Charlie Gard, Cafcass figures and a divorce appeal: The last week in family law

Statistics on the progress of the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) case closure programme, from June 2014 to March 2017, have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The statistics showed that over 9 out of 10 cases with a CSA liability have started the Case Closure process, that 597,000 cases have had their CSA liability ended, and that 21% of cases where liability has ended via Case Closure have now applied to the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’), under the current, 2012, scheme. The CSA will ultimately be replaced completely by the CMS.

The parents of the brain-damaged infant Charlie Gard have been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. Explaining the decision, Lady Hale said that parents are not entitled to insist upon treatment by anyone which is not in their child’s best interests. She said: “it is quite clear that the hospital was entitled to bring these proceedings, and the judge was required to determine the outcome of these proceedings. In doing so, he applied the right test and his factual findings cannot be challenged on appeal. It follows, that the proposed appeal does not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance and so permission to appeal must be refused.” The parents have now taken the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for May 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 1,190care applications, which is 3% increase compared with those received in May 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,707 new private law cases, which is a 17% increase on May 2016 levels.

In a joint letter the Deputy Chief Executive and Courts and Tribunals Development Director of HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby have announced that a pilot in the South West Region to administratively de-link financial proceedings from divorce proceedings has been successful, introducing a more streamlined process which reduces the delays currently experienced by court users as files are transferred between courts by up to two weeks. Currently if a contested financial application is made the whole divorce proceedings are transferred from the divorce centre to a local court to be dealt with. In the light of the success of the pilot, it has been decided to proceed with national roll out of the new process to all Courts in England and Wales on 19th June 2017.

A hedge fund manager’s charity has been ordered by the High Court to pay £282m to his ex-wife’s foundation, following one of Britain’s most expensive divorce battles. Sir Christopher Hohn and his ex-wife Jamie Cooper were divorced in 2013 and in 2014 Cooper was awarded a divorce settlement of £337 million. However, the couple continued to argue over a payment from a children’s charity they set up together, in return for Cooper stepping down from the board of the charity. The charity has now been told it must pay the sum to a new charity set up by Cooper.

And finally, a wife who was ordered to pay half of the matrimonial assets to her ex-husband, despite the fact that it was a short childless marriage and she contributed substantially more to those assets, has won her appeal against the decision. Julie Sharp’s former husband Robin had been awarded the sum of £2.725 million by the High Court in 2015, representing exactly half of the matrimonial assets. Mrs Sharp appealed against that award, and the Court of Appeal allowed her appeal, reducing the award to £2 million. Giving the leading judgment Lord Justice McFarlane said that the particular facts of the case, including the short duration of the marriage and the fact that the parties had mostly kept their finances separate, justified a departure from the principle that the matrimonial assets of a divorcing couple should normally be shared equally between them.