Cafcass, the family court and divorce: The last week in family law

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has received an overall judgement of ‘good’ from Ofsted. In its report Ofsted found the leadership and governance of the organisation to be ‘outstanding’ and that this has led to a wholesale transformation in organisational culture, radically improving the services children and families receive. It also found that family court advisers consistently work well with families to ensure children are safe and that the court makes decisions that are in children’s best interests. Further, when parents need the court to help them decide where they should live or who they should have contact with then the children, young people and their families receive a good service. Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas CBE, said: “This result is the culmination of five years of grit and determination from our organisation, with a continued focus on driving forward improvements for the 140,000 children we work with every year.”

An ‘early adopter’ of the new family court system has criticised the reforms for causing delays and making it harder for the public to gain access, according to a report in the Law Society Gazette. They said that the ‘single point of entry’ meant that people could no longer go to their local court but had to go to the designated court, which could be an hour away, and the requirement to attend a mediation information meeting was creating delay and expense, which could prevent a party from issuing proceedings where the other party refuses to co-operate. A Ministry of Justice spokesman responded by saying: “Our reforms will keep families away from the negative effects of battles or delays in court and make sure that when cases do go to court they happen in the least damaging way.”

The family law sector will eventually be dominated by organised and self-regulated fee-charging McKenzie Friends (‘FCMFs’) and counsel, an industry observer has claimed. John Junk, managing director of self-representation advice service Family Court Support, said that the solicitors’ branch of the legal industry could suffer “severe detriment” as a result of the “inexorable rise” of FCMFs in family law.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has suggested that divorce could be taken out of the hands of judges and dealt with by a ‘registrar of births, deaths, marriages and divorces’. Where divorce is by consent and does not involve children, Munby said, other jurisdictions deal with it as an administrative matter with a registrar of births, marriages, deaths and divorce. The same thing, he suggested, should be considered here. Sir James also indicated that he was keen to tackle the problem of cohabitees having no property rights when they separate.

And finally, a professional poker player has won a legal fight to not have to use his winnings to support his children because his income is not from ‘gainful employment’. The Court of Appeal agreed that Tony Hakki’s poker playing was not organised enough to amount to a trade, business or profession and therefore did not fall within the regulations of child support. The former stockbroker has played poker for many years and is well known in the community as ‘Tony the Hitman Hakki.’