Rights of custody, child maintenance and a record divorce: The last week in family law

In a written submission to MPs the Judicial Executive Board, which represents senior judges, has criticised the impact of the recent legal aid cuts. The Board said that the cuts have led to a large increase in unrepresented claimants, outbreaks of courtroom violence, extra litigation and increased costs. They said that the apparent saving of cost by a reduction in the legal aid budget needed to be viewed in context, as it often it simply leads to increased cost elsewhere in the court system. For example, the lack of representation has meant that cases which may never have been brought or been compromised at an early stage are now often fully contested, requiring significantly more judicial involvement and causing consequential delays.

The Supreme Court has allowed an appeal by Lithuanian grandparents against the refusal of an application for a declaration that their grandchild was being wrongfully retained by his mother in Northern Ireland, in breach of their rights of custody. The case hinged upon the meaning of the term ‘rights of custody’, as a child is wrongfully removed or retained in a country under the Hague Convention if such removal or retention is in breach of ‘rights of custody’. At the time that the mother removed the child from their care, the grandparents only had informal rights in respect of the child, rather than a court order. The Supreme Court held by a majority that such rights should continue to be recognised as rights of custody under the Convention, provided that certain conditions applied. Those conditions did apply to the situation of the grandparents, so the court ordered that the child be returned to Lithuania forthwith.

A group of thirty-seven academics say they have serious concerns at proposals to allow private contractors to take over some child protection services in England. A Department for Education consultation is seeking views on how to run services outside of local authority control. The academics, in a letter to the Guardian, criticise the performance of some of the firms that may do the work. Ministers said it was a consultation and local authorities would not be forced to employ outside organisations.

In a record-breaking divorce settlement a Swiss court has awarded £2.6bn to the former wife of a Russian oligarch. The ruling, which was dated the 13th of May but not made public until this week, requires billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev to pay his ex-wife Elena 4 billion Swiss francs – which represents half of his wealth – in what Elena’s lawyer called “the most expensive divorce in history”. Dmitry’s lawyer announced on Monday evening that the oligarch would appeal against the judgment.

This week more than 50,000 letters are being sent out by the Department for Work and Pensions to parents in England, Scotland and Wales who currently pay and receive child maintenance through the old Child Support Agency. The letters warn that if the parents are unable to agree on child maintenance payments they will be charged if the Government is forced to intervene. Under the new rules if an amicable arrangement cannot be reached the paying parent will have a 20% fee added to the maintenance payment, while the receiving parent will pay 4% to get the money. All single parents will be charged an upfront fee of £20 for registering with the new service. The charges will be introduced later this year.

And finally, a study has found that one in ten people going through a divorce try to turn mutual friends against their partner. The study also said that half try to cheat their husband or wife over the financial settlement and seven out of ten cannot separate their emotions from the process of deciding where their children will live. None of which, I’m afraid, will be news to family lawyers!