Looking back at developments in Family Law in 2023

December 23, 2023

As our last Insight of 2023, Managing Partner Denise Head looks back on the last twelve months and comments on some of the changes and advances, as well as disappointments, in Family Law. It has also been a very exciting year for the team and we would like to share some of our good news.

But first, let’s look at the law.

“No fault divorce” reform: The law actually changed back in April 2022 but it was such a seismic reform that it is worth noting how it has settled in the 18 months of its influence. Essentially, “no fault divorce” means that couples go through divorce proceedings without apportioning blame. A slight surge in numbers of divorces was recorded; most likely because couples were waiting to benefit from the promised enhanced simplicity of the process. Generally, “no fault” has been positively received, and it remains encouraging that the HM Courts & Tribunal Service reported that “nearly one in four applications for divorce are made jointly, meaning more families are able to divorce amicably as a direct result of our reforms.”

Minimum Age for Marriage: The Marriage and Civil Partnership (Minimum Age) Act 2022 came into force in February 2023, taking the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 years of age, even if there is parental consent. The reform has been welcomed as a means of protecting vulnerable young people and cracking down on forced marriages.

Cohabitation reform: Progress has not been made in this area with calls to extend legal protections to unmarried couples and their children being repeatedly rejected by the Government. England is out of sync with modern relationships.  The myth of the “common-law” spouse continues to thrive leaving naïve partners vulnerable and often dangerously dependent. Given that 51% of children were born to unmarried parents in 2021, 2024 must surely be the year that we see this family structure better protected by the law in the event of a relationship breakdown.

Public Law Outline (PLO): The PLO sets out the duties of local authorities when taking a case to court and asking for a Care Order to take a child into care or for a Supervision Order. The relaunch in January 2023 , positively reflects the family justice system’s drive to cut the number and length of care proceedings; hopefully down towards 26 weeks over the next couple of years.

And now for some of our good news:

Legal directory success: There are two key guides to the legal profession which carry out annual research in the sector: the Legal 500 and Chambers UK. The findings are based on submissions made by the participating firms, supported by referee and peer group feedback. This is the first year that we have made a submission for the Family practice, and we are delighted that we have gone straight into the ranking tables.

New partner:
We congratulate Zoe Southgate, who heads up our Private Client team, on her promotion to partner. Zoe has over 20 years’ experience in providing advice and assistance with wills, probate, inheritance tax planning, administering estates, Powers of Attorney and Court of Protection matters.

Team growth: We welcomed four paralegals to the firm over the summer months: Mariana Lopes and Lily Hardy joined our busy residential property team; Francesca Capon is focussing on dispute resolution; Emily Walsh is working with Zoe on wills and probate.

A happy new year from all the team at Bates Wells & Braithwaite in Ipswich.

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