Domestic abuse, cohabitation and Cafcass figures: The last week in family law

The Government has eased restrictions imposed on victims of domestic abuse which were preventing them from accessing legal aid in family cases, even when it was accepted that a victim had suffered violence. Domestic abuse victims currently have to provide evidence that abuse had taken place within the last twenty-four months in order to qualify for legal aid. A technical rule that meant that some victims lost funding in the middle of their case because the evidence was now considered to be “out of date” has now been fixed.

Meanwhile, in its Budget Statement the Government announced a £3.2 million funding boost to help ensure no victim of domestic abuse is turned away from help. The money will be used to boost the provision of services, including refuges. The funds will be open to proposals from local partnerships that demonstrate how the needs of victims could be met in innovative ways, working through collaboration and helping to address any gaps in the delivery of services in the short term.

The Office for National Statistics has published annual estimates of the population by legal marital status and living arrangements for England and Wales, covering the years 2002 to 2014. The estimates indicate that one in eight adults in England and Wales are now unmarried and living with a partner. This has led to calls by lawyers, including family lawyers’ association Resolution, for the law to ‘catch up’, by introducing some form of legal protection for cohabitants to secure fair outcomes at the time of a couple’s separation, or on the death of one partner.

Resolution has also been in the news following a survey of its members to mark the one-year anniversary of the family justice reforms, including the establishment of the Family Court. In the survey nearly half of the Resolution members polled (40 per cent) said children and financial cases were taking longer since the reforms were introduced. The chair of Resolution, Jo Edwards, said: “It is unfortunate that there are simply not enough judges available to deal with the volume of work (exacerbated by the huge increase in the number of litigants in person over the past two years since LASPO and the fact that those cases take longer). I have seen cases involving applications for a child arrangements order take almost a year to conclusion, with the impact on the children involved profound.”

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for June 2015. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1.104 care applications, a 25% increase compared to those received in June 2014 and more than in any previous month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,466 new private law cases, which is a 33% increase on June 2014 levels.

A husband who left his family and moved abroad has been ordered to hand his ex-wife all of their assets, including a property and savings of more than £300,000. A court heard that Essam Aly left his wife Enas in 2011, moved to Bahrain and has not paid a penny in maintenance or child support since 2012. Out of the reach of the Child Support Agency and British courts, it was feared that he would never again contribute payments to support her or their two children. Accordingly, a family court judge ordered that the family’s entire £550,000 fortune should go to Mrs Aly. Mr Aly appealed against the order, but the Court of Appeal dismissed his appeal.

And finally, another husband who has had his appeal dismissed by the Court of Appeal was Michael Prest. In the latest hearing in his long-running divorce case, Mr Prest was appealing against a judgment summons that Mrs Prest had obtained against him for non-payment of a maintenance order. The summons required him to pay some £360,000, or face a four-week prison term. His lawyers have indicated that he may now appeal to the Supreme Court.