A week in family law: Domestic abuse, pension wealth, children funding and online courts

Family Law | 3 May 2019 1

As I mentioned here, the mother of Jayden Parkinson, who was murdered in 2013 by her former boyfriend Ben Blakeley, has called for a ‘domestic abuse register’ to be established, containing details of perpetrators of domestic abuse, violence and stalking. Blakeley, who had a history of violence against previous partners, strangled Jayden, who was then aged 17 and expecting his child, and was later convicted of her murder. He was given a life sentence, with a minimum term of twenty years. Jayden’s mother told the BBC that a system similar to the sex offenders register could have saved her daughter, saying that if Blakeley had been on a register Jayden would “be here now, because for all the agencies at the point when Jayden went missing, to them she was a pain-in-the-butt teenager… and if that register had been here, and they’d all looked at it, they’d have seen how vulnerable she was.” The question, of course, is whether we need such a register, and I look at that in my post.

As I reported here, research by a wealth planning company has found that 550 couples with net financial wealth of one million pounds or more each will divorce this year, and that these couples possess assets worth an average of some £3.48 million each. The research found that on average about 43% of those assets, worth more than one and a half million pounds, comprised private pension wealth. Financial wealth represented 20% of the assets, worth on average about £712,000; property wealth comprised 31% of the assets, worth on average about £1,075,000; and physical wealth represented 5% of the assets, worth on average about £186,000. Sadly, I may not possess anything remotely like this sort of wealth, but I can say that the figures emphasise the significance of pensions in high net worth divorces, and the need to obtain the best possible advice, both legal and financial.

A report by the House of Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee into the funding of local authorities’ children’s services has found that children’s services in England are at ‘breaking point’, and need a £3.1 billion minimum funding boost by 2025. The report, which you can read here, said that as services tried to respond to growing demand amid severe funding pressures, many were reliant on the goodwill of staff, as local authorities grappled with budget cuts of 29% since 2010. Clive Betts MP, who chairs the committee, commented: “Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep up. It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained and the government must make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in helping vulnerable children. They must understand why demand is increasing and whether it can be reduced. They must ensure that the funding formula actually allows local authorities to meet the obligations for supporting children that the government places on them.” Quite.

And finally, on the 1st of May I received a press release from the Ministry of Justice that declared “Even more people set to benefit from online court reform”. The sub-heading told me that “New legislation making it even easier for court users to apply for small money claims or divorce online was unveiled in the House of Lords today”. The new legislation is the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill. Unfortunately, as at the time of writing, the Bill doesn’t appear to have been published, so all I can tell you about it is what the press release said, which isn’t that much. Apparently, the Bill will set up a new “judicially chaired committee tasked with developing new, simplified rules around online services in civil, family and tribunal proceedings.” It will also ensure that cases will be progressed more efficiently and allow financial savings made across the justice system. We are also told that “Easy to follow guidance will ensure online services are as simple as possible to navigate and increase access to justice while supporting the uptake of HM Courts and Tribunals Service’ online services.” Sounds wonderful, although quite what all of this will mean in practice, I’ve no idea. (Update: the Bill has now been published, here.)

Have a good weekend, and Early May bank holiday.

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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    1. spinner says:

      “although quite what all of this will mean in practice, I’ve no idea” – In the short term, reduced need for personal legal services as in solicitors, more need for court services as more people are able to access the legal system as the artificial financial barrier of needing to employ a solicitor to do basic things is eliminated. In the medium to long term the court services will be forced by financial imperatives from increased demand to implement blockchain and machine learning.

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