Cafcass figures, wills and marriage: The last week in family law

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for June 2017, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,319 care applications, which is 2.8% increase compared with those received in June 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,913 new private law cases, which is a 12% increase on June 2016 levels.

In a landmark judgment the Supreme Court has ruled that an exemption in the Equality Act 2010 which allowed employers to exclude same-sex partners from spousal benefits paid into pension funds before December 2005 is discriminatory, and breaches EU equality laws. In the case the appellant John Walker contributed to a company pension scheme. Mr Walker and his husband, who have been together since 1993, entered into a civil partnership in January 2006, which was later converted into a marriage. Relying on a provision in the Equality Act the company made clear that should Mr Walker die his husband would not receive the same survivor benefits he would if he were a woman, as those benefits would not include all the contributions Mr Walker had made prior to 2005. This would leave his husband with a pension of only a few hundred pounds a year, whereas if he were married to a woman, she would receive £45,000 a year. The Supreme Court’s ruling means that the provision is immediately disapplied, and companies taking advantage of the exemption will be breaking the law.

The Law Commission has launched a consultation upon reform of the law relating to wills. The Commission says that the law of wills is not as clear or protective as it could be, and that it could do more to encourage and facilitate people to make wills (it has been suggested that 40% of the adult population die without a will). The Commission makes a number of proposals, including enabling the court to dispense with the formalities for a will where it’s clear what the deceased wanted, lowering the age at which a will can be made from 18 to 16, and paving the way for the introduction of electronic wills, to “better reflect the modern world.” Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins said: “Making a will and passing on your possessions after you’ve died should be straight-forward. But the law is unclear, outdated and could even be putting people off altogether. Even when it’s obvious what someone wanted, if they haven’t followed the strict rules, courts can’t act on it … Our provisional proposals will not only clarify things legally, but will also help to give greater effect to people’s last wishes.”

The Office for National Statistics has published population estimates by marital status and living arrangements in England and Wales, for the period from 2002 to 2016. The statistics showed that there were 24.1 million people in England and Wales who were married in 2016, amounting to 50.9% of the population aged 16 and over, and that the majority (61.0%) of the population aged 16 and over in England and Wales were living in a couple in 2016. The statistics also showed that the percentage of people aged 16 and over who are married has decreased over time, from 54.8% in 2002 to 50.9% in 2016. Emily Knipe, Population Statistics Division, Office for National Statistics, said: “In England and Wales, being married continues to be the most common marital status for those age 16 and over in 2016. This is despite the proportion of the population who are married decreasing by 3.9 percentage points since 2002 and the proportion of the population who are single increasing. The population who are in a marriage between same-sex couples has more than doubled since 2015.”

And finally, a consultation has been launched by the Ministry of Justice to facilitate the de-linking of financial applications from divorce/civil partnership dissolution proceedings. The main proposal is to remove the possibility of making a financial remedies application within the divorce petition/application for civil partnership dissolution, as is the case now. The reason behind the proposal is to make the divorce application and financial remedies application entirely separate, now that they are dealt with in separate locations, the divorce in one of the eleven regional divorce centres and the financial remedies application in the parties’ local court.