Two weeks in family law: No-fault divorce, domestic abuse and the troubling case of Ford v Halil

Family Law|Industry News|September 21st 2018

After last week’s hiatus, we have two weeks of family law news to catch up on.

No-fault divorce consultation

The big news is that the Ministry of Justice has published its much-anticipated consultation upon the reform of the legal requirements for divorce, i.e. the introduction of a no-fault divorce system. In a press release from the Ministry of Justice, the Lord Chancellor David Gauke said:

“Marriage will always be one of our most important institutions, but when a relationship ends it cannot be right for the law to create or increase conflict between divorcing couples. That is why we will remove the archaic requirements to allege fault or show evidence of separation, making the process less acrimonious and helping families look to the future.”

Proposals detailed in the consultation include retaining the sole ground for divorce, i.e. the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage; removing the need to show evidence of the other spouse’s conduct, or a period of living apart; introducing a new notification process where one, or possibly both parties, can notify the court of the intention to divorce; and removing the opportunity for the other spouse to contest the divorce application.

The consultation also seeks views on the minimum timeframe for the process between the decree nisi and decree absolute, which the Ministry of Justices says “will allow couples time to reflect on the decision to divorce and to reach agreement on arrangements for the future where divorce is inevitable.” I give my views on the proposals in this post.

Football and domestic abuse

I wrote here just last month about a new study that throws into doubt the idea that football can be a trigger for domestic abuse. However, on the 8th of September, the BBC reported that Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the lead officer for football policing in England and Wales, has said that there was a “significant rise” in domestic abuse reports during the World Cup.

The report tells us that more than 60 incidents were reported after England’s semi-final defeat by Croatia, compared to the highest figure of 24 during Euro 2016, although it does say that it is not clear if this is due to a rise in the crime, or better reporting.

We are also told that about 1,340 of the total 1,487 football-linked reported incidents (90%) were in relation to England’s seven games between 14 June and 15 July, according to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (‘NPCC’). Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the NPCC’s lead on domestic violence said:

“Football does not cause domestic abuse but these figures suggest an increase in incidents during key England fixtures. Whilst emotions may run high, there is no excuse to abuse your partner.”

Well, quite, but it would appear that the whole idea of a connection between football and domestic abuse, if any, requires further study.

Half a world away

I have written here twice about the troubling case Ford v Halil, in which two children have ended up living half a world away from either of their parents (for my more recent post, see here). For those who haven’t been following, the case concerns a family that separated in 2012. The mother subsequently formed a relationship with an American man, who lives in Alaska. She married the man and then applied to the court for permission to relocate with the children to Alaska, but the application was refused.

Despite this, in October 2015 she took the children to Alaska, without the agreement of the father, or the permission of the court. In April this year, she was extradited to the UK, and charged with child abduction. It has now been reported that she admitted the charges, and has been sentenced to a prison term of three years and six months. This is clearly going to be very hard upon the children, who remain with their stepfather in Alaska, but it certainly sends out a strong warning message to any parent considering abducting their children to another country.

Fewer care cases, more private law

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for August 2018. In that month the service received a total of 1,179 new care applications. This is 5.1% lower than the figure for August 2017 and 51 applications fewer than August 2018. The total number of applications from January 2018 to August 2018 is 9,489 compared with 9,644 for the equivalent period in 2017. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 4,019 new private law cases. This is a 10.5% increase on the August 2017 figure. Monthly private law demand in August exceeded 4,000 for the first time since July 2013. So the current trend continues fewer care cases, but more private law.

Pound for Pound

And finally, as I reported here yesterday, a High Court judge has ordered that a husband may not pay any money to his solicitors unless he pays the same amount to his wife’s solicitors. Hearing the case, Mr Justice Holman said that it was “intolerable and an affront to justice” that the husband had paid £95,000 to his own solicitors, at the very time when he should have been paying £40,000 a month to his wife’s solicitors to cover her legal costs, as he had been ordered to do.

He, therefore, made an injunction prohibiting the husband from paying any further money to his solicitors unless he pays an equal amount (i.e. pound for pound) to the wife’s solicitors, in satisfaction of the sums he owed. A very interesting way to try to force compliance with an order, although some have questioned whether Mr Justice Holman had the power to make such an injunction.

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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