Child support, civil partnership and the courts: The last week in family law

The Home Office has admitted that it unlawfully detained an Indian man for three months under immigration powers, separating him from his young daughter. In June 2017, after the father had served a prison sentence for wounding, the Home Office ordered him to be detained pending his deportation. This was despite a local authority recommending that he be reunited with his daughter, so that he could care for her. In July 2017 a family court judge endorsed the local authority’s plan for the father to look after his daughter, saying that if he was not released within four months an application would be made for the girl to be placed for adoption. Despite this, the Home Office moved the father to an immigration centre in Dorset, hundreds of miles from the place where his daughter was in care. He was released after three months in detention, just days before his daughter was due to be placed for adoption. The Home Office admitted at the High Court that the detention of the father was unlawful, as it breached both the department’s own policies and the father and daughter’s right to family life. The Home Office agreed to pay £40,000 damages to the father for “false imprisonment” and “disruption” to contact with the child, and £10,000 compensation to the child.

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its response to its consultation seeking views on a new child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. The new strategy will include the re-introduction of a power to allow the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) to calculate a notional income from assets held by a paying parent, so that wealthy parents do not avoid their responsibilities by reducing their income. A similar power was included in previous child support schemes, but not in the present scheme. There will also be new powers to allow deduction of maintenance from joint and business accounts, and to remove passports from parents who fail to pay what they owe. Responding to the strategy, Sumi Rabindrakumar, Research Officer at single parent charity Gingerbread said: “We’re pleased to see the government listen to the concerns raised by Gingerbread and start to tackle the longstanding problems of child maintenance avoidance and non-payment. For too long, the CMS has stuck rigidly to a ‘one size fits all’ approach that failed to recognise more complex finances, leaving loopholes that allow parents to avoid paying what they can afford and mean. many children go without the maintenance they deserve. The U-turn announced today shows the concerns raised by the many parents who campaigned with Gingerbread are finally being heard.”

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) (Sibling Couples) Bill is to have its second reading in the House of Lords this week. The private members’ Bill, introduced by Conservative peer Lord Lexden, aims to extend civil partnerships to sibling couples. Specifically, it will mean that two people who are considered to be siblings (brother, sister, half-brother or half-sister) would be able to enter into a civil partnership, provided that they are both over the age of thirty years and have lived together for a continuous period of twelve years. Lord Lexden said that: “The rights that a civil partnership confers—inheritance of joint tenancies and pension rights, and of property free from tax—should be available to all long-term, financially inter-dependent cohabiting partners”, and that the Bill was a first step towards that, by extending eligibility for civil partnerships to siblings.

And finally, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) has published its Business Plan for 2018-19. Amongst other things, the Plan sets out the new services and digital processes that users of the courts and tribunals can expect. One of these will be that HMCTS will: “Deliver a digital end to end service for applications to legally end a marriage or civil partnership and resolve financial issues, probate services, and for social security and child support appeal applications – replacing the current paper-based process”. The Plan also says that in the longer term HMCTS will have fewer court buildings, but it promises to optimise hearing capacity through closures and amalgamations of buildings, to allow it to better focus funding on those buildings it needs for the future.