Fraudulent divorces, family statistics and Brexit: The last week in family law

Twenty-one fraudulent divorce petitions have been dismissed by the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, on the application of the Queen’s Proctor. In each case Sir James found that the underlying proceedings were tainted by deception in relation to the address of either the petitioner or the respondent, and that the decrees, where decrees had been granted, were obtained by deception. Accordingly, the petitions were dismissed, and all decrees made in the cases, whether decrees nisi or decrees absolute, were set aside. Sir James’s judgment does not explain why the petitions were issued, but it is believed that they were issued on behalf of foreign nationals who were unable to divorce, or to divorce as quickly, in their home countries.

A judge has allowed Gloucestershire County Council to be identified in a child guardianship case. None of the parties involved were originally identified, but the child’s grandmother, in favour of whom His Honour Judge Wildblood had made a special guardianship order, wanted to make a public statement expressing her profound dissatisfaction about the way in which she had been assessed and treated by the local authority during the proceedings. The grandmother, who had to fight the case without the assistance of a lawyer, had originally received a positive assessment by the council, but that changed, with the result that the child may have been adopted.

Parents’ alcohol abuse is damaging the lives of an estimated 700,000 teenagers across the UK, according to new research from The Children’s Society. For 3 in 5 (59%) of these teenagers, the same parent is also suffering from depression or anxiety, the charity’s survey of 3,000 families with children aged 10-17 found. 2 in 5 (39%) have lived with domestic violence and more than 1 in 4 (29%) have been homeless in the last 5 years. The Children’s Society’s evidence reveals the seriousness and complexity of the problems facing millions of the UK’s teenagers. Figures from the charity also show that more than 1.6 million teenagers have a parent with depression or anxiety and 1.7 million teenagers are living in homes struggling with problem debt.

The Office of National Statistics has released its Families and Households in the UK 2017 report. The report covers trends in living arrangements in the UK including families, people living alone and people in shared accommodation, broken down by size and type of household. The report states that cohabiting couple families are the second largest family type after married or civil partner couple families, and the fastest growing type. Emily Knipe, of the Population Statistics Division at the Office for National Statistics, commented: “In 2017, the most common family type in the UK was the married or civil partner couple family. Opposite sex couples were most likely to be in married couple families whereas same sex couples were most likely to be in cohabiting couple families. This is likely to be because civil partnerships and marriages between same sex couples in particular, are relatively new legal union statuses.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for October 2017, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,198 care applications, which is a 4% increase compared with those received in October 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,916 new private law cases, which is a 16% increase on October 2016 levels.

And finally, three influential family law bodies have warned that a lack of progress on Brexit negotiations could leave tens of thousands of families and children in limbo. Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, have published a paper, Brexit and Family Law, which sets out the options for family law following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. The paper states that current reciprocal agreements between the UK and other EU members’ states, which have evolved over decades, bring vital assurances to families across the EU. It ensures orders made in one country can be enforced in another, for example, as well as harmonising the rules for where a case can be heard. The three organisations say this reciprocity must be maintained after Brexit, in order to provide safeguards and reassurance to those families and their children affected by divorce or separation, and involved in cross-border EU-UK family or child protection cases.