Marriage, Brexit and child maintenance: The last week in family law

The latest statistics for marriages in England and Wales, for the year 2014, have been released by the Office for National Statistics. The main points were:

  • There were 247,372 marriages between opposite sex couples in 2014, an increase of 2.7% from 2013; but 6.2% lower than in 2012.
  • There were 4,850 marriages between same sex couples in 2014; marriages of same sex couples have only been possible since 29 March 2014.
  • In 2014, civil ceremonies among opposite sex couples increased by 4.1%, while religious ceremonies decreased by 0.8% compared with 2013.
  • Same sex couples mostly solemnised their marriages in civil ceremonies, there were only 23 religious ceremonies accounting for 0.5% of all marriages of same sex couples.
  • In 2014, of all individuals marrying a same sex partner 85% were forming their first legally recognised partnership compared with 76% for opposite sex couples.
  • There were 2,411 same sex couples who converted their civil partnership into a marriage between 10 and31 December 2014.

Moving on, three animal charities have won an appeal at the Supreme Court against a woman who was left nothing in her mother’s will. Heather Ilott’s mother Melita Jackson left most of her £486,000 estate to the charities when she died in 2004, but left nothing to her daughter, from whom she had been estranged for a number of years. Mrs Ilott made a claim against the estate and was awarded £50,000 by a judge. She appeal against that decision and the award was tripled by the Court of Appeal. The charities appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing that people should be free to choose beneficiaries. The Supreme Court agreed, emphasising the limited circumstances in which the courts may interfere with the wishes of the testator. Accordingly it allowed the appeal, and reinstated the original £50,000 award.

A father has lost a legal battle to prevent his ex-wife from sending their son to an Islamic secondary school. The man, who described himself as an “Anglo-Saxon” atheist, said he follows no particular faith and wanted his son, who has been brought up as a Muslim, to have a secular education.  His ex-wife, who is Muslim, had chosen a private Islamic boys’ school for her son, but the father described the institution a “school inside a mosque” and claimed he would be “marginalised” by his son if he were to attend the school. The dispute went before the family court, which decided in favour of the mother. The father appealed, but Mr Justice Baker in the High Court rejected his appeal.

The House of Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee has published a report looking at the effect of Brexit upon access to justice for families, individuals and businesses. The report found that the current system for civil justice cooperation across the EU member states works well, and that disputes that cross borders, whether family or commercial, are currently settled by judgments that are enforceable across the EU. However the Committee found that as Brexit takes effect unless the current system of ‘mutual recognition’ of judgments across the EU is duplicated, not only will the advantages be lost, but there will be real hardship for families and businesses, who could be left subject to national rules across 27 other member states. The Committee therefore recommends that alternatives to the existing framework of civil justice cooperation must be in place before the UK’s withdrawal is completed.

And finally, new figures have revealed that there is a backlog of more than £3.8 billion in uncollected child maintenance payments. About 1.2 million people are owed the child maintenance arrears, which have built up over 23 years. The figures, revealed by the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, show the vast majority of unpaid maintenance money was accumulated under the old child support schemes run by the Child Support Agency, which was set up in 1993. A new scheme was introduced in 2012, which is run by the Child Maintenance Service. However, a further £93 million of unpaid child maintenance has already developed under the new scheme.