Stellar contributions, domestic abuse and online divorce: The last three weeks in family law

An American financier is seeking a greater share of a divorce settlement, on the basis that his ‘genius’ as a financial investor, which made him a fortune of more than £140 million, amounted to a ‘stellar contribution’ to the matrimonial assets. Randy Work claims that that contribution should entitle him to a greater than half share of the assets. Mr Work is appealing against a decision made by Mr Justice Holman in the High Court last year, when he rejected the stellar contribution argument and awarded Mr Work’s wife Mandy Gray half of the assets. The appeal will be heard by the Court of Appeal next month.

The Court of Protection has ruled that doctors should stop providing life-support treatment to a police officer who has been in a minimally conscious state since 2015. PC Briggs was hit by a car whilst riding his motorbike to work in July 2015. Since then he has been on clinically assisted nutrition and hydration. His family argued that this would not accord with his sense of independence and dignity, and his wife applied for the treatment to be withdrawn. The application was opposed by doctors treating Mr Briggs, but Mr Justice Charles ruled that it was not in his best interests for treatment to continue, and that it was lawful for treatment to be withdrawn. The Official Solicitor is understood to have applied for permission to appeal the decision.

Following a story in The Guardian spotlighting the issue, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has issued a statement saying that he remains concerned about the fact that alleged perpetrators of domestic violence are able to cross-examine their alleged victims. However, as he points out, reform is a matter for the government, not the judiciary. Following the statement it was announced that justice secretary Liz Truss has set up an emergency review to find the quickest way to ban perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims within the family court system.

Almost 26,000 people sought advice about domestic abuse from the BBC over the phone and online in 2016, driven in particular by a storyline in The Archers. That storyline attracted 635 calls to the BBC Action Line Service, which offers information and support for issues covered in recent programmes, nearly three times as many as any other storyline over the last four years. Louiza Patikas, who plays abused wife Helen Titchener in The Archers, said: “As part of my research into this storyline, I met victims of domestic violence and coercive control, and soon learned that abuse can happen to anyone. The BBC Action Line is so important, both for victims of abuse and for the people who support them, so they have somewhere to go for advice and help.”

The Scottish National Party (‘SNP’) has obtained figures that show that the charges to use the Child Maintenance Service earn the Government almost £1 million a month. The figures show that the charges have earned the Government more than £11m across the UK since they were introduced in 2014. However, they also show the sums involved are on the rise – bringing in around £950,000 in March, the most recent month for which figures are available. They are expected to continue to rise, as more maintenance cases are switched over from the scrapped Child Support Agency, which will shut down completely in 2018. The SNP call the charges a “cruel and callous tax”, particularly for domestic abuse victims, who feel they have no option but to use the service as they are too frightened to have a direct link to their abuser.

And finally, The Times has reported that the government is planning to pilot online divorce proceedings, with a view to the system being introduced across England and Wales this June. However, HM Courts and Tribunals Service is yet to publicly commit to a full launch date when the online system will be available to the general public, and it is thought unlikely by some that the system will be ready by June.