Adoption, enforcing contact and litigants in person: The last week in family law

The Department for Education has announced changes to the adoption system which they say “will reduce delays for black and ethnic minority children and give adopters a much more active role in finding children they might be suitable to adopt.” The changes are contained in the Government’s response to the ‘Adoption: getting it right, making it work’ consultation, which sought views on amendments to statutory guidance and regulations about adoption. Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson – who has 2 adopted brothers – said: “We’ve seen promising progress in the last 12 months – a significant rise in adoptions and a huge increase in the number of adopters, but I’m determined to do everything in my power to make sure the 6,000 children waiting are offered safe and caring homes. Our reforms to the register, greater use of fostering for adoption and the removal of unnecessary delay will mean would-be adopters can play a greater role in the process and help ensure children are placed with a new loving family much more quickly.”

In an interview with the charity Families Need Fathers on the impact of the new Children and Families Act, the former President of the Family Division, Lady Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, has said that there should be a greater emphasis on the obligations of resident parents to follow court orders, and called for family courts to enforce orders for contact between children and their non-resident parent. She said: “I can see absolutely no reason why she [i.e. the resident parent] shouldn’t do community service. I should like to see her penalised in all sorts of inconvenient ways as long as it doesn’t have any impact on her care of the child. So as long as the child is over 5 or goes to a child minder, then there is no reason why she shouldn’t be required to go and clean the streets, whatever it may be. I would make her do something really unpleasant so that she understands the consequences of this.”

Almost half of all parents fighting to get access to their children through the courts are being made to do so without legal advice, family magistrates have warned. A survey of nearly 500 justices has revealed that 46 per cent of the people seen by magistrates in private family courts are now representing themselves, following the virtual abolition of legal aid for private family law matters last year. Almost of all of the magistrates questioned said they believed that self-representation was having a negative impact on the court’s work – leading to delays and potential unfairness if one parent is legally represented but the other is not.

And finally, lawyers have warned that the digital currencies such as Bitcoin could be used by divorcing spouses in an attempt to hide assets from their partners. A London divorce lawyer has claimed that a number of forums devoted to Bitcoin have been filled with husbands discussing the option of using digital currencies. It is feared that spouses could use Bitcoin to hide wealth by transferring the currency between online wallets, to friends, or to areas outside of the jurisdiction.