A week in family law: Faith marriages, bills saved, court stats and more

Family Law|News|September 27th 2019

The last week in family law summarised

The Supreme Court may have grabbed the legal headlines this week (more of which in a moment), but there were a few important things also happening in the realm of family law. Here is my pick of them:

Faith marriage campaign

As I mentioned here, a campaign has been launched seeking equality for unregistered faith marriages. The Register Our Marriage campaign has two aims: to raise awareness of the lack of legal protection for unregistered religious marriages, and to reform the Marriage Act 1949, so that all religious marriages must be registered under civil law. Siddique Patel, the Deputy-Director of the campaign and a practising family lawyer specialising in Islamic family law says: “I believe that the Marriage Act 1949 is no longer fit for purpose for British society in 2019. Our society consists of men and [women] from many faiths who wish to have the protection of the law of England and Wales when they marry. Unfortunately, due to the piecemeal evolution of the marriage laws of England and Wales, there is a gap in the law. Experience has shown that this gap has been exploited by many to deny women the legal protection they would enjoy under a civil Registry marriage.”

Two important Bills saved?

I think we can all agree that, wherever we stand on the big issues of the day, there has not exactly been a lot of good news coming from Westminster recently. However, the decision of the Supreme Court that the prorogation of Parliament was null and void would appear to mean that two very important pieces of family law legislation will now continue their passage through Parliament. It had been feared that the Domestic Abuse Bill, which makes a number of very important reforms to improve the law on domestic abuse, and the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aims to introduce a system of no-fault divorce, had been lost, or at least severely delayed, as a result of the prorogation. Now it seems they have not. Of course, whether they complete their passage before a general election is called is anyone’s guess (I understand that the Government has announced that the Domestic Abuse Bill will have its 2nd reading next Wednesday).

Latest Family Court Statistics

The Ministry of Justice has published its latest quarterly data on the volume of cases dealt with by family courts between April and June this year, with statistics also broken down for the main types of case involved. Amongst the main points are a decrease in the number of cases started in the family courts, including a decrease in the number of divorce petitions. There was, however, an increase in the number of private law children applications and domestic violence remedy applications. As to timeliness of proceedings, the news is not good: care proceedings are taking longer, as are divorce proceedings. I will be taking a closer look at the figures in another post.

Important gender recognition judgment

And finally, as Bethan Carr, Stowe Family Law’s surrogacy and fertility law expert, reported here, the High Court has decided that where a person, who was born female, but who has subsequently undergone gender transition and acquired full legal recognition as male, becomes pregnant and gives birth to a child, that person must be registered as the child’s ‘mother’, rather than as their ‘father’. Not having considered the matter in detail, I have no particular view upon this outcome, although I am sure that many will have very strong views, both for and against. It should be said that the applicant in the case, who wishes to be registered as the father, is apparently intending to appeal the decision.

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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