Child abduction, Cafcass figures, cryptocurrency and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

The Supreme Court has allowed an appeal by a mother who kept her children in this country, contrary to an agreement with the father that they would be returned to Australia after one year. The family had been living in Australia until 2015, although the marriage was in difficulties by the end of 2014. In May 2015 the mother and the children came to England, after the parents initially agreed that the children could stay here for eight weeks. That agreement was subsequently extended to a stay of one year. However, the mother did not return the children and in June 2016 she informed the father that she intended to keep the children in this country. The father applied to the court for an order under the Hague Convention that the children be returned to Australia, on the basis that they had been wrongfully retained in this country. However, the application was refused, as it was found that by June 2016 the children were habitually resident in this country, so the Convention did not apply. The judge held that the wrongful retention could not have happened before June 2016, when he found that the agreement for the children to stay here ran out, as there was no principle of ‘anticipatory retention’ under the Convention. The father appealed, and the Court of Appeal allowed his appeal, holding that there was in fact a principle of ‘anticipatory retention’. The mother appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed that ‘anticipatory retention’, or ‘repudiatory retention’, as it called it, was possible. However, a majority of the justices held that the retention had not occurred until June 2016, by when the children were habitually resident in this country. The mother’s appeal was therefore allowed.

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for January 2018, 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 1,168 care applications. This figure represents a 3% increase in comparison with January 2017, and is the highest monthly total for a January on record. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,590 new private law cases. This is an 11% increase compared with those received in January 2017. In the current financial year, Cafcass has received 35,437 new private law cases. This compares with 33,387 received in the same period a year ago and represents a 6% rise.

The BBC has reported that digital ‘crypto-currencies’ such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Ripple and Ethereum, are beginning to be an issue in divorce settlements, raising the possibility that they could be used by parties to hide their wealth. The BBC says that lawyers suggest that the anonymous nature of these digital currencies could prove tempting to those involved in an acrimonious split. The law requires both parties to make full disclosure of their assets on divorce, but some parties do not comply. Tracing undisclosed digital currency could prove difficult, necessitating the appointment of a digital forensic expert to analyse data when it is suspected someone is trying to hide money in cryptocurrency. There could also be difficulties in valuing any holdings, and in preventing the holder from disposing of them.

And finally, half of children who are assessed as “in need of extra help” by council child protection teams have experienced or witnessed domestic violence, the Local Government Association (‘LGA’) has warned. The LGA says that a child is being referred to council children’s services every 49 seconds on a daily basis and councils started more than 500 child protection investigations every day last year – up from 200 a decade ago. This means councils are increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for children at immediate risk of harm, rather than on earlier support services that can help families to address harmful behaviours, and support children and young people to recover from earlier experiences. Councillor Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “Domestic abuse is a horrendous crime which takes place behind the curtains in our communities, and can be psychological, physical, emotional and sometimes even life-threatening. It’s awful to imagine the pain and hurt that perpetrators inflict on victims and to think of children witnessing or even being victims of abuse. With almost two million victims of domestic abuse in the last year alone, we need the Government to include early intervention and preventative measures in its comprehensive package of reforms to address domestic abuse as the best way to tackle this issue.”