Weekly Family Law Update September 7, 2021

A judgment summon, family hubs and the Lugano Convention

Husband loses appeal against prison order

A husband who was ordered to be sentenced to six weeks in prison unless he paid a lump sum instalment to his wife has lost his appeal against that order.

In January 2020 the husband was ordered to pay a lump sum of £5,878,732 to the wife. The lump sum was payable in instalments, the first instalment of £50,000 being due the day after the order was made.

The husband failed to pay the £50,000, and the wife sought to enforce payment by issuing a judgment summons.

Under the judgment summons procedure the court may commit a debtor to prison for up to six weeks if it is satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that at the date the payment became due, or later, the debtor had the means to make the payment, but either refused or neglected to pay it.

In May 2021 the court found that the husband did have the means to make the £50,000 payment and had failed to do so. It therefore committed him to prison for six weeks from the 1st of June 2021, unless he paid that sum.

The husband appealed, arguing that on the evidence before him the judge could not have been satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that he had the means to pay the £50,000, and that in any event he had paid part of that sum.

The Court of Appeal disagreed. The judge had been entitled to conclude both that the husband had the means to pay, and that the £50,000 was still outstanding. Accordingly, the husband’s appeal was dismissed.

£20 million to provide more early help for vulnerable families

Thousands of vulnerable or low-income families in England are to benefit from a multi-million-pound investment to improve access to early education, health and care services.

The Government has set out plans to elevate its Family Hubs programme, backed by £20 million of new funding, which will support councils to set up new Family Hubs in up to 10 new areas.

Family Hubs offer families, children and young people somewhere to access a range of support services, which can include early education and childcare, mental health support, meetings with health visitors or attending parenting classes, counselling or advice for victims of domestic abuse.

The hubs – delivered in person and supported virtually via online services – help families, children and young people more easily access the help they need, regardless of where in the country they live. They bring services together into one place, preventing parents and carers from having to search for different types of support that might otherwise be too hard to find, especially for those on lower incomes, helping build connections between families, professionals and voluntary services.

Children and Families Minister Vicky Ford commented:

“It is absolutely vital that all families across England have access to the same high quality services in their local communities, no matter where they live. Services like these which offer early help and intervention can make a huge difference for parents and carers, levelling up opportunities for every child to fulfil their potential.

“That is why we are championing Family Hubs, and this additional £20 million investment will drive forward this programme, helping to grow and expand hubs across the country so that even more parents and children can access the early health and education services we know can have a lifelong positive impact.”

Brexit dispute could reduce UK’s role in divorce litigation

Lawyers have warned that a European Commission plan to block the UK from joining an international legal co-operation agreement after Brexit could have serious implications for divorce litigation in this country.

In recent years the UK has attracted a considerable amount of divorce litigation from abroad, but all that could be about to change, if the EU does not allow the UK to re-join the 2007 Lugano Convention.

The Convention provides for the recognition and enforcement of a wide range of civil and commercial judgments between the EU and other European states that form the European Free Trade Association, including Switzerland, Norway, and Iceland.

The UK lost its membership of the Convention as a result of leaving the EU, and therefore applied to re-join as an independent state. However, the EU may not agree to the UK re-joining.

Lawyers have warned that if the UK does not re-join the Convention then this could seriously reduce the attractiveness of the UK as a place to deal with international divorce disputes. It could also make it more difficult for separated families to recover maintenance, where a maintenance order needs to be enforced in a different country from where it was made.