Family Law case update and legal news from 2016. The Family Court continues to struggle.
The cases of Gohil and Sharland were considered by the Supreme Court – which came to the conclusion that fraud, dishonesty and non-disclosure were not to be encouraged! The Orders in each of those cases were overturned as a result of the improper behaviour of the husbands. That is not to say that all dishonesty, fraud and non-disclosure will lead to an Order being overturned. If the Court would not have changed its Order even if it had known of the full and true picture then the original Order will stand. The problem is that it is impossible to know what view any particular Court might take in any given case. Applications to set aside Financial Orders have, in the main, met with limited success. For more on these cases see here.
2016 saw extremely limited progress in the drive to provide a structured basis for the resolution of cohabitation disputes. In the case of Steinfield and Keidan vs Secretary of State for Education a cohabiting heterosexual couple argued that the Civil Partnership Act was discriminatory in that it breached Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Civil Partnership Act makes provision for the resolution of disputes between same sex couples but not heterosexual couples. The application was not successful.
A Private Members Bill – the Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) Bill was presented to Parliament and appeared to be making some progress through the various stages. However, it was very recently announced that the Government has not allocated time for it to be considered within the 2017 Schedule and so the Bill is likely to fall by the wayside. The Bill sought to include heterosexual cohabitants within the scope of the Civil Partnership Act.
Vince vs Wyatt
Readers will recall that this case concerned a former wife who some 21 years after the couple had divorced, sought a Financial Order against her former husband – because he had made a lot of money when he sold a solar energy company that he had formed, long after the marriage ended. The wife sought £1.9million; she eventually received £300,000. Not being satisfied with that she then sought to have her costs paid by her former husband. She lost and therefore probably came out of the whole of the proceedings with little more than she started with.
Family Justice Council
During the year two very helpful publications were issued by this organisation. The first was designed to assist litigants in person and was entitled “Sorting out Finances on Divorce”. The second was entitled “Guidance on Financial Needs” on divorce. It was principally aimed at the Judiciary. Both publications are essential reading for family lawyers in particular but provide helpful guidance to anyone who is involved in matrimonial financial proceedings and negotiations.
Sadly reports of continuing problems such as delay and administrative errors in The Court Service continue to grow. These problems are principally caused by the same lack of resources which afflicts the NHS and other public bodies. The staff at the Courts continue to work miracles in the face of extreme difficulty and the Judiciary at all levels continue to “make the best of a bad job”.
Unfortunately, there is no light at the end of this tunnel.