A week in family law: A brain-damaged child, recovering child support and the fate of two family Bills

Family Law|October 11th 2019

Another week in which the news illustrated the breadth of matters covered by family law.

Tafida Raqeeb: an unexpected result

The parents of a brain-damaged girl should be allowed to take her abroad to continue her treatment, the High Court has ruled. Five-year-old Tafida Raqeeb has been on life support at the Royal London Hospital since she suffered a traumatic brain injury in February. Her parents want to take her to the Gaslini children’s hospital in Genoa, Italy, for further treatment, but UK specialists had argued that any further treatment would be futile. Barts Health NHS Trust, which runs the Royal London Hospital, had asked the court to rule that it was in Tafida’s best interests to end her life-support. However, Mr Justice MacDonald was not prepared to make such a ruling and instead held that there was no justification to stop the child being taken abroad. I think this was an unexpected result, at least in the eyes of many experts. Whatever, I’m sure that everyone will wish the family well, as they deal with this awful situation.

It has been reported that Tafida’s mother Shalina Begum has said that the law now needs to be revisited. Speaking on the BBC Today programme, she called for a

“clear law that says if there is a reputable hospital prepared to treat a child then there should be no blocking”.

I’m not sure it’s quite as simple as that, but there would certainly be no harm in considering other ways to deal with cases such as this.

Recovering child support

The House of Commons has held a Westminster Hall debate looking into the performance of the Child Maintenance Service in recovering payments from absent parents. The debate was led by SNP MP Peter Grant, who opened it by saying:

“I see too many cases in which it is obvious that a parent is determined to avoid their responsibilities and that they can get away with it—sometimes for years at a time—which is just not good enough. It is far too easy, for example, to hide income from the Child Maintenance Service, which too often leaves it to the resident parent to produce the evidence that their ex-partner is effectively committing fraud. That is bad enough at the best of times, but if the resident parent has been the victim of domestic abuse or financially coercive and controlling behaviour, it is wholly unacceptable to make them responsible for ensuring that the other parent of their children complies with their legal responsibilities.”

On behalf of the government, Justin Tomlinson MP responded by saying that whilst any unpaid child support was too much, collection and enforcement of child maintenance obligations had improved. There’s some good stuff in the debate, and I will be looking at it more deeply in a separate post.

Family Bill shenanigans

And finally, for those of you who can’t (or more likely don’t want to) keep up with the implications of the shenanigans at Westminster, I can report upon the effect of the (latest) prorogation of Parliament upon two of the most important family law-related Bills of recent years. The news is, I’m afraid, mixed. On the upside, the Domestic Abuse Bill, which will introduce a comprehensive package of measures to tackle domestic abuse, will be carried over to the next session of Parliament, which means that the Bill can continue its progress through Parliament from the start of the next session. The Bill has been referred to a Public Bill Committee which is due to report by the 21st of November.

On the downside, however, the news relating to the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aimed to bring in a system of no-fault divorce, at last, was not so good. The Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session, which means it will make no further progress. Clearly, the great and the good did not consider that divorce reform, which could remove so much animosity from the process, was sufficiently important to be carried over. Whether it will be revived in the next session is not clear, at least to me, but if it is, then it will have to start its progress through Parliament from scratch. Wonderful news, especially for those trapped in unhappy marriages.

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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