No fault divorce, FGM and forced marriage: The last week in family law

Nigel Shepherd, the new national chair of family lawyers’ association Resolution, has used his first speech in the role to issue a rallying cry for family lawyers to continue to call for no fault divorce. Speaking to 400 family lawyers at Resolution’s annual conference in Gateshead, Mr Shepherd said: “It’s wrong – and actually bordering on cruel – to say to couples: if you want to move on with your lives … one of you has to blame the other.” Mr Shepherd pointed to recent polling by Resolution that found a quarter of all divorcing couples falsify blame on their petition in order to complete the separation, and said that Resolution and its members would continue to press the government on the case for change. He said: “The blame game needs to end, and it needs to end now. We will continue to make the case to government, supported by charities, the judiciary and the many others who support no fault divorce.”

Also at its annual conference Resolution published a new screening toolkit on Female Genital Mutilation (‘FGM’), in response to new laws designed to protect victims of FGM, so that members are better equipped to identify and support vulnerable girls and women. The toolkit aims to support family lawyers in raising the issue of FGM with their clients. It tells its members a ‘potential victim may only have one chance to ask for help’ and identifies key questions and issues to discuss in order to help victims access the dedicated support services available. Cris McCurley, from Resolution’s Domestic Abuse Committee, who produced the toolkit, said: “Sadly there are still thousands of women and girls in the UK who are at risk of FGM. Family lawyers can often be the only person FGM victims feel able to discuss their injuries with. In my experience, you never know when a disclosure of FGM might happen, so the toolkit is something I’d urge all family practitioners to have to hand, whether or not they consider themselves people who deal with issues around FGM. We may only have one chance to help so it’s vital that we’re prepared and I’m delighted that Resolution is supporting our members to do so with the publication of this toolkit.”

‘Only a fraction’ of investigations into forced marriage have resulted in a prosecution since forced marriage was criminalised in 2014, according to figures supplied to the Guardian newspaper. Of seven police forces which provided the figures under a freedom of information request, West Yorkshire had launched the highest number of investigations into forced marriage with fifty-one. However, of those thirty-five investigations were dropped due to “evidential difficulties”, of which sixteen were ‘victim-based’. There was a similar pattern in the West Midlands, where nineteen of its thirty-one investigations resulted in no charges – eight because the victims did not support further action. There has been only one conviction so far since the new forced marriage law was introduced.

The Court of Protection has ruled that an inquest into the death of a woman who died after refusing life-saving treatment should be held without her being named. The unusual procedure will prevent identification of the woman, who said she no longer wished to live because she had lost everything in her life that “sparkles”, in particular her youth and beauty. Mr Justice Charles handed down the decision after media organisations had applied for the woman to be identified on the grounds that her anonymity should not continue after her death. However, Mr Justice Charles ruled that there was no public interest the woman being identified.

And finally, a government report has found that children who are brought up by married parents are more likely to have success in life than children who are brought up by a lone parent, or by parents who are not married. The report, which was produced by a team of academics from Sussex University for the Department of Work and Pensions, was based on a review of existing evidence and analysis of the Understanding Society survey, which follows the lives of people in 40,000 homes. The researchers found that: “Evidence shows that child outcomes tend to be worse on average in lone-parent and non-married families.” However, they added that it is difficult to separate out the effects of having married parents on the health and behaviour of children. The report concluded: “Family structure, family breakdown and family relationship quality are all closely intertwined, making it difficult to distinguish the causal effect of each factor.”