A week in family law: No-fault divorce, court reporting, and video hearings

Family Law|May 10th 2019

Another short working week has mercifully kept the family law news to a minimum, but I’ve found the following four stories for your delectation:

Firstly, it has been reported in the mainstream media that a millionaire banker is suing his ex-wife for £500,000 in rent, which he claims she should have paid him for occupying the former matrimonial home. Kerim Derhalli and Jayne Richardson-Derhalli were divorced in 2016. They agreed a financial settlement, under which Mrs Derhalli received around £6.5 million from Mr Derhalli, and was due another £5 million after completion of the sale of the home, which was owned by Mr Derhalli. Mrs Derhalli remained in occupation of the property, rent-free. However, the sale was delayed, and in March 2017 Mr Derhalli’s lawyers requested that Mrs Derhalli either vacate the property, or start paying rent for her occupation. She refused, and remained in the property until it was sold earlier this year. Mr Derhalli sued Mrs Derhalli for unpaid rent, claiming £20,000 a month for the two years she remained in the property after being asked to leave. At an initial hearing the judge said: “It is my view that Mr Derhalli was entitled to determine the licence to occupy with reasonable notice. It follows that Mrs Richardson-Derhalli could be considered a trespasser from April, 21, 2017, since when she remains liable to pay for the use and occupation of the property.” The case will return to court at a later date, for an assessment to determine the amount of rent Mrs Derhalli should pay. An interesting case – hopefully, a full report of the judgment will be published in due course.

Secondly, Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton (no, not the TV presenter), has spoken out against the government’s plans to introduce no-fault divorce. Ms Bruce, who is a solicitor, says that she believes that the new law risks “an immediate spike in divorce rates, which will impact negatively on the families involved.” She told the Law Society Gazette that the government ignored warnings that the changes will make divorce easier, and said: “The removal of fault sends out the signal that marriage can be unilaterally exited on notice by one party with little, if any, available recourse for the party who has been left. There will be far less pressure, or incentive, to work at the relationship in such circumstances.” With respect to Ms Bruce, I am sure that most family lawyers would disagree. People don’t choose to divorce simply because the law makes it easier, and in any event for most people the new law will not make divorce any easier, or any quicker. The new law is not about making divorce easier, but about making it less acrimonious.

Thirdly, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has released draft guidance, for consultation, on reporting in the Family Courts. The guidance follows a recent case in which a journalist appealed against a reporting restriction order. Whilst the substantive outcome of the case was ultimately agreed between the parties, the President said that it demonstrated that there remained a need for greater clarity and guidance in relation to applications by journalists to vary/lift statutory reporting restrictions, and the purpose of the Practice Guidance is to meet that need. The President said he welcomes people’s views and suggestions to the consultation, which will close on the 30th of June. You can find the draft guidance here. Whether it will boost news coverage of the family courts, as I understand is the plan, I have my doubts.

And finally, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) and the Ministry of Justice have announced that video hearings are being tested in domestic abuse cases. The study by HMCTS at Manchester Civil Justice Centre means vulnerable people can appear before the court using a video link from a computer in their solicitor’s office, avoiding the distress of appearing in court at an already difficult time. This has been used in six cases so far and feedback from those involved has apparently been positive. Testing will continue in the family and civil courts during the coming months and is being independently evaluated. Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer, said: “We are hearing that, even in the early stages, testing fully video hearings are having a positive effect and ensuring the justice system is supporting people at one of the most difficult times in their lives. I look forward to seeing the evaluation of this work and ensuring we continue to improve access to our courts through new innovations.” An interesting development.

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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