Election manifestos, child support and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

Nigel Shepherd, National Chair of Resolution, has called on the major political parties to commit to modernising family justice in their manifesto. Resolution, which represents around 6,500 family justice professionals committed to the constructive resolution of family disputes and issues, makes four proposals, which it claims “will make a huge, positive difference to the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people that separate each year”. In a letter to each of the major parties, Mr Shepherd calls on them to make a commitment in the next Parliament to allow couples to divorce without blame, to give cohabiting couples some basic legal rights, to ensure there is fair access to the family justice system, and to give people more financial clarity on divorce. Mr Shepherd said: “It’s time to end the blame game. A new Parliament is a perfect opportunity for politicians to finally act on no fault divorce, regardless of the outcome on June 8th. This is why I have written to all major parties calling on them to make a clear commitment to modernise family law on this and other key issues for our members, such as rights for cohabiting couples, fair access to the justice system and financial clarity on divorce.”

A High Court judge has condemned new child support rules which can lead to wealthy parents paying little or no maintenance for their children. In the case the father was a millionaire but lived on his capital and only paid “the pitiful minimum sum of £7 a week”. Under the old rules in such cases the amount of the maintenance could have been varied upwards on the grounds that the non-resident parent had “assets”. However, the rules were changed in 2013 and the “assets” ground of variation was been removed from the latest regime. Mr Justice Mostyn called the situation “an indictment of the child support system”, and said that in his opinion the government needs to consider urgently the reinstatement of the “assets” ground of variation.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has ruled that the security services do not need the consent of the court before questioning teenagers who have been made wards of court as a result of radicalisation fears. Courts can make wardship orders to control youngsters’ movements and decide whether they should have passports. Senior officers thought a judge might have to give permission before a child who had been made a ward could be interviewed, but the President said that this was not necessary.

With the general election looming the charity National Family Mediation (NFM) is urging politicians to explain how they will tackle the £48 billion annual cost to the UK economy of family breakdown. Jane Robey, CEO of NFM, has written to the leaders of the main political parties asking them to set out their plans to address the bill, which has gone up by nearly a third in the last eight years. She said: “Family breakdown costs the UK economy £48 billion per year. That’s a cost to each and every taxpayer up and down the land of £1,820 a year. Attention during this general election campaign is understandably targeted on the negotiations and the cost of the UK’s departure from the European Union. But whilst estimates about the costs of Brexit range from £15 billion to £50 billion, politicians would be plain daft to overlook the escalating £48 billion annual family breakdown bill. They need to set out what plans they have to reduce it.”

And finally, a survey has found that police and court action, including the imposition of restraining orders, is failing to prevent domestic abusers and stalkers from carrying on their campaigns of harassment and abuse against their victims online. The survey of 122 victims of stalking, harassment, domestic abuse and coercive behaviour also revealed that more than half have faced ‘vexatious’ court claims against them by those who have been convicted of abusing them, even though they were subject to restraining orders. These claims mean that victims had to appear in court and had to go through the ordeal of being cross-examined by those who had already been convicted of attacking, stalking or engaging in a pattern of coercive control against them.