Child maintenance, domestic abuse and costs: The last week in family law

An Afghan boy who was found unaccompanied at Heathrow Airport in November 2015 has been taken into care. The boy, believed to be about twelve years of age, was placed with foster carers by the local authority, which subsequently issued care proceedings. According to the boy, his father was killed and his mother then made arrangements for him to leave Afghanistan and come to England, where it was thought that he would have a “better and safer life”. Mrs Justice Theis in the High Court found that the whereabouts of the boy’s mother were unknown, and that it would therefore be impossible to return him to Afghanistan at this time. As there was no one to look after him, she ordered that he should be taken into care.

The latest report on children benefiting from child maintenance arrangements agreed by the parents (‘family-based arrangements’) after contacting the Child Maintenance Options service has been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The report shows that 16,900 children (representing 16% of clients) are benefiting from effective family-based arrangements made after contact with Child Maintenance Options between August and October 2016. ‘Effective family-based arrangements’ can be regular payments where at least some of the agreed amount is always/usually received on time and the surveyed parent thinks the arrangement is working very well or fairly well, or occasional financial payments or transactions in kind (e.g. school uniform) where the surveyed parent thinks the arrangement is working very well or fairly well.

A child protection charity has reported that there has been a rise in referrals of children affected by domestic abuse. Buttle UK, which provides support to children in crisis, has published figures showing it received 9,909 referrals about children affected by domestic abuse during 2016, a figure which represents an increase in referrals of just under a third on the previous year, when the charity supported 7,446 children affected by domestic abuse. 3,384 of the children referred were aged four or under. Buttle chief executive Gerri McAndrew said: “The current government’s policy on domestic violence has no specific provision for children affected by domestic abuse. During this election we are calling for all parties to identify and prioritise the needs of these children in their manifestos. We hope the next government will drive forward systemic change in how support services account for the needs of children.”

A judge has criticised a couple engaged in a divorce dispute for spending an ‘astonishing’ £2.7 million in legal fees. Mr Justice Moylan said that the wife’s costs totalled £1.4 million, and the husband’s costs totalled £1.3 million. “Despite some of the complexities of this case,” he said, “to have spent a total of £2.7 million is an astonishing sum which is wholly disproportionate to the issues.” He also criticised the husband for giving evidence which, “when dealing with contentious issues, was largely based on an indifference to the truth and was motivated by what he seeks to achieve in these proceedings rather than on his true recollection of events.”

And finally, a father from Norwich has urged judges to publish rulings on his decade-long family court battle over contact with his daughter, which has cost him more than £500,000. He said that dozens of hearings have taken place in six courts in two different areas of England, before numerous judges, but every hearing has been held in private and not one judge’s ruling has been published, despite the President of the Family Division launching a drive for family court transparency.People should be given some idea of what happens so that lessons are learned”, he said. In fact, he could apply to the court for an order permitting publication of the judgments, but appears not to have done so.