A royal divorce, court figures and child maintenance arrears: The last week in family law

Mr Justice MacDonald has made a reporting restriction order in favour of His Royal Highness Louis Prince of Luxembourg, who is involved in divorce proceedings from his wife Princess Tessy in the High Court in London. The Princess had sought to make public the basic details of the offer she had made to the Prince, and certain other details of the case, in order to defend herself against what she submitted had been “deeply hurtful, tendentious and wholly inaccurate coverage of her within the context [the] proceedings”. Mr Justice MacDonald had some sympathy for the Princess, who he felt had been badly treated by some sections of the media, but found that to publish the bare terms of her offer and information concerning the family home would “act to undermine the administration of a crucial process the court is required to oversee in order to do justice between the parties.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for November 2017, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,228 care applications. This figure represents a 5% decrease compared with those received in November 2016, but is the second-highest monthly total for a November on record. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,811 new private law cases. This is a 9% increase compared with those received in November 2016 and is the highest demand for the month of November since 2012.

Quarterly statistics for the period July to September for the Family Court and legal aid have been released by the Ministry of Justice. Amongst the details revealed by the Family Court statistics were that 65,247 new cases started in that period, up 2% on July to September 2016, that the number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 10% compared to the equivalent quarter in 2016, and that in only 19% of cases in the quarter did both parties have legal representation. The legal aid statistics revealed, amongst other things, that Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) were down by 5% compared to the previous year, and currently stand at just over a third of the level they were prior to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in 2013.

Tough new powers to help tackle child maintenance arrears are being proposed in a consultation launched by the Department for Work and Pensions. The consultation proposals include removing passports (parents who persistently do not pay the child maintenance they owe could face being banned from holding or obtaining a UK passport for up to 2 years), improved calculations (income from capital, foreign income, notional income from assets and unearned income could all be taken into account when the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) works out how much maintenance a parent owes), and deductions from business accounts (the CMS could seize funds from sole trader and partnership accounts to pay off a parent’s unpaid maintenance bill). The consultation also outlines proposals to address historic unpaid child maintenance built up under the old Child Support Agency (‘CSA’), and options for writing it off. Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance Caroline Dinenage said: “Our priority is to make sure parents meet their responsibilities to their children so we have been replacing the old CSA – which failed children over the decades – with a new system that is already working better for families. But we need to go further to ensure children get the support they need. That’s why we are consulting on a range of options, including tougher powers against parents who do not pay the child maintenance they owe.”

And finally, a survey by the Magistrates Association for BuzzFeed News has found that more than two-thirds of people in family court hearings in front of magistrates have no lawyer. This, say the magistrates, is leading to injustices and long, confrontational court hearings where children ultimately are the victims. John Bache, chair of the Magistrates Association, said: “The problem is that if one side is represented by a professional lawyer and the other isn’t represented, that must be intrinsically unfair. In family the magistrates will do their best to ensure a fair hearing for both sides, but as in criminal hearings, you can’t put questions in their mouth. The impact on children will stem from that because if there hasn’t been proper representation, the children won’t be achieving necessarily the best outcome in terms of relationship with their parents.”