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Adoption is Always a Last Resort – Troubled Mum Achieves Redemption

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One of the hardest tasks that family judges have to undertake is to remove children from the care of parents who are incapable of looking after them. However, as one case showed, adoption of children outside their natural families is only ever a last resort and there is always the possibility of redemption.

The case concerned a 14-month-old girl whose mother had been an alcoholic since she was in her teens. Having lived largely in care during her childhood, the mother had appeared before criminal courts for offences fuelled by her addiction. There had been extensive social services involvement in relation to her parenting of her older daughter.

The girl had spent her entire life in foster care after the local authority removed her from her mother immediately after her birth. The council was subsequently granted a full care order in respect of her and a judge directed her placement for adoption. Those orders were, however, later overturned by the Court of Appeal.

In considering the matter afresh, a different judge noted the mother’s committed and independent engagement with Alcoholics Anonymous and that she had been sober for almost two years. She had a strong family support network and the evidence established that, when sober, she could be an excellent mother.

The judge noted that severing ties between the girl, her mother and her wider family would be a great loss to her. The mother had shown increasing insight into the impact of her drinking on her child and, although there could be no guarantees, the prognosis was good if she managed to avoid alcohol for five years.

Ordering the girl’s rehabilitation to her mother’s care, subject to a supervision order, the judge found that the risks involved in that course were outweighed by the benefit to the girl of being brought up within her natural family.

Family Judge Blocks Attempt at Divorce Tourism in Big Money Case

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English judges are respected around the world – but they are not the sole arbiters of fairness and the decisions of foreign courts must be respected. A family judge made that point in shutting the door on divorce tourism and refusing a Russian ex-wife the opportunity to seek a greater share of her husband’s enormous wealth.

During the couple’s marriage, which lasted over 30 years, they had built up a fortune which the wife estimated at $20 billion. A blizzard of litigation, in Russia and elsewhere, followed the end of their marriage. The wife claimed that, due to the power and influence exerted by her husband in their homeland, she had been awarded only $41.5 million, or less than 0.3 per cent of the marital assets, by the Russian courts.

After she moved to England, and following a hearing at which the husband was not represented, a judge granted her permission to seek further financial relief from him under the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. That was on the basis that she had an arguable case that she had suffered a grave injustice at the hands of the Russian courts and that the sums she was awarded there came nowhere near meeting her reasonable needs.

In setting aside that permission at the husband’s behest, the same judge found that, in applying for it, the wife had breached the duty of candour that she owed to the court. Amongst other things, the provisions of Russian law, the full extent of the litigation there and the true value of the award she had received had been misrepresented.

Although there was no dispute that she was habitually resident in England, there were doubts as to whether she was domiciled here. Having moved to this country only after the end of the marriage, her connections to England were recent and modest and her links to Russia were infinitely greater.

The judge acknowledged that, given the scale of the husband’s wealth, the award to the wife made by the Russian courts was, by English standards, paltry. Had she been divorced in England, her award – whether based on the sharing principle or her reasonable needs – would have been vastly greater. To that extent, she could be said to have suffered hardship.

However, the judge noted that it is not the job of the English courts to correct alleged deficiencies in the legal systems of other countries. The wife’s case was a classic example of a spouse with no connection to England seeking to take advantage of the perceived more generous approach of English judges to the financial aspects of divorce. She had taken the fullest possible advantage of the Russian legal system and, were her claim permitted to proceed, there would be no limit to divorce tourism.

High Court Assists Husband in Drawing a Line Under His Divorce

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Litigation can be long and bitter, but it is the prime objective of the justice system to eventually bring it to a satisfactory end. In a case on point, the High Court came to the aid of a husband in drawing a line under his divorce.

The case concerned a middle-aged couple who were self-employed in the IT world, each of them earning enough to support themselves. The wife had a child from a previous relationship who was treated as a child of the family. In dividing the marital assets between them post-separation, a family judge awarded the wife £478,000, approximately 49 per cent of the total.

After the judge handed down her judgment, but before an order was perfected giving effect to it, the wife sought to present fresh evidence that the proposed award would not meet her and her child’s reasonable housing needs. The judge was persuaded to adjourn the matter with a view to hearing further argument.

In upholding the husband’s appeal against that ruling, the Court emphasised the importance of finality in litigation. The adjournment application was a spurious attempt by a disappointed litigant to get the judge to change her mind immediately after she had given judgment. She should not have succumbed and the decision to grant an adjournment was plainly wrong. The judge was directed to make a final order reflecting the terms of her original judgment.

Divorce is Often Bitter, But Maintaining a Sense of Proportion is Crucial

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Amidst the emotional and financial destruction that can arise from divorce, keeping a sense of proportion is crucial. The Court of Appeal made that point in lamenting a former couple’s expenditure of more than £500,000 in legal costs fighting over an asset worth less than £300,000.

At the start of the couple’s 12-year marriage, during which they had two children, they both had highly paid jobs. However, by the time of their separation, their circumstances were greatly reduced and the only asset that was potentially available for division between them was an overseas flat.

The flat was owned by a company, the sole shareholder of which was the husband’s mother. However, following a hearing, a judge found that the husband was the flat’s beneficial owner. He was ordered to pay the wife £150,000, that sum representing roughly half of the flat’s value. After the mother appealed, the judge’s orders were upheld.

In upholding the mother’s further appeal, the Court noted that the case was yet another sad example of a highly educated former couple engaging in emotionally bruising, destructive and disproportionately expensive litigation in relation to money and the young children of the marriage.

The Court found that the initial trial of the action had been infected by serious procedural irregularities and that the mother had been denied a fair hearing. There was no basis for that part of the judge’s order which set aside any transactions that had led to the flat’s title being vested in the company and ultimately the mother. She thus continued, via her shares in the company, to be the flat’s legal owner.

The Court, however, went on to uphold the judge’s conclusion that the flat was and remained in the husband’s beneficial ownership. That finding was almost inevitable on the evidence. The lump sum order made against the husband was therefore justified. The Court noted that it was a matter for the husband whether to require his mother to sell the flat in order to raise the necessary funds.

Failing to Disclose Assets Can Bite Back in Divorce

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In a case illustrating the importance of candour regarding financial circumstances in divorce proceedings, a husband who failed to disclose the true extent of his wealth to family judges was subsequently ordered to pay his ex-wife a seven-figure lump sum, despite challenging the decision.

The couple married in 1995 and separated in 2016. They had three children who remained financially dependent on them. After their acrimonious separation, the judge considered that, if possible, it was ‘imperative’ for there to be a complete clean break between the parties. The husband had refused to dissolve the marriage by means of a Get, a religious requirement in certain sections of the Jewish community.

The judge found that the case had become ‘far more complex than it need have been, largely due to the failures of the husband to provide adequate disclosure and his lack of adherence to court orders’.

The husband was ordered to pay the wife a lump sum of £1.4 million, with the Family Court providing that, if he failed to pay all or any part of the lump sum by the required date, interest would accrue. He was also required to pay £22,000 a year in maintenance to the wife until he both satisfied the debt and granted her a Get.

An order was made under Section 10A of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 prohibiting him from applying for a decree absolute until a declaration had been filed by the parties that they had taken such steps as were required to dissolve the marriage by means of a Get.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the husband’s challenge to those orders and rejected his plea that the judge had erred in failing to quantify the extent of his financial resources. The judge was entitled to find that such an assessment had been rendered impossible by the husband’s lack of cooperation.

The Court found that the judge had undertaken a sufficient determination of the extent of the husband’s resources given the deficiencies in the evidence caused by the husband. The judge was entitled to conclude that there were sufficient resources both to meet the wife’s needs at the level of the proposed award and to meet the husband’s needs.

Family Judge Grasps Nettle in Sending Baby Boy to Live With His Father

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Family judges are always absolutely focused on the welfare of children and will not shrink from grasping nettles to give them the best chance of leading fulfilled and happy lives. That was certainly so in one case in which a judge ordered that a baby boy be taken from his troubled mother’s care and sent to live with his father.

The mother had been diagnosed as suffering from traits of a personality disorder and her two older children had already been taken into care and placed for adoption. Her history was characterised by poor relationship choices, resulting in domestic violence, together with verbal and physical abuse of her older children.

Despite this, however, she dearly loved her youngest boy, aged one, and had made much progress in caring for him in a therapeutic environment. She wished to make a permanent home for him, but social workers and the boy’s guardian were unanimous in recommending that his father take over as his primary carer.

In ruling on the matter, the judge had no doubt as to the mother’s commitment to and deep affection for her son. The picture was not entirely bleak, but evidence revealed her sometimes erratic behaviour and her difficulty in managing her emotions and moods. In those circumstances, there was a risk that the boy would be exposed to significant harm if cared for by his mother outside a therapeutic context.

Emphasising the boy’s pressing need for stable and predictable parenting, the judge found that his welfare demanded that he live with his father, whose commitment to his son was not in doubt and who would receive support from the local authority in performing his parenting role. The judge directed that the boy should continue to have regular contact with his mother.

Court Orders Must Be Obeyed

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Public confidence in the civil justice system would collapse if court orders were not rigorously enforced – however agonising complying with them may be. The point was made by a case in which a divorcee who refused to move out of her home of 25 years came within an ace of being sent to prison for her defiance.

Following lengthy and bitter divorce proceedings, the woman had been ordered to quit the home where she brought up her children so that it could be sold and the proceeds divided between her and her ex-husband. A writ of possession was eventually issued and she was compelled to leave by bailiffs. However, she returned to the property a few weeks later and had remained there since.

As a last resort, the husband launched committal proceedings against her. He said that he had no wish to see her jailed, but the High Court noted that more than just his private concerns were in play. Those who choose the court process to resolve their differences are entitled to expect that obedience to judicial orders will be enforced to the hilt and, if necessary, by imprisonment.

The Court noted that the wife, aged in her 50s, had never previously been in trouble with the law. She was suffering from stress and was clearly struggling to move on from her divorce. The Court imposed a six-week jail term but was prepared to suspend the sentence for 15 months. That would afford her sufficient time to clear the house of her possessions and ready it for the market.

Growing Number of Cohabiting Couples Leaves More Families Open to Risk

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Cohabiting couples are the fastest-growing family type in the UK, according to newly released figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS reports that the number of cohabiting couple families continues to grow faster than the number of married couple and lone parent families, with an increase of 25.8 per cent over the decade 2008-2018. It highlights the fact that more and more people are choosing to live together before, or without, getting married.

These changing demographics mean that an increasing number of people may be at financial risk in the instance of a cohabitation relationship break-up or the death of a partner. Currently, there is no such thing as a common law marriage in the UK and cohabiting couples are not afforded the same legal rights and protections as married couples.

The House of Lords is seeking to address this imbalance with the Cohabitation Rights Bill, which is currently passing through Parliament. The Bill proposes to establish a framework of rights for cohabiting couples following the end of the relationship or the death of one of the cohabitants.

The Bill’s provisions would only apply to cohabiting couples who had either been living together as a couple for a minimum period of three years or had a dependant child. It is intended to provide the right for either cohabitant, when a relationship breaks down, to apply to a court for a financial settlement order to redress a financial benefit or an economic disadvantage resulting from the period of cohabitation. It is also designed to make provision regarding the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant.

Where, If Anywhere, Do the Jet Set Call Home? High Court Gives Guidance

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Very rich people often live jet set lifestyles of ceaseless travel, so pinning down the country in which they are domiciled can be a serious challenge. The High Court faced exactly that difficulty in a case concerning the acrimonious breakdown of a relationship between a wealthy divorcee and her boyfriend.

The divorcee, who was a woman of immense means, for a number of years enjoyed a lavish and peripatetic lifestyle with her boyfriend, whom she had met at the gym where he worked. After they separated, she launched proceedings against him in London, seeking declarations that various assets acquired during the relationship – including a luxurious Italian property and a fleet of supercars – were owned by her alone, having been bought entirely with her money.

She also sought restitution of various business investments and over $9 million in cash. Her claims were based on an assertion that none of the assets and money concerned had been gifted to him and that they had been transferred to him by reason of the undue influence he had brought to bear on her.

He denied her claims and launched parallel proceedings in his native New Zealand, where the law enables division of relationship property on the permanent separation of unmarried couples. Neither of them was a British citizen and, following the end of the relationship, he had moved back to New Zealand to live with his parents. He argued that he had never been domiciled in England and that the English courts thus had no jurisdiction to entertain the divorcee’s claim.

In ruling on that issue, the Court found that he had made his home in England before the relationship ended. However, his residence and domicile in this country had ceased by the time the divorcee issued proceedings (the relevant date). His principal connection to England came to an end at the same time as his relationship and he had been excluded from his only residence in this country.

However, the Court also ruled on the evidence that he was not domiciled in New Zealand, or anywhere else, on the relevant date. On that basis, the divorcee was entitled to sue him in England in that this country was his last known place of domicile. She had also been entitled, with judicial permission, to serve him with the proceedings in New Zealand, by means of a WhatsApp message. England was in any event the appropriate forum for the trial of the divorcee’s claim in that the relationship had, for the most part, been carried on in this country.

Big Money Divorce Engages Family Judge in Company Valuation

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Companies are notoriously difficult to value, and particular problems can arise when they form the principal assets to be divided in divorce proceedings. In a big money case on point, the High Court bridged a huge gulf between the value placed by a wife and a husband on the latter’s business interests.

The couple, who had two children, were married for about seven years. The husband’s business interests, principally his 40 per cent shareholding in the company he worked for, represented by far their biggest asset. There was a gaping divide of about £9.5 million between the value put on those interests by the wife and that contended for by the husband.

On the basis of expert accountancy evidence, the Court valued the husband’s net business assets at a little under £17.9 million. Those assets were agreed to be matrimonial property and the husband was ordered to pay the wife half of their value, a lump sum of £8,948,930. The wife, who was anxious to achieve her financial independence as quickly as possible, argued that the husband should be ordered to sell his shares within 12 months and that, if he failed to do so, a receiver should be appointed to enforce their disposal.

The Court, however, noted that it was not a propitious time to sell the shares, in that the company had just experienced its two worst ever years of trading. The wife, who was from a wealthy background, was not in immediate need of funds and an early forced sale of the shares was likely to cause both her and the husband significant financial loss. The Court therefore set a date about four years in the future when the husband would be required to pay the lump sum in full.

The Court made further orders designed to equalise the couple’s other assets and to make provision for their accommodation and other needs. The husband was ordered to make annual maintenance payments to the wife pending remittance of the lump sum, when a clean break would be achieved. He was also required to pay maintenance for the children and to pay their school fees.

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