Adoption, Mediation and Child Maintenance: The last week in family law

Over two million pounds of new funding is being made available by the government to help adopted children settle into their new families by accessing crucial support services. The Department for Education says: “Some adopted children will have suffered from severe cases of neglect and abuse and experience a range of difficulties as a direct result. They may have behavioural issues, eating disorders, several mental health needs, trust and attachment issues, substance abuse issues, and sadly in some cases, attempted suicide. Vital services such as behavioural therapy, play and music therapy and family support sessions can help children come to terms with their issues, bond with their family and settle into their new lives.”

National Family Mediation (‘NFM’), the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, has called for Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings to be free, as the latest government figures show a collapse in the number of people using mediation in the past 12 months. New Ministry of Justice Figures show falls from 2012/13 to 2013/14 of 56 per cent for mediation assessments, 38 per cent for mediation ‘starts’ and 27 per cent in final agreements. NFM says that “ministers must ensure nothing is off limits as they consider how to reverse the trend”.
Justice minister Simon Hughes has revealed that free DNA tests are being provided to speed up resolution of disputes over the paternity of children. Pilot programmes launched in Taunton and Bristol are part of an initiative aimed at tackling problems in family courts, which have been inundated with unrepresented litigants following cuts to legal aid. Speaking at a Westminster Legal Policy Forum debate in London, Hughes also called for all children over the age of ten to be allowed to participate in separation cases so that their views might be considered and suggested that family courts should become advice centres to avoid excessive recourse to lawyers.

New child maintenance regulations came into force on the 30th of June, under which most parents making a new application to the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) will have to pay a £20 application fee. If the CMS then collects the child maintenance payments, a 20% administration fee will be added to every amount collected. Accordingly, for every £100 assessed, the non-resident paying parent will actually have to pay £120. From this sum, the Government takes an administration fee of £24, leaving just £96 for the receiving parent. To avoid the charges, parents can make their own private agreements or use the CMS only to determine the level of maintenance. If they then set up ‘Direct Pay’ arrangements to their former partner or spouse, they will not be charged an administration fee.

The Divorce (Financial Provisions) Bill, introduced by Baroness Deech in February, has received its second reading in the House of Lords. The Bill includes a provision to make pre- and post-nuptial agreements binding. It would also share the net value of ‘matrimonial property’ (essentially, all property acquired after the parties were married, save for gifts and inheritances) equally between the parties and limit the duration of spousal maintenance to three years.

And finally, the conviction rate for domestic violence cases has reached its highest ever level according to the director of public prosecutions. Domestic violence cases now make up 10.7% of the Crown Prosecution Service’s case load, up from 8.9% in 2012/13 and just 6% in 2007/08.