Marriage, paternity and pre-marital agreements: The last week in family law

Supreme Court Justice Lord Wilson has given a speech to the Medico-Legal Society in Belfast entitled ‘Marriage is made for Man, not Man for Marriage’. In it he backed gay marriage, saying that rather than destroy the institution of marriage, he thought it would strengthen it. He also suggested that divorce may have benefits. He said that it leads to many more remarriages, and in their wake come many more step-families and relationships of the half-blood.  So, he said, the ‘blended family’ now often replaces the nuclear family. He was not convinced that it was a bad thing, asking: “might it not be healthier for children to learn at a very early age to cope with relationships in a mixed and wider family group?”

A survey has shown that nearly one in ten fathers in Britain harbour doubts over the paternity of their children. In some regions of the country, the figure rises to one in five men. By comparison, three per cent of British women said they were unsure of who the biological father of their child is. Apart from location, other factors such as age of the parents, occupation and marital status were found to have a bearing.

The case SA v PA (Pre-marital agreement: Compensation) ought to have been a simple case to resolve, according to Mr Justice Mostyn. However, it had two legal complications. Firstly, the husband laid ‘considerable emphasis’ on a Dutch pre-marital agreement signed the day before the marriage, which took place in Amsterdam. Secondly, the wife claimed that her maintenance award should be significantly enhanced by reference to the principle of ‘compensation’. ‘Compensation’ is aimed at redressing any significant prospective economic disparity between the parties arising from the way they conducted their marriage. Here, the wife claimed that she should be compensated for the fact that she gave up her ‘high-powered career’ to look after the four children. Mr Justice Mostyn considered the law on both issues. He found that, subject to the question of maintenance, it would be fair to implement the capital division specified by the agreement as the wife knew exactly what she was signing up to. However, it was not a case where she should be entitled to compensation.

A leading set of specialist family law barristers has announced that it is closing down as a result of the legal aid cuts last year. Renaissance Chambers, with 28 members, has voted to dissolve the chambers as from the 31st of March. Practice manager Elaine Cheeseman told the Law Society Gazette that the vote was precipitated by the departure last year of 25 members, and that that “exodus was due to uncertainty about what’s happening at the family bar due to the legal aid cuts, which have already had an impact and are likely to continue to do so.”

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (‘NICE’) is publishing new guidance to raise awareness among those coming into contact with victims of domestic violence. The NICE says doctors and nurses need training to help them ask about abuse, to respond effectively and to encourage patients to seek help from specialist services. The new guidance also calls for greater co-operation between different agencies, such as health service providers, the police, housing services and schools.

And finally, the Department for Work and Pensions has published the latest quarterly statistics for the Child Support Agency, for the quarter to December 2013. Perhaps the most important statistic was that in that quarter 887,200 children were benefiting from maintenance. Whilst this was down from 908,200 in September 2013, the number of children benefiting from maintenance has actually increased by 34,100 since January 2012.