the last four years. The worrying upward trend continues.

Versteegh v Versteegh

In another big-money Court of Appeal case, a wife’s attempt to increase a financial award to her has been rejected. Camilla Versteegh was appealing against the award, which gave her £51.4 million, approximately half of the non-business assets, plus a 23.4% interest in a business which had been created by, and was run by, Mr Versteegh.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Lady Justice King, who gave the leading judgment, found that the case was a ‘sharing case’, in that the provision made went beyond that which would provide for the needs of Mrs Versteegh.

However, she said that that was the case did not “catapult a court to the conclusion that the only fair distribution of the assets is now an equal division of the assets”. You can read the full judgment here.

But there’s really only one place that the family law focus has been this week: The Supreme Court.

Firstly, on Monday Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan launched their appeal against the decision that they, as a different-sex couple, are not able to enter into a civil partnership. They have deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage, based upon what they consider to be its historically patriarchal nature. They wish instead to enter into a civil partnership, which they consider would reflect their values and give due recognition to the equal nature of their relationship. It is clearly not right that civil partnerships are not available to all, but of course this could equally be remedied by doing away with them altogether, now that marriage is available to same-sex couples.

Secondly, Tini Owens yesterday appealed against the refusal of the court to grant her a divorce. Her divorce petition had been based upon her husband’s behaviour. He defended the case and argued at the trial that the examples given of his behaviour were not such as to satisfy the requirements of the law. The judge agreed and dismissed the petition. Again, the law seems to me, and to many other lawyers, to be wrong, in that it forces people to remain in unhappy marriages that have clearly broken down.

I hope both of the appeals succeed (it may be some months before the Supreme Court hands down its decisions), but in each case we may have to wait for parliament to change the law, by bringing in civil partnerships for all/none, and no-fault divorce.

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.

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