Marriage, contempt and Cafcass figures: The last week in family law

A husband has been issued with a restraining order to stop him from contacting his former wife’s solicitor on her private email address. Mr Justice Mostyn made the order after the husband, despite being subject to a civil restraint order, bombarded the court, Mr Justice Mostyn’s clerk, the wife’s solicitor and the wife’s barrister with “an extraordinary volume of emails” including, since 27 October last, 27 to court staff, 36 to the court’s generic email address, 26 to Mr Justice Mostyn’s clerk, 26 to the wife’s solicitor and 5 to the wife’s barrister. Making the order Mr Justice Mostyn said that it was “completely unacceptable that this form of harassment should take place.”

A sexual relationship not necessary for a valid marriage, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said, in a case in which a married couple were applying for a parental order following a foreign surrogacy arrangement. It is a requirement for applying for such an order that the applicants must be husband and wife, civil partners, or in a long-term relationship. However, in this case one of the applicants was gay, and their relationship was platonic. In the light of this, the question arose as to whether this in any way affected their ability to fall within the definition of “husband and wife”. Sir James gave the answer: “a plain and unequivocal, No.”

An 83 year-old man has been jailed for fourteen months, for failing to comply with orders relating to the transfer of a company to his ex-wife. In June 2015 the divorce court ordered that the wife should have assets with a combined value of approximately £3.5 million. As part of that award the order provided for the transfer to her of the husband’s shares in a company, and the husband gave an undertaking to the court to take the necessary steps to render the transfer effective. However, he delayed the transfer without justification, and then stripped out all of the management records of the company, thereby making it impossible for the wife to manage the company efficiently or effectively. The court made orders requiring the husband to provide the wife with the information and documentation she needed to run the company, but the husband failed to comply with the orders. Committing the husband to prison for contempt, His Honour Judge Wildblood told the husband that he had not done what he was ordered to do, despite the clearest possible warnings, and said: “Orders of the court and the rule of law must be observed.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for February 2018, 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 1,201 care applications. This figure represents a 4% increase in comparison with February 2017, and is the second highest monthly total for a February on record. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,154 new private law cases. This is a 5.4% decrease compared with those received in February 2017. For the current financial year, new private law cases are running about 5% ahead of last year.

And finally, a High Court judge has revealed that a local authority kept a nine year-old boy in care for whole of his life, without court approval. In a damning judgment Mr Justice Keehan accused Herefordshire county council of “dreadful failures” for keeping 14 children in care for “wholly inappropriate” periods of time without court approval. The judgment also revealed that another boy had been kept in care between the ages of eight and 16 on a stopgap basis. The children were all put into care under section 20 orders, which are intended to be used as an interim voluntary arrangement between a parent and a local authority when there is a short-term issue with a child’s wellbeing. If a local authority believes a child should be looked after in the longer term it must seek the court’s approval. Mr Justice Keehan said that he had “never before encountered two cases where a local authority has so seriously and serially failed to address the needs of the children in its care and so seriously misused, indeed abused, the provisions of section 20 of the Children Act”.