No-fault divorce, domestic abuse and child abduction: The last week in family law

A local authority has been ordered to pay the costs of a case by the Court of Protection, after they caused a Colombian woman to be trapped in this country for over three years. In May 2014 the woman collapsed whilst waiting at a bus stop in London. She was taken to hospital and found to have suffered a cardiac arrest, as a result of which she sustained a brain injury, which meant that she lacked capacity to make decisions for herself. She did, however, make it clear that she wished to return to Colombia, where she could be cared for by her extended family. Mr Justice Newton, who heard the case, said that she may have been ready to be discharged from hospital in 2014, but due to what he described as ‘disorganised, muddled and unfocused decision making, and what has at times verged on an arrogance’, she had to wait for more than three years before she returned home last January this. Mr Justice Newton concluded ‘without hesitation’ that the circumstances of the case were so poor and so extreme that he should make the costs order.

It has been reported that justice secretary David Gauke is set to announce a consultation on no-fault divorce, in which he will call for the existing fault-based system of establishing marriage breakdown to be abolished. The government’s proposals are still being finalised, but would reportedly keep the sole legal ground for divorce of irretrievable breakdown, but remove the requirement of a spouse to provide reasons for the breakdown. The Ministry of Justice will also seek to end the opportunity for a spouse to contest a divorce and consult on the length of the divorce process, proposing a minimum timeframe of six months. If enacted, this would be the first significant change to divorce law in England and Wales in nearly 50 years. The proposed reforms would also apply to civil partnerships. Commenting upon the news former Chair of Resolution Nigel Shepherd said: “Resolution has been leading the campaign to end the blame game for over thirty years. For far too long, couples have been forced into needless acrimony and conflict in order to satisfy an outdated legal requirement. Every day our members see the devastating impact conflict can have on families. Apportioning blame can lead to long-term damage to relationships between children and their parents, and can undermine attempts to resolve matters outside of an already overstretched court system … The government appears to have heeded our calls to make our divorce system fit for the modern age, and we will continue to push for this much-needed, overdue reform to be implemented as soon as possible.”

Deputy Chief Constable Mark Roberts, the lead officer for football policing in England and Wales, has said that there was a “significant rise” in domestic abuse reports during the World Cup. More than 60 incidents were reported after England’s semi-final defeat by Croatia, compared to the highest figure of 24 during Euro 2016. It is not clear if this is due to a rise in the crime or better reporting. DCC Roberts said forces dealt with “record numbers” of crime related to the tournament. About 1,340 of the total 1,487 football-linked reported incidents (90%) were in relation to England’s seven games between 14 June and 15 July, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (‘NPCC’) said. Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the NPCC’s lead on domestic violence said: “Football does not cause domestic abuse but these figures suggest an increase in incidents during key England fixtures. Whilst emotions may run high, there is no excuse to abuse your partner.”

And finally, a British mother has been jailed for abducting her two children to the USA. The mother and the children’s father separated in 2012 and the mother subsequently formed a relationship with an American man, who lives in Alaska. The mother married the man and then applied to the court for permission to relocate with the children to Alaska, but the application was refused. Despite this, in October 2015 the mother took the children to Alaska, without the agreement of the father, or the permission of the court. In April this year the mother was extradited to the UK, and charged with child abduction. She admitted the charges, and has now been sentenced to a prison term of three years and six months. The children remain with their stepfather in Alaska, where the courts will decide upon their future.