Child maintenance figures, weddings and financial courts: The last week in family law

The Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has published the latest statistics on child maintenance arrangements made by separated parents after speaking to the Child Maintenance Options service (‘CM Options’). CM Options is a free service that provides impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance. The statistics show that between February and April this year 48,700 parents contacted CM Options, and that in that period the service helped parents set up 33,400 child maintenance arrangements. Of those 8,300 were ‘family based arrangements’, i.e. arranged between the parents themselves. The statistics also show that 85% of parents with a family-based arrangement thought it worked ‘fairly or very well’. Out of the 48,700 parents that had contact with CM Options between February and April 2018, the DWP estimates that 78% had a child maintenance arrangement by June 2018. This is 38,100 Child Maintenance Service, court and family-based arrangements. Almost a quarter (24%) of parents who contacted CM Options between February and April 2018 had a family-based arrangement. 17% set up or changed their family-based arrangement after contacting CM Options, while 7% already had a family-based arrangement in place or could not remember if they set up or changed their arrangement after speaking to CM Options.

The Law Commission has welcomed the Chancellor’s
announcement that the Government will ask the Commission to review the laws
around weddings in England and Wales. The project will look to propose options
for a simpler and fairer system to give modern couples meaningful choice. The
Law Commission published a Scoping Paper in 2015 outlining a range of problems
with the outdated law which governs how and where people can marry, and says
that the law is failing to meet the needs of modern couples. The law which
governs marriage dates from 1836. The Commission says that the regulation of how
and where weddings can take place is too restrictive for a modern Britain. Law
Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins said: “A couple’s wedding day is a
profoundly important event in their lives. But the current law does not meet
the needs of modern couples. Reform of the law would aim to make the law more
flexible and give couples greater choice so they can marry in a way that is
meaningful to them, whilst also lowering the cost of wedding venues. We
therefore welcome the Government’s announcement and look forward to continuing
our work in this area.”

The pilot for the new specialist courts to deal with
financial remedy claims has been extended to eight other court centres. The President
of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has announced that he has given
the ‘green light’ for the pilot to start working in each of these eight courts,
at Nottingham, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, London,
Newport and Swansea. The President said: “In essence the new scheme is a
ticketing and allocation regime designed to ensure that all Financial Remedy
cases are case managed and heard by a suitably experienced judge. The positive
reports of the operation of the Birmingham Pilot auger well for its replication
elsewhere.”

The Shadow Justice Minister Gloria De Piero has pledged that
if elected a Labour government would restore funding for early legal advice.
She told MPs debating the future of legal aid that: “A Labour Government will
return all funding for early legal advice, because we know that prevention is
better than cure. We will re-establish early advice entitlements in the family
courts, restore legal advice in all housing cases to protect 50,000 households
a year against rogue landlords, and review the legal aid means test.”

And finally, a new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, an American
academic journal published on behalf of the National Council on Family
Relations, suggests that couples who live together before they get married are
at greater risk of getting a divorce. The result contradicts the traditional
view that pre-marriage cohabitation helped couples to ensure that they were
compatible, before they tied the knot. The conclusion of the study was that
whilst pre-marital cohabitation may reduce the incidence of divorce in the
short-term, as couples who have cohabited have learned to adapt to each other,
it has longer term costs for marital stability.