A busy week in family law and a whole week of divorce

November 30th 2018

Legislation to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples will be introduced in the next Parliamentary Session, the Government has confirmed. The confirmation came in a report by the Ministry of Justice to the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the Government’s response to Human Rights judgments, referring to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Steinfeld and Keidan case that the present law, which precludes opposite-sex couples from entering into a civil partnership, is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. On the 2nd of October the Prime Minister announced that the Government will extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples, and the report confirms that the government intends to consult to enable it to introduce legislation in the next Parliamentary Session.

As I reported here, the Court of Appeal has ruled that prenuptial agreements signed by former racing driver Kenny Brack and his wife Anita when they married in 2000 are unfair. Under the terms of the agreements Mrs Brack was only to receive £500,000 when she separated from Mr Brack, despite Mr Brack’s wealth now being estimated at some £11.4 million. Mrs Brack sought a larger settlement, but in 2016 Mr Justice Francis upheld the agreements. Mrs Brack appealed to the Court of Appeal, which held that the agreements were unfair, and that the case should be reheard. A useful reminder that you can only expect the English court to uphold a prenuptial agreement if its terms are broadly fair.

Other news, in what was a busy week for family law, included:

  1. Speeches by both the former President of the Family Division and the present President. Both Sir James Munby and Sir Andrew McFarlane spoke about the many and great problems facing the family justice system, and set out their views about how those problems might be addressed.
  2. The Office for National Statistics has published a report on the prevalence, long-term trends and attitudes towards domestic abuse experienced by women and men, based upon findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2018. Amongst the main points were that an estimated 7.9% of women (1.3 million) and 4.2% of men (695,000) experienced domestic abuse in the last year, and that there has been no significant change in the prevalence of domestic abuse experienced in the last year, compared with year ending March 2017.
  3. Mr Justice Francis has warned that litigation is not a “blank cheque”, and that divorcing people cannot behave on the basis that they are bound to be reimbursed for their costs. The warning came in a judgment relating to a wife’s application for financial provision. She had sought £7.7 million from the assets of £12.3 million, but Mr Justice Francis awarded her just £4.05 million, including a ‘Duxbury fund’ of £2 million for her to invest to provide her with an income for life. She also sought £915,000 in legal costs and to repay a litigation loan, but Mr Justice Francis decided to add only £400,000 to her lump sum. This meant that her Duxbury fund would be reduced by some £500,000 to cover the rest of her costs, and that the fund would only generate £75,000 per annum, rather than £90,000. Still a small fortune for most people, as Mr Justice Francis commented.
  4. The wife in the ‘meal ticket for life’ case has been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court (OK, permission was actually refused on the 31st of October, but the story only cropped up in the news this week). Kim Waggott had wanted to appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal to end her maintenance, but the Supreme Court refused permission to appeal, as the application did not raise an arguable point of law. For a discussion of the case, see this post by Phoebe Turner, the managing partner of Stowe’s London Victoria office.

And finally, this was Good Divorce Week 2018, a campaign by Resolution, the association of family lawyers, to raise awareness of how parents can minimise the impact of conflict on their children. Yes, it is possible to have a ‘good’ divorce, or at least a better one, and if you want to find out how see this post , and the earlier posts by Graham Coy, a partner in Stowe’s London Chancery Lane office, here and here. I also made my own small contribution to the topic, here.

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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