Legal aid, relocation and adoption: The last week in family law

Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, has handed down another judgment concerning “the plight of a vulnerable mother unable to pay the cost of family proceedings”. In Re M (A Child) the mother was effectively seeking to re-open care proceedings, following new evidence regarding her disability, which rendered her a vulnerable adult. Her application was actually to discharge a supervision order and a special guardianship order. As legal aid is not available to cover such matters, the Legal Aid Agency (‘LAA’) refused to grant her legal aid. However, the President said that the case was “plainly a “special Children Act 1989 case” in relation to which the mother is entitled to legal aid”, and he therefore asked the LAA to reconsider and ensure that the mother does have legal aid.

A mother could lose thousands of pounds in a divorce case, following an ‘incident’ involving a wooden spoon and her teenage daughter. The mother had been awarded the majority of the net proceeds of sale of the former matrimonial home, as she needed to rehouse herself and the two children. However, after the incident the children’s relationship with her broke down, and they are now living with their father. Mr Justice Holman has ruled that the father is entitled to appeal against the order, because of the change of circumstances.

The Court of Appeal has allowed a father’s appeal against an order giving the mother permission to permanently remove their 12 year old daughter to Germany. In F (A Child) (International Relocation Cases) the Court of Appeal said that the judge who made the original decision had relied too heavily on the criteria set out in the 2001 case Payne v Payne. Payne v Payne has been heavily criticised for having a gender-based approach that discriminated against fathers in international child relocation cases. The Court of Appeal said that the criteria set out in Payne was guidance only, and that the court should weigh up the proposals of both parents, by reference to what was in the best interests of the welfare of the child. The decision has been hailed by some lawyers as an indication that mothers will no longer be favoured in international child relocation cases.

According to National Family Mediation (‘NFM’), the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, more couples seeking a divorce are turning to mediation. NFM has reported that the number of calls to its helpline have more than doubled in the past year. In the first half of this year it took 3,400 calls each month, up from 1,600 calls during the same period in 2014. Jane Robey, chief executive of NFM, suggested that the call figures could indicate that the government’s policy to divert people away from the courts and towards mediation is ‘actually beginning to work’.

And finally, a 14 year old girl has had her own adoption order revoked. In PK v Mr And Mrs K, the girl was adopted 10 years ago. She was then taken to Ghana, where she was looked after by members of her adoptive family and subjected to significant abuse. In 2014 she came to England and was reunited with her biological mother and maternal grandmother. She then applied to have the adoption order revoked, and to have her surname changed to her mother’s surname. In the ‘highly exceptional’ circumstances of the case, Mrs Justice Pauffley allowed both applications.