Financial provision, civil partnerships and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

The President of the Supreme Court, Lady Hale, has publicly
criticised a bill that is going through parliament. In a speech delivered at
the International Centre for Family Law, Policy and Practice she said that in
her view Baroness Deech’s Divorce (Financial Provision) Bill was more
threatening to the stability of marriage than the threat that some see from the
introduction of no-fault divorce. The Bill aims to reform the law relating to
financial remedies on divorce by making prenuptial agreements binding, by
providing that ‘matrimonial property’ (i.e. all property acquired after the
parties were married, save for gifts and inheritances) should be divided
equally, and by limiting the duration of spousal maintenance orders to five
years, save where that would cause suffer serious financial hardship. Lady Hale
said: “I can see the attractions of all of this when set against the agony, the
uncertainty and the expense of seeking our tailor-made solutions when the
parties cannot be helped to agree something sensible. But I question how one
size fits all can possible meet the justice of the case or fulfil the role of
the family in shouldering the burdens which it has created rather than placing
them upon the state. I fear that it assumes an equality between the spouses
which is simply not there in many, perhaps most, cases.”

The government has published plans for extending civil
partnerships to opposite-sex couples by the end of this year. The government is
also launching a consultation on how to ensure couples in England and Wales can
access the form of legal union that best suits them. The consultation will seek
public opinion on giving opposite-sex couples an opportunity to convert their
marriage into a civil partnership, and then bringing all conversion rights to
an end. Providing a period for conversion will allow opposite-sex couples the
opportunity to access the legal relationship that was not previously available
to them. Penny Mordaunt, Minister for Women and Equalities, commented: “There
are all sorts of reasons why people may choose not to marry, but for a long
time it has been the only option for many wanting the legal security it
provides. Last year the Prime Minister announced government would support the
extension of civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples. This is a fantastic
step, providing an alternative to marriage for these couples. We must now
consider those who didn’t haven’t had this as an option previously, that’s why
we’re consulting on whether opposite-sex married couples can convert their marriages
to civil partnerships.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law
demand, for June 2019, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory
and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the
interests of children involved in family proceedings. In that month the service
received 1,021 care applications, which is 5.1% (55 applications) lower than
June 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,715 new cases during
June 2019. This is 9.5% higher than June 2018.

And finally, the government’s landmark Domestic Abuse Bill
has been introduced in Parliament, signalling a major step forward in
transforming the response to this crime. The Bill is the most comprehensive
package ever presented to Parliament to tackle domestic abuse, both supporting
victims and bringing perpetrators to justice. Measures in the Bill include:
introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse,
which will include economic abuse; establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner
to champion victims and survivors; introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection
Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and
place restrictions on the actions of offenders; prohibiting the
cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts; and
providing automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to
give evidence in the criminal courts. Home Secretary Sajid Javid said:
“Domestic abuse destroys lives and tears families apart, but all too often it
is hidden behind closed doors. This landmark Bill is an opportunity to help
those who suffer this deeply harmful crime and support those who bring the
perpetrators to justice.”