A failed claim, single parents, Twitter appeal: The last week in family law

A husband who was seeking a lump sum payment or other
capital provision from his ex-wife has failed in his claim, despite the wife
being a beneficiary of two trust funds with assets of about £17.5 million. The
husband had sought a lump sum of 1 to 1.5 million pounds, but Mr Justice Holman
found that the trust funds were not an available resource in reliance upon
which any award could be made, as the trustees were highly unlikely to make
funds available to benefit the husband. Dismissing the husband’s claim, Mr
Justice Holman said that it was tragic that almost £650,000 had been spent
litigating over finance, when that sum could have made a very large contribution
to the purchase cost of the sort of flat the husband aspired to buy. He went on
to say that he understood, and had some sympathy with, the frustration that one
party of no, or only relatively modest, means must feel when he or she is aware
that there is great wealth on the other side of the family, but is unable to
tap into it, even for the purpose of buying a home. However, he said: “this
tragic and destructive case should stand as a cautionary tale to those who
would embark on expensive litigation which they can ill afford in the hope of
prising money from a discretionary trust. 
A very careful and cool appraisal needs to be made at the very outset as
to how realistic a prospect that really is.”

A new study conducted by the single parent charity Gingerbread
and the University of Sheffield has found that children’s wellbeing is not
negatively affected by living in single parent households. The report looks at
the wellbeing of more than 27,800 households with children, understood as ‘life
satisfaction,’ ‘feelings about their family’ and ‘the quality of relationships
with peers.’ The report finds no evidence that children who are living or have
lived in a single parent household have a lower measure of wellbeing than those
who have always lived in two parent families, scoring as highly or higher
against those measures of wellbeing. The report also found that single
parenthood is more common than typically reported. While the proportion of
single parents over time has remained relatively stable at 1 in 4 families at
any given moment in time, over the course of the six years the study captured,
around 1 in 3 families will have been a single parent family at one point over
that time period. Rosie Ferguson, Gingerbread’s Chief Executive, comments: “Our
report with the University of Sheffield debunks myths about single parent
households and significantly, it shows that children are not negatively
impacted if raised by a lone parent. What is most important to a child’s
wellbeing is the presence of positive relationships. We urge policymakers and
researchers alike to do more to challenge popular stereotypes and reflect the
dynamism of family life.”

A High Court judge has used Twitter to urge a mother who
vanished with her three-year-old son to return home. Ellie Yarrow-Sanders
disappeared with Olly Sheridan in July, after becoming involved in family court
litigation with Olly’s father, Patrick Sheridan. It is believed to be the first
time a judge has used Twitter in this way. The judge, Mr Justice Williams, said
that he was gravely concerned that a child had been missing for so long and
made an appeal directly to Ellie to bring him back, promising to deal with her
case fairly.  The judge has appointed a
senior social worker to act in the case to seek to promote Olly’s welfare,
making it clear that this does not mean that there is any chance of Olly being
placed in foster care. Such are his concerns for Ellie and Olly’s welfare,
Olly’s father, Patrick Sheridan, who only wants the return of his son, has
agreed that if Olly is brought back by his mother before the next hearing, then
he will not ask for Ellie or her mother, Donna, or sister, Maddie, to be
punished for having any part in Olly’s disappearance. Ellie’s mother and
sister, who were both present at court and who spoke to the judge, fully
support the judge’s appeal and are also urging Ellie to bring Olly back and to
have confidence in the court process. In a joint statement, Patrick, Donna and
Maddie said, ‘We just want to know that Olly is safe and we plead for Ellie to
return home as soon as possible.  We all
agree that Olly needs to come home to his normal life surrounded by family and
friends.’

And finally, The
Independent
has reported that the number of parents forced to represent
themselves in child disputes in family courts has more than doubled in six
years, as a result of the legal aid cuts in 2013. The paper says that
campaigners have warned that “huge injustices” are taking place, and children’s
best interests are being “obscured”. Government data revealed that 23,881
parents who applied to a court for a child arrangements order in 2017 had no
legal representation, up 134% since 2011. The paper went on: “Lawyers and
politicians said the increase meant people with little knowledge of the law
were having to navigate ‘complex and confusing cases’ alone, often leading to
prolonged proceedings and heightened anxiety for parents and children.” The
figures, which were obtained through a parliamentary question, show the
proportion of applicants going to court unrepresented increased from one in
five in 2011, to almost half of all cases in 2017. Overall, including both
applicants and respondents, the figure was up 85%, from 29,353 to 54,287.