A disturbing case, damaging disputes and more

family law

A week in family law

The Court of Appeal has overturned a ‘top up’ award to a Russian wife who agreed to a divorce settlement in Russia in 2009, under which she received the sum of £5.1 million. The wife applied for the ‘top up’ to the High Court in London In 2014, and was awarded a lump sum of £1.4 million by Mrs Justice Roberts. The husband appealed, and the Court of Appeal has allowed his appeal. Giving the leading judgment Lady Justice King said that the Russian settlement was fair, and that Mrs Justice Roberts did not consider whether in those circumstances it was right for the court to go behind the public policy principle that there should, if at all possible be finality in litigation and that agreements freely reached should be upheld. She also said that there had been no change in the wife’s circumstances, and the application could properly be regarded as a wife seeking a ‘second bite of the cherry’. Accordingly, the award to the wife was set aside. Surely, a sensible decision.

Three teenage brothers who developed a “narcissistic cult” mentality and came to believe there was no point leaving home, socialising or going to school, should be removed from their mother’s care, the High Court has ruled. Concerns over the boys had been raised by social workers, who said that they had suffered neglect and physical and emotional harm due to stress, inadequate food and a lack of medical provision. Their mother, who had mental health issues, had “failed” to allow them to attend school, socialise, play outside or take part in activities. Mr Justice Hayden was told by psychotherapists that the boys formed a group identity and saw themselves as intellectually superior and separate to the rest of the world. Two of the boys spoke to each other in a language they had devised. The boys have been placed in residential care units temporarily, pending a long-term decision on their future. A disturbing case, once again demonstrating the difficult issues that our family courts have to deal with.

In its latest annual Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) states that in 2016-17 domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences accounted for 19.3 per cent of the CPS’s total caseload, up from 7.1 per cent in 2007-08, when the first VAWG report was published. Of that 19.3 per cent, more than 80 per cent of those crimes were domestic abuse related. However the report does show a decrease in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions compared with 2015/16, following a two-year fall in referrals of domestic abuse from the police to the CPS. The CPS says that cross-governmental work with the police is underway to address this fall. Leaving that point aside, the report does seem to confirm that the criminal justice system has taken over the burden of dealing with domestic abuse from the civil courts.

A father has succeeded with an application to relocate with his two teenaged sons to Switzerland, following a damaging family dispute. There is a full summary of the case in this post so I won’t repeat it here. Instead, what I wanted to mention is the very unusual fact that the father, despite being successful, was ordered to pay £150,000 towards the mother’s costs. As Mr Justice Peter Jackson said: “the father has “succeeded” in the narrow sense that his application has been granted. In this case, frankly, I do not think that anybody has succeeded.” He found that the mother was entitled to a ‘substantial contribution’ towards her costs, to reflect the fact that the father’s conduct had substantially contributed to the way in which the dispute, which cost the family a staggering £938,000, had to be resolved.

And finally, I like to end with an amusing story, but instead this week I shall end with a warning, once again about the issue of costs. There is nothing remotely amusing about the story of the Australian couple who spent AU $225,000 arguing over the ownership of a car that was worth less than half of that sum. At the end of the two year dispute, the wife was awarded a sum which represented barely one fifth of her legal costs of AU $160,000. How many times do we come across couples who are so full of animosity towards one another that they completely lose sight of both commercial realities and common sense, as the judge in the case said? There are some who would blame the lawyers, but ultimately the blame must lay with the parties. As a barrister said to me long ago at the beginning of my career: litigation is a mug’s game – don’t embark upon it unless you’re sure you’re going to end up better off.

Have a good weekend.

Image by Hamza Butt via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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