Sentencing guidelines, a costs bill and pensions: The last week in family law

The High Court has ruled that an NHS Trust may remove life support from a 20 month old child who is in a semi-vegetative state and has a degenerative neurological condition that has never been definitively diagnosed by doctors. The NHS Trust for the hospital treating Alfie Evans, Alder Hey in Liverpool, applied to the court for a declaration that continued ventilatory support was not in Alfie’s best interests, and that in the circumstances it was not lawful that such treatment continue. The application was opposed by Alfie’s parents, who wanted to take him to an Italian children’s hospital for specialist help. However, Mr Justice Hayden accepted medical evidence that indicated further treatment would be futile, would compromise Alfie’s future dignity and would fail to respect his autonomy. He therefore ruled in favour of the Trust, saying: “Alfie’s need now is for good quality palliative care. By this I mean care which will keep him as comfortable as possible at the last stage of his life. He requires peace, quiet and privacy in order that he may conclude his life, as he has lived it, with dignity.” The family intends to appeal.

New guidelines for the sentencing of those found guilty of offences involving domestic abuse have been issued by the Sentencing Council. The guidelines, which will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older sentenced on or after 24 May 2018, emphasise that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious, and are therefore likely to result in tougher sentences for offenders. The guidelines set out a list of aggravating factors to be taken into account by the court, including abuse of trust or power, steps taken by the alleged perpetrator to prevent the alleged victim reporting an incident, forcing the victim to leave home, the impact of the abuse on any children, using contact arrangements with a child to instigate an offence, and a history of disobedience to court orders, such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders, non-molestation orders, and restraining orders.

A mother who successfully challenged a care order made in relation to her five year old daughter faces having to pay a costs bill approaching £20,000. The mother was appealing against the dismissal of her application to discharge the care order and the making of a placement order, which would allow the local authority to place the child with suitable adopters. The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal, and remitted the matter back to the lower court for a rehearing. However, the Court of Appeal refused the mother’s application for an order that the local authority pay her costs of the appeal. Lady Justice King said that whilst she had considerable sympathy with the position of the mother, who was not eligible for legal aid, it was not possible to say that the local authority had been unreasonable in defending the judge’s decision, it being a decision that was in line with all professional advice and was supported by the children’s guardian.

And finally, divorcees who plan to retire in 2018 can expect their yearly income to drop by £3,800 compared to those who’ve never divorced, according to new research from the life insurance and financial services company Prudential. Prudential’s annual study has run for the last 11 years and has tracked the finances, future plans and aspirations of people planning to retire in the year ahead. For those retiring in 2018, expected annual retirement income is £17,600 for those who have previously been divorced, compared with £21,400 for those who have never experienced a marriage break up. The research also found that those who have been divorced are more likely to retire in debt than those who have never been divorced, and that divorcees are more likely to have no pension savings at all when they retire than those who haven’t been through a divorce. Clare Moffat, pensions specialist at Prudential, said: “The stress of getting through a divorce can mean people understandably focus on the immediate priorities like living arrangements and childcare but a pension fund and income in retirement should also be a priority. A pension fund is one of the most complex assets a couple will have to split so anyone going through a divorce should seek legal and financial advice to help them do so.”