Child support, contested divorce and surrogacy payments: The last week in family law

The Government has passed legislation to bring in various changes to the child support maintenance system. These include: provision for specified assets belonging to the non-resident parent (‘NRP’) to be calculated as having a weekly value which is taken into account in order to vary a maintenance calculation, the weekly value of the asset being treated as additional income of the NRP; extending deduction orders, where the maintenance has not been paid, to joint accounts; and adding disqualification for holding or obtaining a United Kingdom passport to the methods of enforcing non-payment. The changes will come into force this month.

The number of girls in England who have experienced or are
believed to be at risk of female genital mutilation (‘FGM’) has more than
doubled in a year, according to assessments by council social workers. Analysis
of government figures by the Local Government Association (‘LGA’) shows that
FGM featured in 1,960 social work assessments in 2017-18, more than twice the
970 cases reported in the previous year. The figures were described as alarming
by those working in the field, who said the increase was due mainly to better
detection by social workers. Experts said the real incidence of FGM is likely
to be far higher, however, as it remains a largely hidden crime. Anita Lower,
LGA lead on FGM, said: “These figures show the worrying prevalence of FGM,
which is ruining lives and destroying communities. At a time when they should
be preparing for adult life and enjoying being young, no girl or young woman
should be subject to the horrors of genital mutilation, which is child abuse
and cannot be justified for any reason.”

A Family Court judge has criticised a husband for contesting
a divorce issued by his wife on the basis of his adultery, despite admitting to
having committed adultery for some twenty-two years of their marriage. Her
Honour Judge Lynn Roberts said that the husband’s “whole case has indeed been
completely futile, a huge waste of money, a tragic destruction of family
relationships, and all, in my opinion, to satisfy [his] own vanity and need to
be in control and for the other reasons … All he had to do was to not contest
the divorce, a divorce he wanted, as virtually everybody else in the country
does, and this couple would have had their decree nisi last year, the various
relationships would, in all likelihood, have been well on the way to healing by
now and the money saved for the family.” Judge Roberts granted the wife her
decree nisi, and ordered the husband to pay the wife’s costs.

Couples marrying in civil ceremonies should be allowed to
have religious vows, rituals, readings, and music as part of their ceremony for
the first time, a major new study has concluded. The study, carried out by Dr
Stephanie Pywell, from The Open University Law School, and Professor Rebecca
Probert, from the University of Exeter Law School, is the first investigation
into the words and rituals that are requested by couples and permitted or
vetoed by registrars. The researchers conclude that most registrars take their
role very seriously and are keen to accommodate couples’ wishes wherever
possible. However, confusion and inconsistencies arise because official guidance
requires registrars to exclude anything they understand to be “religious in
nature”. Professor Probert said: “For couples, the content of the ceremony –
and in particular the words that they say to each other as they make their
lifelong commitment – is of the utmost importance. But the law in this area is
in urgent need of reform – at a minimum to clarify what is required, and to
eliminate inconsistencies in practice, and ideally to permit greater
flexibility in what can be included in such ceremonies.”

And finally, the former President of the Family Division Sir
James Munby has said that the ban on paying surrogate mothers should be lifted.
Surrogacy is not illegal in the UK, but women are banned from advertising
themselves as surrogates, or from receiving payment other than to cover
“reasonable expenses”. Sir James told the Mail
on Sunday
: “How is a judge supposed to assess whether the £10,000 paid, for
example, is a genuine expense? By and large even in the cases the court says
it’s not a proper expense, the judge waves it through because otherwise what do
you do? It’s probably better to face up to reality and move to a proper system
of regulation rather than prohibition.”