The Supreme Court, children arbitration and diplomatic immunity: The last week in family law

An abducted child is unlikely to lose his or her pre-existing habitual residence at the same time as the abducting parent, the Supreme Court has held. In Re B (A Child) the Supreme Court allowed an appeal by a non-biological mother of a child who had previously been in a relationship with the child’s biological mother, holding that the unilateral removal of the child to Pakistan by the mother did not cause the child to lose her English habitual residence. Accordingly, the English court retained full jurisdiction to make decisions about the child’s welfare. The decision means that a child in such a situation will be more likely to be protected by being considered as resident in the country from which he or she was taken, rather than being in a legal limbo. It also means that the non-biological mother can pursue the matter in the courts here – she could not pursue the matter in the Pakistani courts, as same-sex relationships are not recognised in Pakistan.

The mother of a son by a senior member of a Middle Eastern royal family has failed in her application to have her son’s annual maintenance increased from £200,000 to £800,000. The woman had argued before the High Court in London that her son should be able to “replicate” his “super-rich” royal father’s lifestyle by having boxes at Arsenal’s Emirates stadium and Ascot racecourse, together with membership of Wentworth golf club, amongst other luxuries. However, Mr Justice Bodey found that £200,000 a year was enough and dismissed her application.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has announced that a new Family Law Children Arbitration Scheme has been developed which will launch in July this year. The new scheme will offer the opportunity to resolve disputes concerning the exercise of parental responsibility and other private law issues about the welfare of children by arbitration. It will be the first time that arbitration will have been available to resolve disputes over arrangements for children, although it has been available to deal with financial family law issues since 2012.

A Saudi billionaire has failed in his attempt to avoid a maintenance claim by his ex-wife, by claiming diplomatic immunity. Christina Estrada is seeking a share of Sheikh Walid Juffali’s estimated £4 billion fortune, after 13 years of marriage and the birth of a daughter. Juffali said that he had already provided them with a generous settlement, and that his diplomatic status as St Lucia’s representative on the International Maritime Organisation meant that he had “general immunity” from being sued in the British courts. However, Mr Justice Hayden, sitting in the family division of the High Court in London, described the diplomatic immunity defence as “spurious” and refused to dismiss Estrada’s claim. Juffali’s legal team have indicated that he will appeal against the decision.

And finally, the Marriage Foundation has published research which indicates that once couples have survived their first ten years of marriage, the risk of divorce diminishes with every year, until more or less vanishing altogether among couples married for fifty years. Couples celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary face a one in 25 risk of divorce. The risk drops to just one in 150 couples among couples celebrating 40 years of marriage, and for those married 50 years, the risk of divorce virtually disappears to one in 1500 couples. These findings, say the Foundation, demolish the argument that the growing prevalence of divorce among older couples has anything to do with higher divorce rates or living longer. They say that the only reason that there may be more divorces amongst older couples is because more people are getting married at an older age.