Non-disclosure, tax breaks and LiPs: The last week in family law

Solicitors, barristers and legal executives have been issued guidance by their professional bodies upon how to deal with litigants in person (‘LiPs’). The guidance has been developed in response to the rising numbers of people representing themselves in court without a lawyer, as a result of cuts to legal aid. The guidelines discuss how far lawyers can help unrepresented people without this conflicting with their duties to their own clients.  Lawyers are advised to communicate clearly and avoid technical language or legal jargon, or to explain jargon to the unrepresented party where it cannot be avoided.

The headline-making financial remedies dispute between US lawyer Richard and Russian beauty queen Ekaterina Fields has been finalised by an order of Mr Justice Holman, who described as “tragic” the fact that the couple had expended £1.2 million on legal fees. Mrs Fields had sought a £2.6 million lump sum and £500,000 a year to maintain her standard of living with the children in Kensington. However, Mr Justice Holman awarded her a £1.2 million lump sum, plus £320,000 a year in maintenance.

The Supreme Court is this week hearing the appeals in Sharland v Sharland and Gohil v Gohil. Both cases concern alleged non-disclosure in financial remedy proceedings. In Sharland, the wife agreed a settlement but is claiming that the case should be reopened because the husband failed to disclose to the court that the shares in his company were worth considerably more than previously revealed. In Gohil, the wife settled for £270,000 plus a car in 2004 but it later became clear that her husband, who was tried and jailed for fraud and money-laundering sums of up to £37 million, had not given the court accurate information about his finances. She now also seeks to have her case reopened. The Supreme Court’s judgment is expected to be reserved until later this year.

It has been claimed that thousands of couples have missed out on a new marriage tax break, due to a ‘confusing’ computer system. The problems have been blamed on a £25million computer system called Verify that has been asking claimants to produce identity documents they don’t have, leaving them confused and forcing them to abandon the process. There have also been lengthy delays in handling successful cases, and a dedicated helpline had been delayed until September.

It has been reported that Michelle Young, who was involved in a long and bitter divorce battle with her late ex-husband Scot, now faces being sued by the financers who funded her case. The financers are apparently demanding that she pay back £11.2 million they claim she owes them and are this week sending a ‘pre-action’ letter giving notice of their intention to sue. They say that instead of using their funds exclusively to pay for the costs of her litigation against Mr Young, she appears to have used some of the money for what they described as her “champagne lifestyle”. They also claim that she repeatedly turned down the opportunity to take a divorce settlement of £26 million awarded by the High Court, from which she could have repaid her investors, preferring instead to run up further costs pursuing the money she claims Mr Young hid in offshore trusts and accounts before his death. Mrs Young denies the claims and says she will fight them in court.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for May 2015. In that month Cafcass received a total of 913 care applications, a 5% increase compared to those received in May 2014. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,880 new private law cases, which is a 34% increase on May 2014 levels.

And finally, a mother has gone missing with her son, after a court ruled that the boy should live with his father. Rebecca Minnock and her three-year-old son Ethan disappeared from their home in Highbridge, Somerset, two weeks ago. A judge has taken the unusual step of lifting reporting restrictions in an effort to aid the search for the pair.