Financial Remedies Courts, domestic abuse and child maintenance: The last week in family law

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has given an update regarding the new specialist Financial Remedies Courts. The courts will be piloted at ten ‘hubs’ around the country, including London, Birmingham, Nottingham, Newport, Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield and Chelmsford. There will be a number of ‘Financial Remedies Hearing Centres’ within each hub area, varying between one and ten. In addition, the President has announced that all financial remedy claims will be commenced by using a new application form, which will contain sufficient information to enable a very early allocation decision to be made by a judicial gatekeeper at the regional hub, early allocation to the right judge at the right level at the right place being a key element of the process.

Eleanor Schooling, the National Director, Social Care, has called for a debate about the use by social workers of written agreements to deal with domestic abuse, after Ofsted inspectors found they weren’t effective in many cases. She said that written agreements are sometimes used in a way that is clearly inappropriate. In particular, Ofsted had seen agreements being used in situations of coercive control, where they place responsibility for managing the risk to children with the victim or make them responsible for policing the behaviour of the perpetrator. Some agreements included terms like ‘the victim will not continue a relationship with her abusive partner’, ‘she will not allow him into the house’, ‘she will not be in contact with him’, and so on. Ms Schooling said: “As far as I’m concerned, this is tantamount to victim blaming. And, as you might imagine, inspectors saw no evidence that these agreements were effective. Given the fact that the focus was not on the perpetrator – who was the source of the abuse and therefore the risk – this is hardly surprising. It seems obvious that any victim in a situation where coercive control is a risk would find it very hard to comply with such an agreement.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has released statistics for the three months up to the end of September 2017 concerning child maintenance arrangements made after parents spoke to the Child Maintenance Options (‘CMO’) service, which provides impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance. The statistics indicated that out of the 55,900 parents that had contact with CMO between May and July 2017, 75% had a child maintenance arrangement at the time of surveying in September – that is 41,800 child maintenance arrangements. 17% of parents who contacted CMO set up a ‘family-based arrangement’, i.e. they arranged child maintenance themselves, and 85% of parents with a family-based arrangement said it worked well. 50% of parents who contacted Child Maintenance Options now have an arrangement with the Child Maintenance Service, and 24% of parents had not agreed a child maintenance arrangement after contacting CMO.

A High Court judge has ruled that doctors can stop life-support treatment to a brain-damaged 11-month-old, contrary to his parents’ wishes. Isaiah Haastrup suffered “catastrophic” brain damage due to being deprived of oxygen at birth. He has a low level of consciousness, cannot not move or breathe independently and was connected to a ventilator. The NHS Trust applied to the court for a declaration that the provision of life sustaining treatment was no longer in his best interests. His parents opposed the application, saying that it was not anybody’s right to say who should live and who should die. Mr Justice MacDonald, however, said that he was satisfied that it was not his best interests for life sustaining medical treatment to be continued in respect of Isaiah.

And finally, a High Court judge has banned a man from taking his six-year-old daughter out of the country for the next 11 years, over fears she may be forced to undergo female genital mutilation (‘FGM’). The girl is of dual heritage, her mother’s background being white English Christian and her father’s background being black African Muslim, from the Fulah community in Guinea, West Africa. The mother raised fears about the girl being subjected to FGM, if her father took her to Guinea. Ms Justice Russell said that based on the evidence of the widespread practice of FGM in Guinea it was more likely than not that that the father would come under pressure to have the girl mutilated if he were to take her there. Accordingly, she made an FGM protection order until the girl’s 17th birthday, and an order restraining him from taking her out of the country while the protection order was in force.