A week in family law: Partner homicide, online divorces and more

Family Law|September 6th 2019

The holidays may be over, but things have been reasonably quiet again this week, at least in the family law world…

Partner homicide

Firstly, as I explained here in this post, new research into the killing of women by their intimate, or former intimate partners, known as ‘Intimate Partner Femicide’ (‘IPF’), has found an eight-stage pattern to the killings. The research, which was carried out by Dr Jane Monckton Smith, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the Gloucestershire, examined 372 IPF cases documented on the Counting Dead Women website, which lists women suspected to have been killed by men in the UK since 2012. The eight steps she discovered in almost all of those cases were: a pre-relationship history of stalking or abuse by the perpetrator; the romance developing quickly into a serious relationship; the relationship becoming dominated by coercive control; a trigger to threaten the perpetrator’s control, for example, the relationship ending or the perpetrator getting into financial difficulty; escalation, i.e. an increase in the intensity or frequency of the partner’s control tactics, such as by stalking or threatening suicide; the perpetrator having a change in thinking – choosing to move on, either through revenge or by homicide; planning, for example the perpetrator might buy weapons or seek opportunities to get the victim alone; and finally the homicide itself, possibly also hurting others, such as the victim’s children. Hopefully, these findings will help potential victims identify when they are at risk.

Online divorce

Secondly, as I discussed here in this post, the information provided by the Ministry of Justice comparing online and paper divorces appears to indicate that online divorces are less likely to result in a decree of divorce. The speculation is that online petitions may be issued prematurely, possibly even as a sort of ‘cry for help’, although clearly more research is required. I consider a couple of possible scenarios in my post, and wonder whether the time has come to remind people heading to the Government’s apply for a divorce service website that divorce is not a trivial step and that online divorce should not be used as a ‘cry for help’.

Seven new High Court judges

Moving on, seven new High Court judges have been appointed by the Judicial Appointments Commission, including Frances Judd QC, who will sit in the Family Division. Judd was called to the Bar in 1984 and specialised in public and private law children’s cases including complex medical cases, sexual abuse, international and domestic relocation, adoption and surrogacy. She was appointed as Queen’s Counsel in 2006, a Recorder in 2002 and a Deputy High Court Judge in 2011. She was Head of Chambers at Harcourt Chambers between 2009 and 2018, has been Chair of the Family Law Bar Association since 2018. I look forward to seeing her name in the law reports.

Prorogation could hurt no-fault divorce reforms

And finally, I can’t possibly end this post without mentioning the shenanigans in parliament over the previous days. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you with a ball-by-ball re-hash, and I’m not going to take sides, but it was looking increasingly likely that there would be very serious collateral damage to those shenanigans. I mentioned here last week that the prorogation of parliament may cause the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will, amongst other things, prohibit cross-examination in person in family proceedings in certain circumstances, and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aims to introduce a system of no-fault divorce, to fall away. A report this week in The Times suggested that this was indeed likely to happen. However, I have since read that the Domestic Abuse Bill is expected to be “revived very quickly” in the new parliamentary session, according to none other than our supine hero Jacob Rees-Mogg. There has been no mention, however, of the Divorce Bill. Whatever, I know that parliament currently has other things on its mind, but it is essential that both of these two vital pieces of family law legislation are not lost.

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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