Defamation, a pre-nuptial agreement and divorce reform: The last week in family law

The Supreme Court has ruled that a woman who posted on
Facebook that her former husband had tried to strangle her had not libelled
him. The former husband issued proceedings against the woman, claiming that the
statement was defamatory, as it suggested he tried to kill her. Initially he
won his case in the High Court, after it was ruled that people reading the
woman’s post would have thought he tried to kill her. However, the woman
appealed to the Supreme Court, which found that the “ordinary reader” would
have understood the comments to mean he grasped the neck of his ex-wife, and
not that he tried to kill her. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed.

The former chairman of Swansea City Football Club is suing
his former solicitors over their advice not to institute divorce proceedings. Huw
Jenkins is seeking damages claiming the solicitors advised him in 2011 that his
finances were not sufficiently stable to reach to a financial settlement with
his then-wife. However, his financial position improved substantially as a
result of the club’s promotion to the Premiership, and when the divorce was
finalised in 2017 he ended up paying a £2.25m lump sum to his wife, as well as
transferring assets and paying maintenance. He argues that the law firm should
have been aware that his financial situation was likely to improve following
the club’s promotion, and that he should have been advised to start divorce
proceedings before his circumstances changed. The firm says it did not provide
any advice to Mr Jenkins before 2015, that any advice it did give was that
which a reasonably competent solicitors would have given, and that even if
matrimonial proceedings had begun in 2011 it would not have resulted in a lower
cash settlement.

A High Court judge has held that no weight should be given
to a pre-nuptial agreement, in a divorce involving the great-granddaughter of
the founder of Avon cosmetics. The parties entered into the agreement when they
married in 2005. The marriage broke down in 2016 and the husband issued a
financial remedies claim within divorce proceedings. The wife is the
beneficiary of family trusts in the USA, with an overall value of at least $65
million. The husband earns about £35,000 gross, and has no net capital. Hearing
the claim, Mr Justice Mostyn held that it would be wholly unfair to hold the
husband to the agreement, which would have left the husband with nothing.
Instead, he awarded the husband a lump sum of £1,333,500, of which £375,000 was
subject to a charge-back to the wife (or her estate), on the death of the
husband.

The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane
has said that it will soon be possible to deal with all stages of the divorce
process online. Speaking at the annual conference of Resolution, the
association of family lawyers, Sir Andrew said the remaining parts of the
divorce process, namely decree nisi and degree absolute, will be online “in the
next few months.” Once the process is fully up and running, solicitors will be
able to log on from anywhere, at any time, and see the state of an individual
divorce case as it moves forward. They will also be able to file documents and
communicate with the court and/or the other parties remotely through the
system. By the end of 2019, he said, it is anticipated that the vast majority
of divorce proceedings will be conducted online, or, if paper-based, will be scanned
and converted to online.

And finally, the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has pledged
that legislation for no-fault divorce will be introduced as soon as
parliamentary time becomes available. The move follows a public consultation
where family justice professionals and those with direct experience of divorce
voiced their support for reform. New legislation will therefore be introduced
to Parliament to update our 50-year-old divorce law, which has been shown to
exacerbate conflict. Mr Gauke said: “Hostility and conflict between parents
leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances. While we will
always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated
law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples. So I have listened
to calls for reform and firmly believe now is the right time to end this unnecessary
blame game for good.”