Child abduction, adoption and domestic violence: The last week in family law

A High Court Judge has permitted a mother to change the surname of her twin sons, following what the judge found to be ‘bizarre conduct’ on the part of the father. In Re F (Children; contact, name, parental responsibility), a long-running dispute about arrangements for the children, the court heard that the father had maintained a blog in which, the judge said, he presented himself as a victim, and where he published material about the case. The mother applied for permission to change the boys’ surname. His Honour Judge Duggan granted the application, in order to protect the children from the consequences of the father seeking to find them and the consequences of the father publishing detrimental information about them.

The President of the Family Division has published guidance regarding the role of the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit in obtaining information from other jurisdictions. Introducing the guidance, he said: “I am aware that an increasing number of children cases have an international element and that courts often require information from other jurisdictions before being able to proceed. It is not always easy to know how to obtain this information.” He went on to say that he was very grateful to the Unit for providing the guidance, which will help practitioners to follow the correct route to obtain information to help the court when necessary. The guidance has been approved by Lady Justice Black and the Senior Master.

Children are missing out on the chance to be adopted because social workers have over-reacted to a number of recent court judgments, Sir Martin Narey has warned. The warning came as the adoption adviser published a ‘myth-busting’ guide to clarify the rulings and reassure social workers that the law has not changed. Narey, who chairs the National Adoption Leadership Board, the independent watchdog set up by the government to oversee its adoption reforms, claimed key Supreme Court and Court of Appeal judgments made last year – in particular the rulings Re B and Re BS – have led to confusion around the law on adoption. They reiterated the need for adoption decisions to be based on robust analysis of all realistic options, and set out that adoption should only be pursued where it is necessary for the child’s welfare. This, Narey said, appears to have deterred councils from pursuing adoption, resulting in a 47 per cent drop in the number of children being put forward for adoption.

The Law Commission has suggested that a specific criminal offence should be created to deal with cases of domestic violence. The proposal follows comments made during the summer by the prime minister supporting the introduction of an offence dedicated to dealing with domestic violence incidents. The commission said that any new offence would be a response to widespread concerns that domestic violence is not being effectively policed, and it would also alert social services in future to the fact that an individual had a history of aggression against a partner.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for October 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 999 care applications, representing a 2% increase compared to those received in October 2013. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,419 new private law cases, which is a 13% decrease on October 2013 levels, reflecting perhaps the continuing effect of the abolition of legal aid in April 2013.

And finally, in one of the largest divorce settlements on record, oil tycoon Harold Hamm has been ordered by a court in Oklahoma to pay his ex-wife the sum of $1 billion. Nice work if you can get it…