New no-fault divorce law to end ‘blame game’

This week, Justice Secretary David Gauke pledged new legislation will be introduced where divorcing couples will no longer have to blame one another for their marital breakdown.

This reform follows on from the landmark Tini Owens case in which the Supreme Court ruled Ms Owens failed to demonstrate her relationship had broken down because of her husband’s unreasonable behaviour and could not divorce Mr Owens until five years had passed.

Changes to the outdated divorce laws would establish a minimum six-month timeframe for couples to ‘reflect’ on their decision and remove the ability to contest a divorce.

What are the current grounds for divorce?

Under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973, spouses are forced to prove their partner is at fault through adultery, desertion or unreasonable behaviour. If both parties agree to the divorce, they must be separated for two years. Where there is no fault or consent to the divorce, applicants are required to wait until they have been living apart for five years.

Ministers are acting to update the 50-year-old divorce laws after a public consultation found the current system works against any prospect of reconciliation, in addition to having a damaging effect on children by undermining the parent’s relationship.

Critics also believe that the fault-based system forces parties to accuse each other of bad behaviour if they do not want to wait years before obtaining a divorce.

The Justice Secretary stated:

“Hostility and conflict between parents leave their mark on children and can damage their life chances.

“While we will always uphold the institution of marriage, it cannot be right that our outdated law creates or increases conflict between divorcing couples.”

The Ministry of Justice has said the new no-fault divorce laws will be introduced ‘as soon as parliamentary time allows’.

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Inquiry into missing Bristol boy treated as child abduction

Avon and Somerset police are treating eight-year-old Angelo Jurado-Marmolejo’s disappearance as a child abduction.

Angelo was reported missing when his father, Rafael Jurado-Cabello, failed to return him to his mother’s home after a pre-arranged visit on the 2nd March 2019. The police have confirmed that Mr Jurado-Cabello, a Spanish national, is “now in breach of a court order and is wanted on suspicion of child abduction” and believe that Angelo may have been taken abroad.

It emerged during a public hearing that Mr Jurado-Cabello had previously abducted Angelo after a half-term holiday in February 2017 and was not returned to his mother until the following month. A family court ruled that Mr Jurado-Cabello was “obsessed with negative feelings” towards Angelo’s mother – Karol Marmolejo – and that Angelo should live with his mother and spend time with his father.

To reduce the risk of Mr Jurado-Cabelo abducting Angelo for a second time, he was required to hand over his passport and Spanish identity card at the beginning of each visit. However, it is suspected he provided false travel documents when collecting Angelo from City Academy after football practice on the 2nd March.

Judge Nicholas Marston said:

“This is a very serious matter. I want to stress that although the parents are not from this country, Angelo is a little Bristolian boy.”

Detective Inspector Matt Lloyd, of Avon & Somerset Police, stated:

“Our immediate priority is to locate Angelo. We believe Rafael Jurado-Cabello may have taken Angelo abroad and we’re making further inquiries with the Spanish authorities to locate him as soon as possible.”

Det Insp Matt Lloyd went on to say that while there is no thought that Angelo is at risk of physical harm, “it’s the emotional separation from his mum and brother and his friends and family.”

Angelo’s parents are both Spanish and moved to Bristol from Spain in 2012. Detectives in the UK are currently working alongside the Spanish authorities in an attempt to find the young boy.

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Divorces granted to wives has nearly halved since 1993

The Marriage Foundation recently commissioned new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to discover the number of divorces in England and Wales, the duration of the marriages, and whether the divorce was granted to the husband or wife.

In 2017, there were 55,689 fewer divorces granted to wives compared with the peak year of 1993; a 47 per cent drop from 118,401 to 62,712. According to the recent report from The Marriage Foundation, there was only a 15 per cent fall in divorces granted to husbands (from 46,271 to 38,957) during the same period.

Divorces granted by previous marital status

The ONS data was broken down into three main categories to determine the difference in divorce figures when marital status before marriage was considered:

  1. Single
  2. Divorced
  3. Widowed

Previously Single Marital Status

During 2017, the research revealed 23,329 first-time husbands who filed for divorce were divorcing a woman who had also never been married before. This was a drop of more than 6,000 from 2012 when 29,721 divorces were granted to the husband. Although a higher figure, similar findings were found for previously single women. 37,217 wives were granted a divorce where both parties were in their first marriage in 2017; a fall of over 16,000 in just five years (53,930 were filed in 2012).

Previously Divorced Marital Status

3,417 men filed for divorce from a woman who had been married before; a small drop on the 3,767 recorded in 2012. Those previously single women who applied for divorce from a husband who had been married more than once fell 1,612 compared with 2012’s figures (from 7,366 to 5,754).

Previously Widowed Marital Status

The number of men granted a divorce where the woman had been previously widowed fell from 114 to 90 in five years. This compares with 96 that were granted to a first-time wife from their previously widowed husbands in 2017, 30 petitions less than half a decade ago.

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No evidence that children of single-parent households are negatively impacted, new study finds

A study conducted by Gingerbread – a charity supporting single-parent families – and the University of Sheffield, has revealed that the wellbeing of children living with a single parent is the same, if not higher, than those in a two-parent family household.

Key findings from the report

The study – named Family Portrait: Single parent families and transitions over time – was conducted over six years with more than 27,800 households with children examined. Released at the end of last year, the report measures the children’s wellbeing by looking at three key factors: ‘life satisfaction’, ‘feelings about their family’ and ‘the quality of relationships with peers’. On all accounts, the report concluded that there was no evidence that children’s wellbeing was negatively affected if they were living or have lived in a single-parent household compared with those living in two-parent families.

Children’s Wellbeing

The children in the study were asked to self-report on their wellbeing and rate their feelings on their family and peer relationships on a scale up to five.

For ‘life satisfaction’, children who had always lived with a single parent ranked higher than those who were in two-parent households. Children in single-parent families believed their life satisfaction sat at 2.22 out of 5. This was closely followed by those who had lived with a single parent at some point (2.19 out of 5) and then those living in two-parent households at 2.02 out of 5.

A similar pattern was revealed when asked how they feel about their family: those who had always lived with a single parent or had previously lived with a single parent were more positive – averaging at 1.71 – compared with those who had never lived with a single parent (1.54).

The final self-report saw children who lived in single-parent households have less problematic relationships among their peers than those in two-parent families. Children from two-parent households ranked peer problems at 4.62, followed by those who had always lived in a single parent family at 4.02 and then children who had previously lived with a single parent at 3.92.

Despite other data suggesting that 1 in 4 households are headed by single parents, the report noted around a third (32%) of families will have been a single parent family for at least some point over the six years examined. This concludes that single parenthood is much more common than is typically suggested.

1 in 7 single parents get married or cohabit

14% of single parents were reported to transition out of single parenthood by either getting married or cohabiting with a partner – and of these parents, almost three quarters re-partnered with the child’s biological parent.

The study looked at different family types over the course of six years and examined any changes in the family structure:

  • 84% of single parents due to bereavement remained single, while 16% re-partnered.
  • 94% of those married stayed the same, while 3% cohabited and 3% separated or divorced
  • 77% of those cohabiting remained in their living situation, while 11% married and 12% separated.

Consistent with official statistics, the study proved that cohabiting parents were the most likely family group to experience a change in their living situation. However, the report discovered that cohabiting was as important a route to marriage as single parenthood.

Professor Nathan Hughes from the University of Sheffield commented on the data:

“These findings have clear implications for how single-parent families should be understood, valued and supported. Stereotyping single parenthood as a problem is inaccurate and immoral.”

Chief Executive at Gingerbread, Rosie Ferguson, concluded:

“Our report with the University of Sheffield debunks myths about single-parent households and significantly, it shows that children are not negatively impacted if raised by a lone parent. What is important to a child’s wellbeing is the presence of positive relationships.”

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Damages for costs of raising a healthy child rejected

A man whose ex-partner had their embryos wrongfully implanted against his will has lost his appeal against the fertility clinic to be awarded damages for the pecuniary loss of bringing up his daughter.

The case ARB v IVF Hammersmith concerned a couple who had created embryos for use in their IVF treatment, but who separated before agreeing to begin the fertility treatment. Without the father’s consent, the mother had their IVF clinic breach their contract with the couple and implant some of the embryos, and she subsequently gave birth to a daughter. Eight years later, the father has lost his appeal to be awarded damages for the costs, past and future, incurred by bringing up the child.

Citing authorities including McFarlane v Tayside Health Board, the Court followed the precedent in tort that damages should not be awarded for the financial loss of raising a healthy child. The precedent is based on multiple contentious policy concerns, including recognising that the ‘blessing’ of a healthy child is such that it would be wrong to award damages for its existence.

These policy concerns have been met with resistance from some judges and academics, who argue that a child can be deeply valued and loved but still be financially expensive, and that the court should place the financial burden on the parties responsible for the wrongful conception, in this case, the IVF clinic who breached their contract.

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77 divorce applications filed on New Year’s Day

Between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, 455 online divorce applications were lodged in England and Wales. According to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), 26 people submitted applications on Christmas Eve, 13 on Christmas Day, 23 people filed on Boxing Day and 77 on New Year’s Day.

Amicable, a divorce support service, revealed that online searches for ‘divorce’ are 25% higher in January compared with any other time of the year. Relationship support charity, Relate, also report a 13% rise in calls and 58% spike in website users in the first month of every year. Experts believe that disputes arising from trying to create the perfect Christmas in addition to financial troubles over the festive break are the main reasons why married couples decide to split at this time of the year.

Simone Bose, a Relate counsellor, explained:

“No one’s saying that Christmas itself leads to divorce and separation, but if you’re already experiencing issues then added ‘festive pressures’ such as financial woes and family rows can push things from bad to breaking point.”

Digital Divorces

From April 2018, couples have had the opportunity to complete the divorce application process using the internet. Since the platform was opened, more than 23,000 online divorce applications have been made.

The introduction of the online divorce petition service is part of a £1 billion plan to modernise the current justice system. The MoJ reported that the newly digitised system for applying for divorce has cut application form errors from 40% to less than 1%. On average, the time taken to complete a divorce application has also reduced by more than half an hour.

Grounds for divorce

In order to apply for a divorce in England and Wales, you must have been married for at least a year and able to prove your marriage has broken down due to one of the following:

  • Adultery
  • Unreasonable behaviour
  • Desertion
  • You have lived apart for more than two years and both parties agree to the divorce
  • If your spouse does not agree to the separation, you must have lived apart from your partner for at least five years

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How the UK-EU divorce could impact divorcees

The Law Society has issued guidance for its members on the effect of a no-deal Brexit on family law. The future is unclear, and the UK faces a loss of protection for some vulnerable parties, including the victims of domestic violence.

The president of the Society, Christina Blacklaws, told the Law Gazette last month that “there is little doubt that resolving disputes will become much more complex and much more costly.”

On the subject of divorce, the Law Society predicts that after a no-deal Brexit, unless the states involved in a multi-national case are members of the Hague Convention on divorce, there could be conflicts of jurisdiction and parallel proceedings, which would be more expensive for the parties involved.

Currently, if you are the victim of domestic violence or harassment, and a national court has issued a civil law protection order in your favour, this will be recognised and enforced anywhere in the EU. The UK plans to repeal the Regulation which controls this, and it is unclear what the government intends to do to ensure UK judgments are respected in other EU states post-Brexit.

It is possible that the UK could negotiate deals with individual EU states on family law matters, but this will require the authorisation of the European Commission. The UK has also disclosed that it intends to negotiate a treaty with the EU on issues relating to civil justice and cooperation in family law, which the Law Society has stated it would encourage.

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Former top judge calls for the ban on commercial surrogacy to be lifted

Last week, Sir James Munby, the former President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales, told the Mail on Sunday that he believes the ban on paying women to be surrogates should be lifted.

While it is legal for surrogates’ reasonable expenses to be paid, it is currently illegal to pay a woman to be a surrogate under the Surrogacy Arrangements Act 1985. The law in the UK is therefore different to that in multiple foreign countries. Commercial surrogacy is legal in some US states, where the cost of commercial surrogacy generally ranges from $112,000-$146,500, according to Sensible Surrogacy, an American surrogacy programme.

Commercialising surrogacy raises important ethical questions, including whether or not it commodifies surrogates’ bodies. On the other hand, lifting the ban may increase the number of available surrogates, and so enable more families to have children.

Sir James cited a change in society which he believes legislators should adapt to, and said that he is in favour of a system of better regulation, rather than prohibition. Surrogates’ expenses typically range from £12,000-£18,000, and Sir James believes that it is difficult for a judge to determine what a ‘genuine expense’ really is.

Sir James also emphasised the importance of enabling older women to have children, and said that the increase in life expectancy justifies allowing women in their 50s and 60s to become mothers. Kim Cotton, the first surrogate mother in the UK, told the Independent in 2017 that she “couldn’t imagine not being able to have children”.

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World Cup success brought spike in domestic violence

Evidence from the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) suggests that reports of domestic violence increased sharply during the 2018 World Cup tournament, despite England’s success. The charity received 2,619 reports of domestic violence between the 1st and 10th July this year – an increase of 500 when compared with a similar 10-day period before the competition began.

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