Thursday, July 31, 2014

M v B: Extraordinarily tragic

A summary of M v B [2014] EWHC 2686 (Fam) - an application by the mother of a boy, now aged about nine and a half, for permission to remove him from living in England to live long term with her in Abu Dhabi.
"The case is an extraordinarily tragic one, as will emerge when I recount the facts; and this hearing has been very painful for me to preside over in view of the, frankly, terrible relationship between the two parents."
The facts:
  • Both parents are Algerian citizens and Muslims.
  • The mother has lived in England since 1986. She has a 25 year old daughter by her first marriage, who now lives in Abu Dhabi.
  • At some stage the father moved to live in Canada, where he met and married his first wife.
  • The parents formed a relationship, the mother understanding that the father's marriage was an exclusively Islamic and not a civil marriage that had been ended by a consensual Islamic divorce. They met in Canada.
  • The mother returned to England, where the parents were married in December 2003, after which they lived together in England.
  • The mother then conceived their only child, a son, who was born in December 2004.
  • The marriage broke down and the parents separated, the father moving out in September 2010.
  • The son continued to live with the mother, who was granted a residence order in February 2011.
  • Between the summer of 2011 and November 2013 the father spent most of his time abroad, either in Algeria or elsewhere. During this time he had contact with the son via telephone and internet video calling.
  • In the summer of 2012 the mother travelled to Abu Dhabi to see her daughter. She was very attracted by what she saw and decided to move there and work as a teacher. She therefore began teacher training.
  • In August 2013, having gained her teaching qualification, the mother issued her application for permission to take the son to live in Abu Dhabi. She did seek permission from the father, but received no response. The mother also issued divorce proceedings.
  • In late November 2013, having been abroad, probably in Algeria, for the bulk of the previous two to two and a half years, the father returned unexpectedly to England.
  • In March 2014 the mother discovered documents which indicated that the father was still married to his first wife when the mother and father were married. The mother then stopped the divorce proceedings, issued a petition for nullity, and reported the matter to the police.
  • The father did not consider that that the mother should have taken any step to reveal or make public in any way the truth that he was still married to another person when he purportedly married her, saying that the effect was to render their son "illegitimate" or "a bastard" in the eyes of the Islamic community.
  • In the last few months prior to the hearing of the mother's application the father had regular contact with the son. Whilst the son has a good relationship with the father, he heard a lot of negativity about his mother from his father.
  • The father maintained that the mother's application was merely a device to avoid the child visiting Algeria, where many family members on both sides reside.
  • The mother fears that if the son were to go to Algeria he would not be returned.

The mother's application was heard by Mr Justice Holman. He found that the mother's concerns regarding the son going to Algeria were well founded. He also found "that the father has what I can only describe as hatred for the mother and he regards her with the utmost and bitter contempt." For example, the father and close members of his family refer to her as "cancer", a description used by the father in front of the son. The father had also made it clear that he believed that under Algerian law and culture once a boy whose parents has separated reached the age of 11 then he should live with his father.

In the light of the above Mr Justice Holman made it clear that "any possibility of this boy travelling to Algeria in the near or foreseeable future is simply not on the agenda against the will and better judgment of his mother." This obviously impacted upon the father's allegation that the mother's application was just a device to avoid the child visiting Algeria.

Mr Justice Holman also found:
  • That the mother's application was well motivated, having been made originally when it appeared that it would have little or no impact upon the father's contact with the son.
  • That the mother had properly researched the move to Abu Dhabi, including finding an appropriate school for the son.
  • That the mother would keep her house in England and would bring the boy here during school holidays, so that the father could have contact.
  • That the boy neither has a clear or strong wish to go to Abu Dhabi nor a clear or strong wish to remain in England.
  • That frequent contact between the father and the son may have a detrimental effect upon the boy, in the light of the father's attitude towards the mother.

In the circumstances Mr Justice Holman held that "the advantages to this boy of the proposed move to Abu Dhabi in the particular circumstances of this case very greatly outweigh such disadvantages as there are." He therefore granted the mother permission, subject to her undertaking to return the boy to this country three times a year, and not to sell or lease her house without the permission of the court.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Something for everyone

My efforts this week on Marilyn Stowe's Family Law & Divorce Blog include:

I hope you find something of interest.

Right, I'm off to find a better way to finish a Friday post...

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Re B: Children giving evidence

A summary of Re B (Child Evidence) [2014] EWCA Civ 1015.

Re B concerned a father's application for contact with his 5 year old son. The mother alleged that the father had been violent towards her during their relationship. Her allegations were considered material to the issue of contact and a fact finding hearing was directed. The mother wanted her older child (a daughter, G, who is now 13 years old) to give evidence at the fact finding hearing about some of the violent incidents, and her application to this end was considered by Judge Cameron on the 12th of February last. She ordered that a Family Court Adviser from CAFCASS should see G to explore matters further and report back. Specifically:
"The order set out what the court wanted the report to cover, namely (1) whether it would be "appropriate and/or within G's best interests or potentially harmful for G" to answer any questions drafted by the parties and/or to attend court to give evidence and be cross-examined, whether by video-link or otherwise, at the fact finding hearing (2) whether G was willing to answer questions or attend a fact finding hearing to give oral evidence and (3) if the Adviser decided it was appropriate to put the questions to G, a report of her answers."
The father appealed against the order.

By the time the proceedings were stayed on the 17th of March the Adviser had seen G and prepared a report. In it she stated that G had told her that she had witnessed a lot of things that the father had done to her mother and did not want anything to happen to her brother. The Adviser recommended that the questions that the parties had drafted should be reworded and reduced in number and also that G "should not be compelled to provide live evidence" and/or "subjected to live cross-examination".

The leading judgment in the Court of Appeal was given by Lady Justice Black. She found that Judge Cameron had followed the principles set out by the Supreme Court in Re W and the subsequent Guidelines in relation to children giving evidence in family proceedings produced by Lord Justice Thorpe's Working Party. The factors that must be taken into account in determining whether a particular child should give evidence, she said, can be divided into two broad categories:
"The first category is concerned with the nature and quality of the evidence (both the child's evidence and the evidence in general) and requires a consideration of what is to be gained, in terms of the fair and accurate determination of the case, from calling the child. The second is concerned with the risk of harm to the child from the process of giving evidence, to which the court must give great weight."
As to the first category:
"I could not dismiss the possibility that G's contribution may be of importance, although without knowing what she would say, it is difficult to form any firm view. It seems to me that the judge was entitled to say that G's evidence was potentially "very much corroborating and supporting what [the mother] says went on""
As to the second category, this does not appear to have been argued specifically on behalf of the father, presumably in the light of the 'step by step' approach of Judge Cameron, and the fact that she had not yet come to a decision about G giving evidence. Lady Justice Black did, however, have the following to say:
"I would not expect our endorsement of Judge Cameron's decision to open the floodgates, leading to a widespread practice of calling children as witnesses in cases such as this one. The Supreme Court did not consider that their decision would lead to children routinely giving evidence, predicting that the outcome of the court's balancing exercise, if it was called upon to adjudicate upon such matters, would be the conclusion that the additional benefits in calling the child would not outweigh the additional harm it would cause him or her. I am sure that the natural sensitivity and caution of the family courts ... can be relied upon to ensure that matters are approached in a way which properly safeguards all the interests involved."
Accordingly, the father's appeal was dismissed.

Lord Justice Fulford and Lord Justice Richards gave concurring judgments.

Not QUITE got the idea...

Research indicates that legal aid contributes to significant public savings - Family Law, 22nd July 2014

Friday, July 18, 2014


It has been far too hot this week for me to spend too much time in front of a computer, so you will have to content yourself with my efforts on Marilyn Stowe's Family Law & Divorce Blog, which have included the following:

And with that, I'm off to find myself a cold beer. Have a good weekend.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

More couples getting married in Britain, says ONS

Another day, another video from a television news channel:

I particularly liked the bit where the woman said she believed that marriage was very important - but that's because I'm a Christian.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Flogging the dead horse of mediation, and other things

Before another week comes to a close I thought I would draw your attention to my rantings writings these last few days over on Marilyn Stowe's Family Law & Divorce Blog. They include the following:

With that, I am off to prepare to watch the World Cup Final. Whether or not you are an aficionado of the beautiful game, have an enjoyable weekend.

Now, what did I do with that old vuvuzela...

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Murphy v Murphy: The having of children changes everything

Mr Justice Holman
A summary of Murphy v Murphy [2014] EWHC 2263 (Fam), decided by Mr Justice Holman on the 4th of July.

As he states at the beginning of his judgment, the situation faced by Mr Justice Holman in this case was a somewhat unusual one. The parties had agreed all matters at an FDR on the 7th of November last, save for two issues:
"...whether or not there should be some "step down" in the relatively near future (that is to say, within a small number of years) in the level of periodical payments payable to the wife [agreed at £31,000 per annum]; and whether or not those periodical payments payable to the wife should be the subject of some ultimate term or cut off."
Those, of course, were the two issues that fell to be determined by Mr Justice Holman. He explains at paragraph 6 why the situation was unusual:
"The reason why I say that the situation is a somewhat unusual one is that issues around the duration of periodical payments and potential cessation of periodical payments are not normally completely separated out from issues with regard to capital. It does, for instance, commonly happen that as part of a negotiated outcome (or even a court imposed outcome) there is some further capital adjustment or capital provision from a payer to a payee spouse to reflect or compensate for subsequent cessation or reduction in levels of maintenance. But in this particular case the parties have completely and finally resolved all capital issues and I am, in fact, left in the somewhat unusual and not entirely comfortable situation of having to adjudicate on the two issues ... as a somewhat abstract exercise, when no power has been left to me to make any further or alternative capital adjustment at all."
"... it is a striking feature of this case that by their agreement, and by the terms of the consent order of 7 November 2013, the parties have already clearly contemplated that the wife will seek and obtain work, and that once she has done so there will be a reduction, which is already provided for, in the level of maintenance payable by the husband to the wife. Undertaking (J) in the order is that the wife "will inform the [husband] as and when she commences remunerative employment, including disclosing her net income". That undertaking, in the overall context of this case, when coupled with paragraph 6(i) of the order itself [which provides for the wife's maintenance to be reduced by an amount equal to 50% of her earned income at the end of her first year of paid employment], clearly contemplates that the wife does wish and intend to seek and obtain remunerative employment."
The facts were as follows:
  • The wife is aged 42 and the husband is 35.
  • They were together fo 8 years, separating in April 2013, when the wife petitioned for divorce.
  • At the time of the marriage both parties were in good employment, the wife earning £30,000 a year working for Selfridges.
  • The wife gave birth to twins on New Year's Eve 2011.
  • The wife gave up work to look after the twins.
  • The husband is a relatively high earning businessman in secure employment.
  • At the time of the FDR the wife was still engaged full-time looking after the twins, but she indicated that she planned to begin training as a teacher as soon as she could.
  • The broad agreement at the FDR was that the available capital between the parties would effectively be evenly divided and their then pension CETVs equalised.
  • The net effect of the agreement reached at the FDR was, in relation to the wife, that she owned the former matrimonial home, which was worth £700,000 but subject to a £250,000 mortgage. Otherwise, she had about £28,000 available capital and pensions with a CETV of about £44,500.
  • By the time of the hearing before Mr Justice Holman the wife had realised that her plan to train as a teacher was not realistic, due to the time commitment involved conflicting with her ability to care for the children. She had, however, begun working part-time, mainly from home, and indicated that she intended to seek greater and more remunerative employment.

Counsel for the wife argued that Mr Justice Holman should not identify any particular date upon which, or amount by which, there should be a "step down" in the relatively near future, nor should he make the order for periodical payments subject to an overall term ceasing when the children finish their secondary education.

Counsel for the husband, however, argued that Mr Justice Holman should identify a date for a step down and a reduced level of maintenance at that date; and, further, fix that the entire periodical payments should cease about the time the children attain the age of 18 and the wife is 57. The suggestion was that by the first of September 2017 the wife should be able to return to something like her previous earning level by earning £25-30,000 a year, the twins by then both being in full-time school. It was therefore proposed that the maintenance should reduce to £12,000 per annum from that date.

Mr Justice Holman considered that the husband's argument in respect of the wife's future earning capacity was "highly speculative and probably not realistic". He said (at paragraph 28):
"The reality of this case seems to me to be this. These parents gave birth to these twins when the wife was at a relatively (I stress the word 'relatively') older age. She is now already 42. She still has highly dependent twins, only aged 3. Yes, she does have a good working history, although she has no special vocational or professional qualifications. She has made quite clear that she wishes and intends to obtain such work as she can, but her absolute priority must be their children. Further, it is the statutory duty of the court under section 25(1) of the Act to give first consideration to the welfare of the children while they are minors."
He continued:
"I am, frankly, quite unable to say, and it would be totally speculative, whether or not by September 2017, or any date in the relatively near future, she is going to be able to obtain work at any particular level of remuneration. The husband already has the advantage and protection of paragraph 6(i) of the order and will be credited 50p in the pound for any work that she does obtain. But for me to assume that by September 2017 she can and will, or should be, earning anything remotely approaching £25-30,000 a year gross seems to me to be totally speculative."
Accordingly, he was not willing to add any "step down" to the order.

The other question was whether, by application of section 25A(2) of the MCA, he should make the maintenance subject to an overall term, and specifically (as the husband and his counsel contended for) when the twins cease secondary education around the age of 18. Again, Mr Justice Holman considered that the question of what the wife "will be able to earn, and how much she will be able to have earned, and what pension she will be able to have accrued by the time she is 57 is, frankly, totally speculative". The husband's counsel's arguments in favour of a term order overlooked the fact that the having of children changed everything:
"Of course this wife could never have expected a "meal ticket for life" on the basis of six years of marriage and two years of cohabitation if there had been no children. Far from it, she would no doubt have continued to work at Selfridges, or in similar employment, and at the point of the breakdown of their marriage and divorce there would have been a fair capital division and a clean break and each would have gone their own way. But the fact of having children, and their obvious dependence in this particular case on their mother for their care, changes everything, as I have said. The economic impact on this wife is likely to endure not only until they leave school but, indeed, for the rest of her life."
He continued:
"I do not know, nor do the parties know, what the future will bring. It may be that this wife will find another partner with whom she chooses to share her life and the maintenance will all end. It may be that she will be able later, if not sooner, to obtain well remunerated employment, carrying with it a good pension, and any dependence will end. But at the moment this lady is in a precarious position. She is very largely dependent on her husband, and it is frankly impossible for me to form the opinion that section 25A(2) requires as the trigger to then making a term order."
Accordingly, he declined to make a term order. The order made at the FDR would therefore remain essentially the same, with a clear recital with regard to the wife's desire and intention to obtain the best paid work that she reasonably can.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Friday, July 04, 2014

What I have been up to this week

Before I head off for a weekend of revelry and hedonism (well, I may have the odd beer), I thought you might like to know what I have been up to on Marilyn Stowe’s Family Law & Divorce Blog this week.

My efforts there include the following:

Hopefully, one or more of the above may stir your interest.

Now, where's that beer?

Internet Newsletter for Lawyers July/August 2014

The latest issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers is now published.

In this issue
  • Law reporting – Paul Magrath looks at the changing needs of practitioners and explains how ICLR is responding
  • BYOD – David Flint of MacRoberts provides guidance on framing a BYOD (bring your own device) policy
  • Electronic evidence – Stephen Mason, barrister, explains electronic evidence which depends on understanding the digital realm
  • Blogs – Joe Reevy of Legal RSS asks whether blogs are, or can be, any use to law firms
  • Contempt – Judith Townend considers the propects for a proposed court reporting restrictions database
  • Resources – Delia Venables provides a guide to key US legal news sites, legal organisations and resources
  • CPD – Details of our new 2014 Legal Web CPD courses for solicitors and barristers

Access the Newsletter online at

The RSS feed of latest articles is at

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book Review: At A Glance 2014-2015

At A Glance

Essential Tables for Financial Remedies


£55 - Published by Class Legal

Another year, another At A Glance.

And it has been a year of momentous change in family law, as the preface to the latest edition of At A Glance recalls. Despite this, however, little appears to have changed within the covers of this indispensable publication. Yes, the tables have of course been updated, but otherwise... ?

Well, a look at the index on the inner front cover actually suggests we are getting less for our £55 this time around, with two fewer tables than the last edition and no perpetual calendar. However, looks can be deceptive. The page number remains the same - what is now filling the space of the missing items?

Well, one item is not actually missing. The list of useful websites is no longer a table but a page in the 'Other Financial Remedy Materials' appendix.

The other missing table is the Office Salary Survey, which showed salaries paid and offered to office, secretarial and sales staff by private and public sector employers, and demonstrated the pay differentials across the country. I doubt that it will be missed by most users of At A Glance.

The loss of the perpetual calendar is explained in the preface: space constraints mean that it no longer features.

By its nature At A Glance is not the sort of publication that can be read from cover to cover (and nor, of course, is it intended to be), so it is difficult to say exactly how the four pages of the missing items have been filled. But that is not important. What is important is that you can continue to refer to At A Glance confident that the wealth of information it contains is up to date and reliable.

And refer to it you will surely need to do. As the blurb on the back cover warns: Venture into client meeting or court without it at your peril!

At A Glance can be purchased from Class Legal, here.