Forced marriage, FDACs and guidance for parents: The last week in family law

Statistics on the performance of the Child Maintenance Service between August 2013 and March 2018 have been published. The statistics show that 601,600 children were covered by Child Maintenance Service arrangements as at March, 391,300 through ‘Direct Pay’ arrangements where the parents arrange the payments between themselves, and 210,300 through ‘Collect & Pay’, whereby the Service collects and manages the payments between the parents. Between January and March 2018 £201.2 million child maintenance was due to be paid. Of that, £152.1 million was due to be paid through Direct Pay arrangements, £27.9 million was paid through Collect & Pay, and the other £21.2 million was unpaid.

A forced marriage protection order has been granted to a nineteen year old man from South Yorkshire, the first time such an order has been granted to a male applicant. The marriage was arranged by the man’s parents when he was five years old, and he had received threats for not complying. The order was obtained by South Yorkshire police. Detective Inspector Suzanne Jackson commented: “This case represents a huge step forward in our ongoing commitment to raising awareness of and working to prevent honour based abuse. In instances of honour based abused it is often assumed it only happens to girls and women, however there are also many boys and young men who are victims as well.”

A national unit set up three years ago to support a pioneering problem-solving court service for families is shutting down due to lack of government support. The unit has helped to establish a dozen family drug and alcohol courts (‘FDACs’), covering 15 local authorities. FDACs aim to tackle parental substance misuse when it is a factor in local authority decisions to bring care proceedings. President of the Family Division Sir James Munby called the closure “profoundly disturbing news”, and said that it demonstrated “a failure of imagination, of vision and of commitment by government”. The courts themselves will continue to operate.

Mr Justice Baker has dismissed a financial remedies claim made by a husband twenty-six years after the divorce. In the case the parties were married in 1983, and had two children. The marriage broke down in 1991, and the children remained with the husband. The divorce went through in the following year. The parties reached an informal agreement between themselves regarding financial matters at the time of the divorce, but the agreement was never put into a court order. The husband’s claim was eventually made in 2016. Mr Justice Baker said that the circumstances of the case did not justify any order for financial provision for the husband, in view of the agreement and the continuing contribution that the wife had made thereafter, both in respect of the care of the children and to the husband directly. In so far as the husband now had needs, he said, they were not the consequence of the parties’ relationship, nor of his responsibilities to the children, but rather of the way he had chosen to run his life.

A new briefing paper funded by the Nuffield Foundation has found that high profile, ‘meal ticket for life’ cases have given a distorted view of final settlements in divorces. The briefing focuses on the current debate over ‘meal ticket for life’ divorces, and provides evidence to refute widespread anecdotal claims of women as lifelong ‘alimony drones’. A key finding from the study highlights that immediate clean breaks between divorcing couples are prevalent. Indeed, despite media attention garnered by ‘meal ticket for life’ awards, spousal support orders in the study were unusual and tended to be limited to cases involving families with dependent children. The briefing illustrates the gendered nature of economic disparity resulting from divorce and critically questions proposed reforms of the law of financial remedies calling for a curtailing of support. It argues that “the greater problem may not be over-generosity to ex-wives, but the enduring, disproportionate economic impact of divorce on women.”

And finally, Lord Justice McFarlane, who takes over from Sir James Munby as president of the Family Division next month, is to canvass views on producing general guidance to help manage separated parents’ expectations about child contact. Speaking to a conference of the fathers’ rights group Families Need Fathers he said that he would be undertaking a tour of England and Wales this autumn, during which seek the views of family court judges on the matter. If the idea received widespread support, he would “readily take it forward”. The guidance would include an indication of what a court would regard a reasonable amount or pattern of contact to be, in cases where there is no safeguarding risk to the child.