Children’s views, tax breaks and reforms: The last week in family law

Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced that children aged ten and over will be able to express their views about what should happen to them in court proceedings following divorce or relationship breakdowns. Speaking to the Family Justice Young People’s Board, which promotes the voices of children and young people in the family justice system, Mr Hughes set out changes to make it easier for children and young people to communicate their views in court proceedings. These options include meetings, letters or pictures or by way of a third person in addition to their Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer or social worker.

Research by Citizens Advice has indicated that victims of domestic abuse are increasingly having to face being cross-examined by their attackers, because legal aid cuts make it difficult for them to qualify for courtroom representation. A Citizens Advice report, Victims of Abuse: Struggling for Support, says the legal aid regulations, “both in terms of evidence requirements and income or asset thresholds requiring financial contribution, leave large numbers of victims giving up on their rights to justice”. It adds: “In some cases these restrictions expose victims to risk, leaving no alternative but to represent themselves in court facing their perpetrator.”

A scheme to offer tax breaks to some married couples and civil partners has opened for registration. The marriage allowance, unveiled by David Cameron in 2013, could reduce a couple’s annual tax bill by up to £212. The allowance – which will enable one spouse or civil partner to transfer some of their tax-free personal allowance to the other – will come into effect on the 6th of April 2015.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has called for sweeping changes to the laws surrounding divorce and separation. Launching its Manifesto for Family Law in Central London, Resolution’s Chair, Jo Edwards, argued that the current laws are in desperate need of change. The Manifesto makes six key calls for change, including no-fault divorce, property rights for cohabitants, clarification of the law on finances after divorce and a ‘Parenting Charter’ to help parents understand their responsibilities when they separate.

In a written parliamentary answer Simon Hughes has confirmed that last year there were seven applications a day by grandparents for a court order to see a grandchild after the divorce or separation of the child’s parents. In 2013/24 there were 2,517 applications for child contact orders or child arrangements orders. By comparison, the figures for 2012/13 and 2011/12 were 2,649 and 2,319 respectively. The charity National Family Mediation has responded by saying that the government must take the blame for the lack of information and education about alternative approaches to settling family disputes.

And finally, the former wife of a millionaire racehorse surgeon has been told by a judge to get a job as she had “no right to be supported for life” at his expense. Ian Wright was ordered to pay £75,000 maintenance and school fees each year when his marriage to Tracey Wright ended in 2008. However, last year Mr Wright went to the High Court and won a reduction in the order. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision, saying divorcees with children over seven should go to work.