Children’s services, online courts and divorce reform: The last week in family law

Children’s services in England are at ‘breaking point’, and
need a £3.1 billion minimum funding boost by 2025, a report by the House of
Commons Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee into the funding of
local authorities’ children’s services has found. The report said that as
services tried to respond to growing demand amid severe funding pressures, many
were reliant on the goodwill of staff, as local authorities grappled with
budget cuts of 29% since 2010. Clive Betts MP, who chairs the committee,
commented: “Over the last decade we have seen a steady increase in the number
of children needing support, whilst at the same time funding has failed to keep
up. It is clear that this approach cannot be sustained and the government must
make serious financial and systemic changes to support local authorities in
helping vulnerable children. They must understand why demand is increasing and
whether it can be reduced. They must ensure that the funding formula actually
allows local authorities to meet the obligations for supporting children that
the government places on them.” A spokesperson said the government was putting
an extra £410m into social care this year, including children’s, alongside £84m
over the next five years to keep more children at home with their families to
reduce the demand on services.

The Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure) Bill has had its
first reading in the House of Lords. The Bill will set up a new judicially
chaired committee, tasked with developing new, simplified rules around online
services in civil, family and tribunal proceedings. It will also ensure that
cases will be progressed more efficiently and allow financial savings made
across the justice system. Ministry of Justice Spokesperson in the Lords, Lord
Keen, said: “From appealing their tax bill online to applying for divorce,
every single day people up and down the country are already taking advantage of
our ambitious court reforms. This Bill will improve access to justice for all
by providing clear and understandable rules to guide people through the many
new digital processes we are introducing.” The Bill’s second reading is
scheduled for the 14th of May. The committee will be set up as soon
as possible after royal assent of the Bill.

It has been reported that a wealthy banker is suing his
former wife for half a million pounds in rent which he claims she should have
paid him for occupying the former matrimonial home. Kerim Derhalli and his
ex-wife Jayne Richardson Derhalli were divorced in 2016. They agreed a
financial/property settlement, under which Mrs Derhalli received around £6.5 million
from Mr Derhalli, and was due another £5 million after completion of the sale
of the home, which was owned by Mr Derhalli. Mrs Derhalli remained in
occupation of the property, rent-free. However, the sale was delayed, and in
March 2017 Mr Derhalli’s lawyers requested that Mrs Derhalli either vacate the
property, or start paying rent for her occupation. She refused, and remained in
the property until it was sold earlier this year. Mr Derhalli subsequently sued
Mrs Derhalli for unpaid rent, at £20,000 a month for the two years she remained
in the property after being asked to leave. In an initial judgment Judge Nigel
Gerald ruled that Mrs Derhalli “could be considered a trespasser from 21 April
2017 since when she remains liable to pay for the use and occupation of the
property”. A further hearing will take place to determine the amount of rent
Mrs Derhalli will have to pay.

And finally, an MP who is a solicitor has spoken out against
the government’s plans to introduce no-fault divorce. Fiona Bruce, Conservative
MP for Congleton, believes that the new law risks an unexpectedly large spike
in the number of divorce cases. She told the Law Society Gazette that the government ignored warnings that the changes
will make divorce easier, and said: “The removal of fault sends out the signal
that marriage can be unilaterally exited on notice by one party with little, if
any, available recourse for the party who has been left. There will be far less
pressure, or incentive, to work at the relationship in such circumstances.”