Requesting modification of a child support order

When an unmarried father establishes his parental rights in Texas and elsewhere, this involves much more than just custodial rights. While it is important to focus on the physical time a parent has with a child, it is also important to consider the financial side of things. With child custody comes child support. And while this is important to fulfill this financial obligation, it may prove to be difficult to continue to meet this obligation.

Because jobs and come and go, the ability to pay child support can come and go for some fathers. Thus, it may be necessary to seek modification of a child support order. In the state of Texas, one is eligible to seek modification if it has been at least three years since the order was established or last modified or the monthly amount of child support differs by 20 percent or $100 from the amount that would be awarded.

It is also possible to seek modification if there has been a substantial change in circumstances. This can occur in various situations. This can include when the noncustodial parent’s income has increased or decreased, the noncustodial parent is legally responsible for additional children or the child’s medical insurance coverage has changed. It is also considered to be a substantial change in circumstances is the child is now living with a different parent.

There are two ways a support order can be changed. This first is through an in-office negotiation. This is known as the child support review process. The other is through a court hearing. While many go through this process to reduce their financial obligations, it should be noted that this process could result in child support obligations going up, as it is based on the noncustodial parent’s income.

Whether it is child custody or child support, addressing fathers’ rights matters can be complex. Thus, it is important to become well informed on one’s options and rights. This will help ensure one’s rights are protected and the interests of the child or children involved.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

What can and cannot be included in a prenup?

Marriage can be complex. Nowadays, when two people decide to get married, it is a huge operation. However, the union itself is simple. Two individuals are bound legally. This can sound rather worrisome, as many couples enter the union with valuable assets of their own. However, there are ways to address this, such as including a prenuptial agreement in the marriage.

A prenuptial agreement or a prenup is a legal document that essentially outlines what will happen if a divorce occurs. While this document can dictate very specific details, it cannot address all areas of concern. There are some restrictions for a prenup, and if they are not followed, they could invalidate the document.

What can and cannot be included in a prenup? Let’s begin with a general overview of what can be addressed in a prenuptial agreement. A prenup can distinguish between marital and separate property, provide protections against the debt of the other spouse, provide for a child from a previous relationship, protect family property so it remains in the family, protect estate plans, provide directions for property division during dissolution and even describe the responsibilities of each spouse.

There are some issues that a prenup cannot address. This includes provisions that detail anything illegal, decisions regarding child support or custody, waiving the right to alimony, provisions that encourage divorce and provisions that detail personal instead of financial matters.

Drafting, enforcing or invalidating a prenuptial agreement can each be a daunting task. Thus, it is important that individuals or spouses understand what rights they have and what options are available to protect these rights. This not only helps establish a valid prenup but also ensures that it operates properly in the event of a divorce.

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Author: On behalf of Katie L. Lewis of Katie L. Lewis, P.C. Family Law

Miletello v. R M R Mechanical, Inc.

(United States Fifth Circuit) – Held that a deceased man’s ex-wife was entitled to a specified portion of his 401(k) retirement account balance. Affirmed a summary judgment ruling, in a dispute between his ex-wife and his widow.

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When a judge changes their mind

One can imagine that it must be very difficult for a party who believes they have succeeded with their case to find that success snatched away from them at the last moment. However, sometimes judges change their mind about decisions they have to make.

As its name suggests, this is what happened in the High Court case H v T (Judicial Change of Mind), which concerned an appeal by a husband against a financial remedies order. The final hearing in the case took place in May last year, but the judgment has only recently been published on the Bailii website.

For the purpose of this post I don’t need to go into too much detail regarding the facts of the case, or the financial remedies order. The parties were married for sixteen years, and have three children. Divorce proceedings took place in 2016, and the wife made a financial remedies application. That application was heard by His Honour Judge O’Dwyer, who awarded the wife some 68% of the capital assets.

The husband appealed. The appeal was heard by Mr Justice MacDonald in the High Court. He explained the ground of appeal, which was that:

“The learned Judge was wrong when he failed to make adequate capital provision for the husband when he awarded the wife at least 68% of the capital assets in circumstances where (1) the wife could re-house at a level the learned Judge found was appropriate without making any, or any significant, departure from equality; and/or (2) the husband was also ordered to pay considerable child maintenance and school fees.”

After hearing the appeal Mr Justice MacDonald circulated a draft judgment to the parties’ lawyers, which indicated that he intended to allow the appeal to the extent of varying the lump sum order made by Judge O’Dwyer, as he considered that Judge O’Dwyer’s award had exceeded the wife’s identified housing need.

It is important to explain here that a judge’s decision in a case is not final until their judgment is handed down. Sending out a draft judgment is not the same as handing it down. The purpose of sending out a draft is to give the lawyers the opportunity to check the judgment, and suggest any corrections or amendments. Normally, the suggestions will relate to relatively minor issues, such as typographical errors, rather than the decision itself. The judge will then consider those suggestions, and make any appropriate corrections or amendments to the draft, before handing down the judgment.

In this case the wife’s counsel, upon receiving the draft, invited Mr Justice MacDonald to reconsider the conclusions expressed in his draft judgment, given “what she contended was a significant material omission in the figures that underpinned those conclusions.” Specifically, he had failed to take into account purchase costs when looking at the wife’s housing need. Whilst not mentioning them specifically, Judge O’Dwyer had taken purchase costs into account, as the wife’s counsel explained, and thus his award provided for the wife’s identified housing need exactly.

This was accepted by Mr Justice MacDonald, who therefore changed his mind, and decided to dismiss the husband’s appeal. He had this to say about the change of mind:

“Whilst I had not formally handed down judgment, and, accordingly, … there was nothing to prevent this change of mind following careful reconsideration … I am conscious that judicial tergiversation [i.e. change of mind] is, rightly, not encouraged. Not least in this case because the husband will have considered himself successful by reference to the draft, only for the court to reach the opposite conclusion in the judgment handed down. Against this however, … a judge must have the courage and intellectual honesty to admit and correct an error or omission and, … in doing so is honouring his or her judicial oath. In the circumstances, whilst, as I can attest, it is an uncomfortable exercise for the judge, particularly where the error or omission acts to change the decision handed down in draft, and is disappointing for the litigant who believed they had been successful, a judge is duty bound to correct his or her omission or error. To do otherwise would not be just.”

I’m sure that the husband would have found the change of mind hard to accept, but obviously, judges can make mistakes just like anyone else, and those mistakes, once brought to light, must be corrected. Normally this will entail correction on appeal, but if the mistake is brought to light before a decision is handed down, then that decision must itself be changed.

You can read the full report of the case here.

The post When a judge changes their mind appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch

Habitual Residence v Residence: What is required and do we have clarity at last?

The family courts in England and Wales are renowned for being a popular destination for wealthy and warring international couples. So much so, that London has been dubbed the divorce capital of the world with people racing to file a petition in England so that our courts determine the financial split (if this can not be achieved amicably).

However, last week’s decision in the High Court case of Pierburg v Pierburg may, at last, bring clarification to a long-standing debate concerning how to establish whether the court has jurisdiction to deal with a divorce.

We asked Senior Partner, Julian Hawkhead, to join us on the blog to look at the case and the implications for international divorce cases.

Last week a decision of the High Court was handed down which may, at last, bring clarification to a long-standing debate concerning how to establish whether the court has jurisdiction to deal with a divorce.

As has been explained in previous articles in this blog, where there is more than one EU jurisdiction in which divorce proceedings could be commenced, the EU regulations apply.

In the case of Pierburg v Pierburg, the parties were both German nationals, they had resided since the early 2000s in Switzerland for tax reasons but had taken a rental property in London, mainly because their son had been educated here. When the marriage broke down, the wife in or around July / August 2017 moved into the London property. Her time spent between London and Switzerland was carefully counted by the husband, indeed as were all her movements between the two countries, and her visits back to Germany to see her parents from 2015 onwards.

In January 2018, the wife issued proceedings in England on the alternative bases of (a) having been domiciled in England and resident here for 6 months or (b) having been resident in England for 12 months. The reason for the alternative pleading being the fact that they had held the tenancy of the London property as a rental property for many years prior and that she had regularly spent time in England. A month later, in February 2018, the husband issued in Germany. The German court quickly adjourned the German divorce proceedings until the legitimacy of the English proceedings had been determined as the English proceedings had been issued first.

What is clearly at stake here is a financial benefit. When the parties married in Germany back in 1985 they entered into a separation of assets marital regime in which the wife would also not be entitled to any maintenance provision. The English court, however, would be very likely not to regard such a financial prohibition as fair and would award her substantial maintenance whether in the form of regular payments or more likely a capitalised maintenance sum to provide for her lifelong needs. The husband was resisting England having jurisdiction to prevent this and to limit her financial entitlement by a stricter approach as would be adopted in German.

The case involved substantial assets and high powered people. The husband had made his fortune in the German automotive industry. They lived in a Chateau in French-speaking Switzerland (it was a feature of the husband’s case that the wife had never settled into Switzerland and had not attempted to learn or speak French), the son of the parties was educated at a boarding school in England and they had taken a house in London. The wife called upon the Countess of Chichester and the Chief Executive of the Prince’s Foundation as witnesses of her move to and connections with England.

What is the law concerning jurisdiction?

Article 3 of Council Regulations (EC) no 2201/2003  says that jurisdiction in relation to a divorce shall lie with the courts of the EU member state in various scenarios. I won’t go through them in detail here but they can be found in previous blogs here.

The relevant ones for the purpose of this case were:-

The applicant is habitually resident if he or she resided there for at least a year immediately before the application was made;


The applicant is habitually resident if he or she resided there for at least six months immediately before the application was made and…in the case of the United Kingdom and Ireland, has his or her “domicile” there.

As mentioned above, the wife sought to rely on pleading both these reasons scenarios in her divorce petition.

The debate that has been ongoing since 2007, in which there were two decisions concerning the basis for establishing jurisdiction through the habitual residence. In the case of Marinos the then Mr Justice Munby took a very literal interpretation of the words habitual residence and residence. He decided that to establish “habitual residence” one needed to be only resident, or living in a jurisdiction for the requisite period of time. This meant that if a person issued a petition on say 1 September 2017, they only needed to have lived for periods of time for the twelve months prior to that time if they couldn’t also evidence domicile there or six months if they could. It is possible to have more than one residence.

Habitual residence, however, has a much stricter definition and a person can only have one habitual residence so that in this case if the habitual residence was the determining factor the wife was either habitually resident in Switzerland or in England.

In the case of Munro, Mr Justice Bennett took an alternative interpretation of the Council regulations namely that to establish habitual residence you had to have been habitually resident and not merely resident in a country for the requisite period of time.

Is this just semantics, lawyers just playing with words? Not at all as the importance is very different and is key to the six and twelve-month timescales to enable a person to establish jurisdiction.

When the regulations first came into effect an explanatory note was produced by Dr Algeria Borras in what is known as the Borras report. The problem has arisen that when this explanatory note was translated into different languages, the word habitual was left out in the English and coincidentally the German translations.

The husband’s legal team, however, showed to the court how in the French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese versions,  by way of example,  the need for the habitual residence was clear. In the English version of that report, it merely says “he or she must have resided there for at least six months”. Therefore supporting the Marinos interpretation of the regulations. However, in this recent case, Mr Justice Moor preferred the husband’s arguments and took a wider view of how the EU regulations had been interpreted around Europe. His attention was brought to the fact that in Finland, Latvia and Sweden, for example, the word “habitual” was not used at all.

Considering all the circumstances of the case Mr Justice Moor came down firmly in favour of the Munro interpretation: namely that to establish habitual residence a person needs to have been habitually resident and not merely resident in a country for the requisite period of time.

He recognised that this might be regarded as controversial as he was disagreeing with the opinions of only the then Mr Justice Munby who went on to become not only a Lord Justice but also the President of the Family Division but also the then Mr Justice Peter Jackson who is now sitting as Lord Justice of Appeal. He points out however that they did not have the benefits of the convincing arguments that he had heard in his particular case.

What then ensued in the case was a forensic examination of the wife’s movements between England and Switzerland from the time she said she was resident in England namely from July 2017 onwards. The reason being that the Judge had to determine three questions:

  1. When did the wife become habitually resident in England and Wales?

  2. Did she become resident (rather than habitually resident) on a different date just in case the Judge’s interpretation of the Marinos / Munro debate was incorrect?

  3. Is she domiciled in England and Wales?

The Judge in reaching his decision draws the distinction between residing somewhere and visiting it. A person can reside in England and visit their own holiday home in another country. He also assessed the extent of her ongoing connections with Germany and in doing so reaches the conclusion that the wife had not changed her domicile to England by 12 January 2018 when she issued her divorce petition. In reviewing all the circumstances of the case the Judge found that the wife could not establish jurisdiction in England at the time she issued her petition and therefore the petition had to be struck out.

Ultimately this is a case motivated by money. The husband’s legal team freely admitted that it related to the financial remedies available to the wife if the divorce is progressed in England rather than Germany as in Germany, according to the marriage contract she would not be entitled to anything including maintenance.

It would, in English law be a travesty for her to receive nothing at all and Mr Justice Moor observes that if remains the case then she may be entitled to bring a claim for financial relief following an overseas divorce under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 and he deliberately reserves any such application to himself.

It seems to me this is a stark warning to the husband to ensure that regardless of what the German law may provide he should consider making some acceptable level of financial provision to the wife to ensure fairness is achieved.


This case does bring further weight and clarity to the question of how to interpret habitual residence. Only last year I had a case where the parties had been residing in Spain for many years and then the wife unexpectedly came back to England and commenced divorce proceedings claiming that she was domiciled here and had been resident here for six months prior to issuing the petition. Fortunately, we were able to reach a financial settlement agreement which meant that the parties did not need to spend a significant amount of money arguing about jurisdiction.

The terms of our Brexit from Europe may, of course, put a completely different spin our these regulations and there is plenty of guidance issued looking at different scenarios. What seems likely at the moment is that we will not have a hard Brexit in which case overnight all these EU regulations will fall away and it is likely that we will continue to have a relationship with Europe in some shape or form in which these regulations are likely to continue to apply in some way yet to be finally determined.

In the meantime, what is of vital importance is timing. If there is a case of a possible jurisdiction race then it is essential you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity from lawyers who specialise in a divorce involving international issues.

Get in touch 

If you require any further advice or information please contact Holly Lamb,  Head of International Family Law


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Author: Julian Hawkhead

Do we even need a ground for divorce?

As I’m sure anyone reading this blog is aware, last week the Government confirmed what we already knew, i.e. that it intends to introduce a system of no-fault divorce. The news (if it was actually news) that we are at last to get a no-fault divorce system (as long as nothing, in particular Brexit, gets in the way of the necessary legislation) is obviously most welcome, but has an opportunity to simplify and improve the divorce system even further been missed?

The Government’s proposal is, I would say, quite conservative (with a small ‘c’) when it comes to no-fault divorce systems, retaining a large part of our existing system. In particular, the Government intends to keep the present ground for divorce, i.e. that the marriage has irretrievably broken down. The rationale for this given by the Government in its consultation document was the rather negative: “The Government has seen no evidence that it would be effective to remove or replace the sole ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.” The Government also stated rather ‘lacklustrely’ that irretrievable breakdown had “proved effective in many other comparable jurisdictions”. Not a particularly ringing endorsement. Slightly more constructively the consultation response published last week informed us that irretrievable breakdown “was seen to provide a clear and logical threshold”. But just how logical is it, and do we need a ‘threshold’?

As I explained here recently, a ground for divorce is not actually required in some comparable jurisdictions. Spain, Sweden and Finland do not have a ground for divorce. If those countries can manage without it, why do we need it? Why not just have an application to dissolve the marriage? After all, if we will no longer need to prove that the marriage has irretrievably broken down, why do we even need to say it has broken down irretrievably? Why not just say “I want a divorce”? If the court cannot investigate and decide whether the marriage has, in its view, broken down irretrievably, relying solely upon the word of the petitioner, then irretrievable breakdown itself is pointless.

Logically, a ground is not required. It is an unnecessary extra step. If a party to a marriage says they want a divorce, then that, in reality, is the end of the matter. There is nothing that the law can do to change the fact. Yes, the law can, if it wishes, build in a delay to cover the (highly unlikely, from my quarter-century of experience as a family lawyer) possibility that the petitioner may change their mind. But if they don’t change their mind, then the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage is a fact. It goes without saying. A marriage to which one party no longer wishes to belong has irretrievably broken down. Requiring that party to say that “I want a divorce because my marriage has irretrievably broken down” is a superfluity. It is like saying “I need to eat because I am hungry”, or “I need to dry myself off because I am wet”. Yes, we know.

And if divorce is effectively going to be an administrative process anyway (and I am not against that), then putting in a legal ground of any sort is completely meaningless. The divorce is a purely tick-box exercise. Removing one of those boxes will make no difference at all.

So we have seen that the Government’s arguments in favour of retaining the irretrievable breakdown ground for divorce simply do not hold water. Other comparable jurisdictions seem to manage quite happily without it, and there is actually no logic in it. Nor is there any logic in suggesting that a ‘threshold’ is needed, when the system never tests to see whether that threshold has been met.

And then we need to look at things from the perspective of the respondent to the divorce. Under the new proposals, they will be told that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, but they will be given no opportunity to argue that assertion. They will not be given the right of anyone else against whom a court process has been initiated: to defend themselves. It will be a fait accompli. Not a very satisfactory situation, from a purely legal perspective. On the other hand, if they are simply faced with the fact that their spouse wants a divorce, then there is really nothing to defend – they can’t say “oh no you don’t!”

Doing away with fault in divorce is obviously a good thing for reducing unnecessary animosity and complexity, but it seems to me that retaining a ground for divorce keeps an unnecessary element of potential animosity and complexity within the system. A ground-less system of divorce would go the whole hog and make the divorce process as ‘neutral’, and therefore as ‘animosity-free’, as possible, as well as making it simpler.

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Author: John Bolch

No fault divorce, at last

What a week it has been in family law as the government finally announced its plans for reform to the current divorce law in England and Wales.

Welcomed by us all at Stowe, the reform will see the introduction of “no-fault” divorce and the removal of the need to allocate blame on one party.

Mark Christie from our Harrogate office, has over 35 years family law experience with a focus on divorce, separation and private law children disputes. He joins us today to share his views on the reform of our current “somewhat archaic grounds for divorce.”

This week, the government, after much lobbying from Resolution-First for Family Law, the organisation representing specialist family lawyers for a reform of the somewhat archaic grounds for divorce, announced that it will legislate to reform the grounds for divorce.

The current law necessitates a couple who wish to have a divorce, relying upon one of five separate facts, three of which are fault-based, i.e. adultery, behaviour (often colloquially referred to as unreasonable behaviour) and two years desertion.

In this new announcement, which has been long awaited and which will see the biggest reform in our divorce laws for 50 years, it is proposed that the law will be changed to remove the fault-based facts and for the parties to simply provide a statement to the effect that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.

It is also proposed that the ability to defend a divorce will be removed and that couples can jointly apply to the Court for a divorce.

Once such legislation is passed, it is hoped that couples will be able to obtain a divorce in a much less hostile environment without having to blame each other, and which currently causes unnecessary emotional turmoil to not only the couple divorcing but also to any children of the marriage.

Once it is possible to obtain a divorce without having to blame each other, couples will be able to bring their marriage to an end in a much more amicable manner, which will enhance the prospect of them retaining a reasonable relationship with each other, and so enable them to better co-parent their children and agree on a financial settlement.

Of course, there will be the usual traditionalist criticism of such a move, arguing that making divorce easier undermines the institute of marriage.

The reality, however, is that the proposed legislation will not make the obtaining of divorce any easier but will just remove the “blame game” from the process to the benefit of all parties and any children concerned.

It may be that once the changes come into effect, there will be an initial spike in the divorce rate, but this will only be short lived.

It is to be hoped that the legislation will come into force as quickly as possible, though, considering the current Brexit situation, it is anyone’s guess as to when there will be sufficient parliamentary time available to pass the requisite legislation.


The post No fault divorce, at last appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: Mark Christie

Stowe comment: Arbitration v Court

As the Ministry of Justice releases family court statistics that show a 3% increase in new cases and an average 3-week increase in the time to reach a final order (2017 v 2018), it is clear that the courts are struggling to cope with demand.

To relieve some of this pressure, other alternative methods to reaching a resolve in family court matters must be more widely considered.

Faster and more flexible, family arbitration is one of the approaches that could help you and your ex-partner to make final and legally binding decisions whilst avoiding the over-stretched courts.

So how does arbitration work and what are the benefits? We asked Angela Sussens, Partner at our Leeds office to join us on the blog to explain further.

Arbitration is a form of dispute resolution and involves a third party (the arbitrator) adopting the role of Judge. The arbitrator will decide on the issues they are appointed to deal with after reviewing and hearing evidence from both parties in the same way that a Judge would at a final hearing.

When conducting an arbitration, arbitrators are required to apply the law of England and Wales. The arbitrator’s final decision is binding on both parties and is known as an Award (financial matters) or a Determination (children matters). The decision can then be embodied into a Court Order and submitted to Court for approval by a Judge.

To proceed with arbitration, both parties must agree that they are willing to proceed in this way. They are required to sign a document which sets out the rules of arbitration and by signing the document, the parties agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s final decision.

Neither party can subsequently decide that they do not want to arbitrate unless the other party also agrees to terminate the process. Once the arbitrator has accepted the appointment, the arbitration process formally begins. If there are Court proceedings, those proceedings will be put on hold to await the outcome of the arbitration.

The parties can jointly appoint an arbitrator or alternatively, they can elect for the Institute of Family Law Arbitrators (IFLA) to select one for them. There are separate panels for arbitrators who deal with finance or children matters but some arbitrators are members of both panels. Details of trained and accredited arbitrators can be found on the IFLA website. Those listed are experienced family law practitioners who have also completed the family arbitration training course.

How can an arbitrator help you?

Arbitrators can deal with most financial and property disputes arising from family/relationship breakdowns in the same way that a Judge can. Arbitrators are not however able to deal with financial matters where there is an issue over jurisdiction or cases involving the recognition of a foreign marriage or divorce.

Arbitrators can deal with many matters relating to children where the parties have parental responsibility including, but not limited to, where a child is to live, contact arrangements and decisions over education.

Usually, although not always, there will be an initial meeting between the arbitrator and the parties to agree on the steps needed to get the case ready. The arbitrator has the power to make case management and interim decisions such as deciding what evidence is to be provided and whether there is a need for expert evidence.

The arbitrator also has the power to make an order for one party to make maintenance payments to the other pending the outcome of the arbitration if the interim financial arrangements are not agreed.

After the final arbitration meeting, the arbitrator will issue an Award or Determination setting out their decision which is the equivalent of a final judgment and is binding on the parties. The parties are then required to apply to the court for an order replicating the Award or Determination. Only in very rare cases will an Award or Determination not be upheld.  The recent decision of Ambrose J in the case of BC v BG [2019] EWFC 7 reaffirmed this point

 ‘Any application to resile from an arbitration award should be unusual. Applications using the “notice to show cause” procedure or an application for no order to be made (as adopted in this case) should be exceptional for the reasons given in S v S and DB v DLJ’.

What are the benefits?

There are many benefits of arbitration when compared to the traditional court process.

Take less time

Firstly, arbitration is an opportunity to expedite the case and avoid lengthy court delays. It often takes the Court several weeks to issue an application and then a further delay is encountered when listing the matter for hearings. The parties and the arbitrator have total control over the timetable. There is also less risk of a hearing being adjourned or cancelled due to a judge becoming unavailable which happens increasingly often in court proceedings.

More cost-effective

Another benefit is that the arbitration process is often more cost-effective than the Court process although parties are required to meet the arbitrator’s fees which will vary from case to case.

The parties can also elect for arbitration to be completed on paper, if appropriate, which may further reduce costs.


Confidentiality is also a benefit and arbitration is protected by strict confidentiality rules.

Greater control of the case

Arbitration provides the parties with greater control and flexibility over how the case is managed. The parties can define the scope of their arbitration and if there are specific issues in dispute, while other issues are agreed, the parties can limit arbitration to the issues in dispute.

The parties also decide when and where the hearings are to take place, albeit subject to the arbitrator’s availability. One of the main benefits of arbitration is the ability to appoint an experienced family law practitioner who will deal with the case from start to finish. There are a number of highly regarded family lawyers who are trained as arbitrators, thus giving the parties complete confidence that their dispute will be resolved by someone with the appropriate experience.

Arbitration in action

I was recently involved in an arbitration case dealing with the financial arrangements following the breakdown of the parties’ marriage. In that case, the parties agreed to use arbitration to resolve the issues in dispute between them. The arbitration process was concluded within c.16 weeks. It could easily have taken a year to reach a final hearing within the court process.

The final arbitration ‘hearing’ was dealt with in one day but is likely to have required two days in Court. Costs were contained after we were able to agree on the case management directions with the opposing party and the arbitrator thereby avoiding the need for an interim meeting or telephone appointment. The total costs were considerably less than they would otherwise have been if the matter was dealt with in the standard court process.

While arbitration provides a reliable and comprehensive alternative to the court process, it still involves handing over the final decision to a third party which is not ideal. If there is any scope for the parties to reach an agreement over the issues in dispute through negotiation, this will always be preferable to passing control to someone else.

Get in touch

If you would like some advice on arbitration and how it could help you please do contact me at

Details of all of our arbitrators and the work they do can be found here.

The post Stowe comment: Arbitration v Court appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: Angela Sussens

A week in family law: Cafcass figures, family justice changes, no-fault divorce, and more

And quite a week it has been too.

Firstly, the trends in new public and private law children cases is continuing, with the former decreasing, and the latter increasing. Cafcass has reported that in March it received 1,117 new care applications. This is 9.9 per cent (123 applications) lower than March 2018. In the last twelve months Cafcass received 13,536 new care applications; this is a fall of 4.8 per cent (685 applications) from the previous twelve months. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 4,166 new cases during March 2019. This is 18.2 per cent (640 cases) higher than March 2018 and the highest March on record. Cafcass has experienced a steep increase in demand in the last two months. The previous month Cafcass saw the highest level of demand in February since 2013. Prior to that new private law cases had been 3.8 per cent higher than the same period previous year.

As I reported here, Mr Justice Mostyn has held that no weight should be given to a pre-nuptial agreement, in a divorce involving the great-granddaughter of the founder of Avon cosmetics. The parties entered into the agreement when they married in 2005. The marriage broke down in 2016. The husband subsequently issued a financial remedies application within divorce proceedings. The wife is the beneficiary of family trusts in the USA, with an overall value of at least $65 million, and the husband earns about £35,000 gross, with no net capital. Hearing the application, Mr Justice Mostyn held that it would be wholly unfair to hold the husband to the agreement, which would have left him with nothing. Instead, he awarded the husband a lump sum of £1,333,500, of which £375,000 was subject to a charge-back to the wife (or her estate), on the death of the husband. A reminder that our courts are not bound by pre-nuptial agreements, and will not uphold them if they think they are unfair.

As I also reported here, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has provided an update on the changes currently happening in the family justice system, in a keynote address to the annual conference of Resolution, the association of family lawyers. I say ‘currently’, as it seems to me that there are always changes happening these days. Perhaps the biggest headline from his speech was when he informed his listeners that it will soon be possible to deal with all stages of the divorce process online. He said that the remaining parts of the divorce process, namely decree nisi and degree absolute, will be online “in the next few months.” Once the process is fully up and running, solicitors will be able to log on from anywhere, at any time, and see the state of an individual divorce case as it moves forward. They will also be able to file documents and communicate with the court and/or the other parties remotely through the system. By the end of 2019, he said, it is anticipated that the vast majority of divorce proceedings will be conducted online, or, if paper-based, will be scanned and converted to online. It sounds quite wonderful, but there is of course one problem with all of this: the whole system will have to be completely re-done if and when we get no-fault divorce.

Which brings me to my last story, and the biggest family law news of the week, which of course relates to divorce reform. Although whether we can actually call it ‘news’, I’m not so sure. Early on Tuesday the story broke that the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, had pledged that legislation for no-fault divorce will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time becomes available. This was not really news, as back in February it had been reported that Mr Gauke confirmed he would “bring in legislation enacting the reform in the next session of parliament”. A little later, however, there was something more concrete, when the Ministry of Justice published the Government’s response to the consultation on reform of the legal requirements for divorce. I haven’t studied the response, but it seems that the consultation has not changed the minds of those in government about the essential features of reform that they proposed in the original consultation document. Whatever, I suppose we must be grateful that we are hopefully going to get a system of no-fault divorce after all of these years, even if it may not be exactly what some of us had hoped for. I say ‘hopefully’, as there are still some hurdles for any legislation to get over. In particular, the Government does have the small matter of Brexit to deal with, which could derail any reform of divorce, for example if there is a general election. Let us just hope that the legislation stays on track.

Have a good weekend.

The post A week in family law: Cafcass figures, family justice changes, no-fault divorce, and more appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch