Friday, December 30, 2011

Review of the Year, Part 4

And so thankfully finally we come to the last part...

Political party conference season. If you could stay awake, David Cameron set out his plans for families, including making adoption easier (more of which below), married tax relief (again) and, perhaps most controversially (at least as far as his audience were concerned) a consultation on legalising gay marriage.

In the realm of practice,  October the 6th saw the implementation of 'outcomes-focused regulation' ('OFR') for solicitors, hailed by the SRA as 'regulation in the public interest and for the benefit of clients'. Whether OFR will work better for this profession than it did for the Financial Services Authority, only time will tell...

On the 13th of October the Government published its response to the Report of the Justice Select Committee on the Operation of the Family Courts. Basically, and entirely predictably, the Government said: "Thanks very much, but we're already conducting the Family Justice Review, so let's wait for the outcome of that."

Meanwhile the 'lottery winnings' case S v AG was grabbing the headlines. In it, Mr Justice Mostyn had found that the wife's lottery winnings were non-matrimonial property (at least when she received them), which many felt would encourage spouses not to share their wealth, and cause more acrimony on marriage breakdown.

The month ended with news of the Government's initiative to improve the adoption system, including performance tables to 'name and shame' under-performing councils, and the launching of the 'Give a Child a Home' campaign.

November began with the publication of the final report of the Family Justice Review. Highlights, as expected, included the establishment of a Family Justice Service and a six-month time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings. Many of the headlines, however, were about what was not recommended: any legislation that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents. This was greeted with a swathe of erroneous stories along the lines that fathers were being denied a right to see their children.

Then we finally got the Supreme Court's decision in Jones v Kernott, only six months after it was heard. In a unanimous judgment announced by Lady Hale (left), Ms Jones's appeal was allowed, and the order made by the county court giving her 90% of the property was restored. The judgment was generally welcomed by practitioners, as representing a fair outcome, and for providing clarification upon a difficult area of law.

After these excitements, anything else that happened in November was an anti-climax, so I shall move swiftly on...

December began with the unveiling of the detailed proposals for the new child maintenance scheme. Key changes included that payments will usually be based on the non-resident parent’s latest tax-year gross income, sourced directly from HM Revenue & Customs, that the 'flat-rate' will be increased from £5 to £7 and that there will be annual reviews.

The Office for National Statistics released the latest statistics for divorce in England and Wales, for divorces which took place in 2010. These showed an unexpected increase in the divorce rate, the first since 2003. So, at least some good news for divorce lawyers there...

There was still time left before the end of the year for a couple more consultations: one on the definition of domestic violence and the other on reducing the arrears owed to the Child Support Agency. Get your responses in now...

Finally, I found myself in the unusual position of agreeing with a politician, when Nick Clegg told Demos and the Open Society Foundation that we should not try to preserve the 1950s ideal of family (if indeed 1950s families were ideal), and that the state should not use the tax system to encourage a particular family form, i.e. marriage. Not everyone agrees with me and Nick, though.

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