Legal aid, domestic violence and mediation: The last week in family law

The Court of Appeal has declared that the regulations for obtaining legal aid in cases of domestic violence are legally flawed. According to campaign group Rights of Women, who brought the appeal, the regulations have prevented victims of domestic abuse from obtaining legal aid even when it is clear violence has occurred. Giving the leading judgment of the Court of appeal Lord Justice Longmore said that the regulations were invalid insofar as they require verifications of domestic violence to be given within a 24 month period before any application for legal aid, and do not cater for victims of domestic violence who have suffered from financial abuse.

A new programme has been announced under which men who pose a high risk of domestic violence are to be given one-to-one support to change their behaviour. The programme, known as ‘Drive’ will be piloted in Essex, Sussex and South Wales and is backed by domestic abuse charities SafeLives and Respect. The programme is aimed at dangerous offenders, including those thought to be at risk of causing serious harm or committing murder. They will be offered support to tackle any alcohol, drug or mental health problems they may have, plus advice about employment, housing and parenting. The domestic violence charity Refuge has criticised the programme, saying that there was “no evidence” that therapy for violent partners was effective.

A woman has succeeded in an Inheritance Act claim against her late cohabitee’s estate. For 18 years Joy Williams lived with her partner Norman Martin, but Mr Martin never divorced his wife. In 2009 Ms Williams and Mr Martin jointly purchased a property as ‘tenants in common’. This meant that when he died in 2012 his half share did not automatically pass to her, but instead to his wife. Ms Williams therefore made a claim against Mr Martin’s estate, seeking a full interest in the house. Judge Nigel Gerald at the Central London County Court ruled in her favour.

The Ministry of Justice has published a report presenting the findings of a study of around 19,000 children who were born in the UK between September 2000 and January 2002, which explores child outcomes after parental separation. The key findings of the study included that the frequency and quality of contact between the child and the non-resident parent declined with time since separation, that it was higher for children whose parents were previously married, that it was higher in families with higher socio-economic status, and that it was higher among families who did not report court involvement (for contact or financial arrangements) during the separation process. The study also found that children of continuously married parents tended to have the best outcomes at age 11, followed by children of parents who were cohabiting at the time of birth and remained together, with children of separated parents showing the worst outcomes.

And finally, data produced by the charity National Family Mediation (‘NFM’) is said to confirm the success of a government-funded pilot project helping separated parents previously locked in family court disputes to work with specialist mediators to negotiate long-term agreements. At-Court Mediation, run by NFM in three pilot areas, provided one-to-one support for parents who had been separated for more than two years and were locked in the family court system. It helped them suspend legal proceedings and meet specialist mediators to negotiate long-term arrangements for children, property and finance. NFM has analysed the results of its pre- and post-project evaluations, which saw 433 participants questioned in a number of areas both before and after their involvement in At-Court Mediation. NFM says that the analysis shows that 64% said the level or quality of contact with their children improved following the project, and that there was a 37% overall reduction on the ‘impact on children of the couples’ conflict’. A 32% reduction in level of conflict with their ex-partner was also recorded, as was a fall in recorded ‘levels of stress’ of some 37%.