A successful appeal, domestic violence and contact, and a letter to a child: The last week in family law

The Supreme Court has allowed a wife’s appeal against a decision that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear her application to vary an undertaking that she gave in a consent order in 2010. In the undertaking she promised to secure the release of the husband from the mortgage on the former matrimonial home by 30 September 2012, failing which the home was to be sold. In 2011 she applied to vary the undertaking so that the husband would be released from the mortgage or the property sold in default when their youngest child attained the age of 18 in 2019. However, the court said it did not have jurisdiction to deal with the application, essentially because the consent order was supposed to be final. The Supreme Court disagreed, and the application has now been remitted to His Honour Judge Waller for hearing.

A study has found that domestic violence is a factor in the majority of child contact applications. The study, published jointly by the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), found that 62 per cent of applications relating to where a child should live or spend time involved domestic abuse as a risk factor. The study has been criticised by the fathers’ rights charity Families Need Fathers, which described it as a “one-sided publication that is clearly intended to influence practice in the family courts”. The group pointed out that Women’s Aid primarily campaigns against domestic violence committed against women and girls. It added that the study focuses on allegations of abuse “rather than reality”, and claimed that it is experiencing a rise in reports of unfounded allegations. Cafcass has strongly refuted claims that the report is biased.

A High Court judge has written a personal letter to a 14-year-old boy, explaining why he has rejected his request to move with his father to Scandinavia. In the letter Mr Justice Peter Jackson said that whilst he respected the boy’s views, he did not take them at face value because he thought they were significantly formed by the boy’s loyalty to his father. He said that he had no confidence at all that a move to Scandinavia would work and that he thought it would be very harmful for the boy to be living so far away from his mother. He expressed the hope that the boy’s father would stay in this country, for the boy’s sake.

A mother has won a court battle to change her child’s ‘tainted’ middle name. The mother said that the name, which the judge described as “a normal well established name” that was “not eccentric or in itself offensive” had become “infected with bad connotations”, as a result of its association with a “notorious public figure”. The father opposed the change, saying that he wanted to preserve the middle name as part of the child’s identity. However, the judge agreed that continuing use of the middle name would damage the child’s emotional welfare. He therefore gave the mother permission to remove the name. The father appealed against the decision, but his appeal was dismissed.

And finally, a High Court judge has ruled against a council’s attempt to use an injunction to force a mother and father to take down an online petition relating to their children’s care proceedings. The petition had been set up by the mother in order to protest against the adoption of the children. Southend council contended that the petition risked causing emotional harm to the children, who are in foster placements, and that it risked “ongoing embarrassment” to the children by remaining online, given that their identities could be inferred. However, Mr Justice MacDonald dismissed Southend’s application, saying that the parents’ right to freedom of expression outweighed the risk to the children. He warned, however, that his decision should not be seen as a judgment on the merits or demerits of online petitions in general.