Divorce, domestic abuse and financial awards: The last two weeks in family law

A new Private Member’s Bill aimed at reforming family justice has been introduced by Conservative MP Suella Fernandes. The Family Justice Bill 2016-17 is described as: “A Bill to make provision for the enforcement of Child Arrangement Orders, including times within which enforcement action must take place; to establish a presumption in favour of shared parenting under Child Arrangement Orders; and to make provision for a commission to review and make recommendations on the operation of family justice; and for connected purposes.” The Bill is expected to have its second reading debate on the 12th of May.

The Chair of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has repeated the organisation’s call for the introduction of a system of no-fault divorce. Speaking at Resolution’s national conference Nigel Shepherd highlighted that no fault divorce has received increasing levels of support from the public and leading members of the family law community. He said: “In the face of this overwhelming support for a change in law to allow for no fault divorce, it does beg the question, what is the Government waiting for? There are more than 110,000 divorces each year – every day the government delays, more than 300 couples get a divorce. That’s 600 people, every day, running the gauntlet of a system that actively encourages conflict and blame”.

The number of people charged with offences relating to domestic abuse have dropped by more than 10 per cent in just one year, even as the number of alleged incidents rose, according to figures obtained by The Independent newspaper. Across the police forces that provided information, the number of reports of domestic abuse increased from 431,000 to 444,600 between 2015 and 2016, but charges brought by police fell, from 60,700 to 54,800. The figures have prompted women’s rights advocates to condemn what they call the “decimation” of support services, and to warn that “something is clearly going wrong” with the policing of such crimes.

In what is believed to be a legal first in England and Wales, a London man who violently abused two former partners has been told that he must inform the police if he gets a new girlfriend. Under a seven-year criminal behaviour order, the man is required to tell the police if he is in a relationship for more than 14 days. Meanwhile, officers can tell new partners about his previous violent behaviour, under the domestic violence disclosure scheme.

A mother who ran away with her two sons drugged them with sedatives and made allegations of sexual abuse against their father, a judge has said. Samantha Baldwin and her sons disappeared on the 27th of March at the end of a 12 day family court hearing. She and the boys were found on the 6th of April, following which she was arrested on suspicion of abduction, and bailed.  The boys are now in local authority care. The judge said Ms Baldwin took the boys in a move that was “plainly pre-planned and carefully executed”. He went on: “In my judgment I found that the father had not perpetrated sexual, physical or emotional abuse against the boys as alleged by the mother, or at all, that the allegations made by the mother were false. I also found that the mother genuinely believed that he had done so, but that her belief was irrational and that the evidence of abuse was unreliable. I also made a finding that in order to try to prove her case against the father, the mother had caused the boys to ingest substances that would give rise to a positive testing for benzodiazepine products and zolpidem”.

Dr Khoo Kay Peng, the boss of fashion and home furnishings company Laura Ashley, has been ordered to pay his ex-wife Pauline Chai a divorce settlement of £64 million. Ms Chai had sought a half share of the assets of the marriage, which she claimed were worth at least £205 million, on the basis that she had made an equal contribution to the marriage by staying at home and looking after the children. Dr Khoo, however, argued that Ms Chai should only receive about £9 million. Mr Justice Bodey in the High Court awarded Ms Chai the sum of £64 million, made up of property and cash. The award was described by Ms Chai’s lawyer as a victory for the ‘home maker’.

And finally, a husband who claimed that his former wife should not receive an equal share of his wealth because of his ‘special financial contribution’ has failed in a bid to have an award to his wife overturned. In 2015 Mr Justice Holman awarded Randy Work’s wife Mandy Gray half of his £140 million fortune, rejecting Mr Work’s argument that he had made a special financial contribution towards the marriage. Mr Work appealed, but the Court of Appeal said that he had failed to show that Mr Justice Holman’s decision was wrong, and therefore dismissed the appeal.