Unrepresented litigants, fees and cohabitation: The last week in family law

Family justice minister Simon Hughes has pledged to create a country-wide network of in-court advice centres for unrepresented people. £1.4 million a year of new money provided by the Ministry of Justice will go to the Personal Support Unit, which already assists more than 1,200 litigants a month in eight units across England and Wales. Mr Hughes wants to increase the number of advisers in courts across the country, and link claimants with pro bono lawyers for legal support and even court representation.

The Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling, has shelved plans to nearly double the fee for filing a divorce petition. It had been proposed that the current fee of £410 would be increased to £750, in an effort to reduce the Civil and Family Courts’ £150m annual deficit. The proposal met with considerable criticism, particularly as the true cost of an uncontested petition is only £270. Critics also expressed fears that that raising the fee could force people to stay in broken marriages for longer.

Family lawyers association Resolution claims that in recent weeks there has been a groundswell of support for what it calls ‘much needed reform of the law on how unmarried couples are treated when they separate’. Chair of Resolution Jo Edwards said: “Many people don’t realise that cohabitees don’t have the same legal rights as married people, and that ‘common-law’ relationships aren’t recognised in this country. It can lead to outcomes that many would consider to be unfair when cohabiting couples separate – a partner who has lived and contributed to the relationship in the same way as a married partner can be left with nothing.” Referring to recent comments by President of the Family Division Sir James Munby and Mr Justice Mostyn, along with a survey they carried out which found that almost two thirds of British MPs believe the law needs to be changed to give protection to unmarried couples if they separate, Resolution called upon the Government to take heed and make the necessary change, “to bring the law into step with modern British society.”

A conservationist wife who claimed that her millionaire husband used donations to a tiger charity to fund their lavish lifestyle has lost her case. Li Quan had maintained that money for the Save China’s Tigers charity had been used as a personal ‘piggy bank’ for her and her husband Stuart Bray, arguing that she was therefore entitled to a share of the charity’s £25 million assets. However, Mr Justice Coleridge in the High Court disagreed, finding that Ms Quan had become blinded by her desire for revenge and that this had led her to fabricate where she thought it would assist her case.

And finally, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles has welcomed what has been called ‘the latest success of the Troubled Families programme‘, part of the government’s ‘long-term economic plan to the turn the country around and help bring security and opportunity to families and communities’. The latest achievements of the scheme include reaching 117,000 families and ‘turning around’ 69,000 troubled families to reduce truancy, anti-social behaviour and worklessness. Mr Pickles said: “The Troubled Families programme demonstrates exactly what our long-term economic plan means for people. New opportunities for families to turn their lives around and make something of themselves; more economic security for local communities blighted by worklessness; and more economic stability for taxpayers, as we reduce the bills for social failure and get this country living within its means.”