Adoption, care proceedings and legal aid: The last week in family law

The media have been speculating over whether a divorce settlement is going to be the biggest ever in this country. The speculation involves the forthcoming case involving financier Sir Chris Hohn and his wife Jamie Cooper-Hohn. The pair are in dispute over the value of a hedge fund that Sir Chris set up. If it is worth as much as his wife claims then it is said that she could be entitled to the country’s first billion pound divorce payout.

The British Association for Adoption & Fostering (‘BAAF’) matched over 1,000 children with adoptive families over the past year. This is the first time in its 34 year history that BAAF’s family finding services have done so. In all 1,023 children were matched with adoptive families in 2013-14, a significant increase on previous years. BAAF says that the increase reflects both the rise in the number of children waiting to be adopted as well as the continued improvement throughout the UK’s adoption services, including more creative matching processes and more effective recruitment and approval of prospective adopters.
Thousands of mothers over the past seven years have had successive children removed by family courts in England, according to research carried out by the Universities of Brunel and Manchester and funded by the Nuffield Foundation. Court records for that period show 7,143 mothers were involved in repeat care cases – affecting 22,790 children. Researchers found children were taken away from their parents by local authorities in more than 90% of cases. This data, the first of its kind to be produced, backs up what judges have observed in their own courts for many years – that many mothers are stuck in a destructive cycle of pregnancies and care proceedings.

Figures from the Ministry of Justice indicate that stay-at-home mothers and those working part-time have been hit hardest by the legal aid reforms last year, with the number of mothers having to represent themselves in children disputes having risen sharply since the reforms were implemented in April 2013. Nearly 60 per cent of the mothers who went to court for proceedings involving children between April and December last year had no solicitor, a total of 27,017 women. This figure represents an increase of more than 10,000 since the same period in 2012.

Still on the subject of the effects of the legal aid reforms last year, the Ministry of Justice has published its annual report presenting the key statistics on activity in the legal aid system for England and Wales. The report shows that in the last four years the number of legally aided family law cases has been decreasing. However, in the last year there was a 60 per cent drop compared to the previous year, obviously due to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in April 2013.

And finally, an analysis by the Office for National Statistics of the 2001 and 2011 Census data has found an increase in cohabitating couples, from 14% to 17% of households in the UK. By comparison, the number of households with married couples fell from 70% to 65%.