2022 in evaluate – reflections on the previous 12 months in household regulation

Managing Companion Julian Hawkhead finishes the 12 months with a glance again on the vital developments for UK household regulation over the previous twelve months, and displays on one other profitable 12 months for Stowe. 

As one other 12 months attracts to a detailed, I’ve paused within the frantic closing off of the calendar 12 months to replicate on occasions within the lifetime of Stowe and the broader household regulation world over the previous twelve months.

While 2022 introduced a renewed sense of hope, nobody may have predicted the brand new challenges that we might face. It’s onerous to imagine that we began the 12 months working remotely nonetheless and speaking concerning the Omicron variant and booster vaccinations.

Through the course of the 12 months we’ve tentatively returned to some “outdated” methods of life, returning to workplaces in better numbers and better frequency. Collectively it has felt just like the ingredient we missed a lot in lockdown; the power to share and propagate concepts in individual with colleagues. It has been nice to come back into the workplace and take heed to attorneys bouncing concepts off one another, important not just for downside fixing but in addition sharing experiences and data.

A 12 months of change at Stowe

2022 has been a seismic 12 months for Stowe Household Regulation. We opened 17 new workplace places, recruited 68 new colleagues, and accomplished our first acquisition of one other household regulation agency. In consequence, the agency is one third greater in scale than at this level final 12 months. With this progress our attorneys have been capable of assist much more households deal with the emotional and authorized penalties of household breakdown as they’re confronted with the mixed fallout of the pandemic and the cost-of-living disaster.

The introduction of no-fault divorce

The previous 12 months has additionally been a landmark one for household regulation with the introduction of no-fault divorce again in April. This was the end result of a few years of campaigning, and rightly seen as a triumph for individuals who have advocated for a blame free divorce course of and the modernisation of antiquated divorce legal guidelines.

Right here at Stowe, we noticed our first no-fault divorce consumer attain the top of their divorce course of with a last divorce order granted in November. There’s little doubt we’ll see many extra shoppers attain the top of the brand new course of within the coming weeks.

As a lawyer it has been a reduction to not need to have to debate with shoppers the causes of their marriage breakdown at nice size understanding that one of many main functions was to work out easy methods to draft a divorce petition with enough factors of blame. The power to concentrate on consumer points that wanted to be resolved, whether or not they relate to their youngsters or their funds, with out the extra “noise” of divorce blaming is a profit for each consumer and lawyer.

The decision for cohabitation reform

Sadly, related success has not been achieved by campaigners for the introduction of legal guidelines to guard cohabiting {couples}. Cohabitation is the quickest rising household kind in England and Wales. In 2021 there have been round 3.6 million cohabiting {couples} within the UK in contrast with 1.5 million in 1996. But the parable of widespread regulation marriage persists and single {couples} who cut up up face navigating a minefield of advanced laws to resolve monetary points.

Household attorneys have been on the forefront of calling for change on this space for a while. In August the Home of Commons’ Girls and Equalities Fee produced a report into the rights of cohabiting partners. This known as for the Authorities to reform household regulation to raised defend cohabiting {couples} and their youngsters from monetary hardship within the occasion of separation and to supply better monetary safety for cohabiting {couples} upon the dying of 1 associate.

The Authorities’s response was to reject the Fee’s advice, indicating that it considers present work underway on the regulation of marriage and divorce should conclude earlier than contemplating any change to the regulation of cohabitants on relationship breakdown. Particularly, the Authorities has mentioned it should concentrate on its dedication to conduct a evaluate of the regulation of monetary provision on divorce: It can’t absolutely rethink the regulation referring to relationship breakdown of cohabitants earlier than the evaluate on monetary provision for divorce has reached its conclusions and made its suggestions.

As well as, the Authorities is contemplating the case for complete reform to marriage regulation and considers that the regulation referring to the connection breakdown of cohabiting {couples} may additionally not be thought-about outdoors the context of any wider reform to the regulation of marriage.

So, it seems that there is no such thing as a probability of reform to the regulation of cohabitation anytime quickly, and we’ll proceed to advise single {couples} within the context of an unsatisfactory patchwork of laws which fairly often results in inequitable outcomes and monetary hardship.

For me this failure to determine any measures to guard financially susceptible folks popping out of cohabiting relationships is unfortunately a short-sighted resolution of the federal government. To prioritise reform to monetary cures instances for divorcing {couples} in circumstances the place there’s already a framework, albeit some would possibly take into account an imperfect framework, above a necessity to supply monetary safety to cohabiting {couples} the place in a lot of instances there’s presently none suggests to me that the federal government is making ethical judgements on {couples} relying on whether or not they select to “formalise” their relationship or not.

In any occasion it leaves a lot of susceptible folks much more reliant on state funded monetary help. We will solely hope that parliament is ready to clear up this downside quicker than it was capable of result in reform to no fault divorce.

Delayed surrogacy invoice

Surrogacy is one other space wherein we had hoped to see vital progress in the direction of reform this 12 months. The regulation on this space has remained largely the identical for 30 years and has not saved tempo with scientific and societal developments. The Law Commission are within the means of making ready a draft invoice which was attributable to be printed within the autumn, however the Invoice will now be delayed till spring 2023. Proposals for reform that are prone to be contained throughout the draft Invoice embrace:

  • The creation of a brand new pathway to parenthood which is able to imply that the meant mother and father would be the authorized mother and father from beginning of a kid born of the surrogacy association, topic to the surrogate’s proper to object for an outlined interval from beginning. There can be no want for the meant mother and father to use for a parental order.
  • There would safeguards or eligibility necessities alongside the pathway which might solely apply to home surrogacy preparations.
  • The removing of the present requirement that at the least one of many meant mother and father should have a genetic hyperlink with the kid.
  • The creation of a register to permit for these born of surrogacy preparations to entry details about their origins.

The proposals are welcomed by practitioners however there’s concern on the delay within the publication of the draft invoice. Nonetheless, the Regulation Fee has proven dedication to making sure that our surrogacy legal guidelines are efficient and up-to-date, and optimism stays that we’ll see the introduction of wholesale reform of the surrogacy course of sooner or later.

Home Abuse Act

While the Home Abuse Act obtained Royal Assent in April 2021, lots of its key provisions solely got here into impact throughout the final 12 months, and a few are nonetheless awaited. The Act was hailed by the federal government as a landmark invoice which might rework the response to home abuse, serving to to forestall offending, defend victims and make sure that they’ve the help they want. Nonetheless, lots of the organisations who campaigned for the brand new regulation have recognized vital gaps and omissions throughout the Act, and it’s seen by some as a missed alternative. For instance, the regulation fails to ship equal safety and help for migrant ladies and campaigners proceed to hunt amendments to abolish the no recourse to public funds omission and make sure that migrant ladies can apply for indefinite depart to stay independently from their perpetrator.

There may be additionally concern that the Act fails to handle facet of the Common Credit score system that facilitates and exacerbates abuse and that while there’s now a statutory responsibility on native authorities to supply home abuse refuges, there is no such thing as a related provision for community-based companies which has result in concern that protected lodging will likely be funded on the expense of companies throughout the neighborhood, that are vitally vital for a lot of victims.

As well as, maybe inevitably, it’s clear that with out satisfactory sources from authorities to fund the measures applied, the effectiveness of the Act will likely be restricted.  Thus, whereas the Act has potential to enhance the help offered to some victims of home abuse and have significant impression upon prevention, it’s not a panacea.

As we attain the top of 2022, the load of value of dwelling will increase, rising rates of interest and a basic financial maelstrom will, I’m certain, be heavy on many readers minds and I hope you’ll be able to keep protected and wholesome as we hope for higher instances to come back in 2023.