Cafcass figures, civil partnerships and divorce reform: The last week in family law

The latest figures for care applications and private law
demand, for September 2019, have been published by the Children and Family
Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks
after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. In that month
the service received a total of 1,000 new care applications, 62 (5.8 per cent)
fewer than in the same month last year. New care applications received by
Cafcass have decreased year-on-year in each of the last eleven months. As to
private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,803 new private law cases in September,
10.9 per cent (374 cases) higher than the same month last year. In eleven of the
last twelve months the number of new cases has increased when compared with the
corresponding month in the previous year.

The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published its
latest annual statistics on formations and dissolutions of civil partnerships
in England and Wales, for 2018. Amongst the main points were that there were
956 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2018, an increase of 5.3%
compared with 2017, and the third annual increase following a large decrease
between 2013 and 2015 after the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples
in 2014; that nearly two-thirds (65%) of all civil partnerships formed in 2018
were between men, a similar proportion to the previous year (66%); and that more
than one in five (21%) of those entering a civil partnership in 2018 were aged
65 years and over, compared with just 4% in 2013, prior to the introduction of
marriages of same-sex couples. Kanak Ghosh, of the Vital Statistics Outputs
Branch at the ONS commented: “The number of same-sex couples forming a civil
partnership increased slightly in 2018, for the third consecutive year. Just
under 1,000 couples preferred this option to marriage. Those choosing to form a
civil partnership are more likely to be male or over 50. The recent change in
the law to make opposite-sex couples eligible to form civil partnerships from
the end of this year is likely to bring further increases to the overall number
of civil partnerships formed in England and Wales.”

The number of parents self-referring directly to child
contact centres has drastically risen in the last ten years, according to new
figures released by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (NACCC).
Self-referrals from separating parents have risen from 3.7% of total referrals
in 2009/10 to 35.8% in 2018/19, in the same period, referrals from solicitors
have reduced from 67.8% to 21.9%. The NACCC says that the figures are a clear
indication of the consequences of legal aid reforms for families experiencing
separation. Elizabeth Coe, Chief Executive of the NACCC said: “Parenting
shouldn’t end when relationships do and we know many parents who separate feel
the same way, which explains why the assistance from child contact centres is
in such demand. We have noticed a huge change in source of referrals since
legal aid reforms led to a reduction in provision for most family cases.
Families who are going through a separation now often need to negotiate the
family law system without the support of a legal professional. Our centre staff
and volunteers are trained to support families through this process but the
potential of increased stress and anxiety for parents is significant and the
implications of reduced support is having an impact beyond child arrangements.”

And finally, the Government has confirmed that it intends to
go ahead with the reform of divorce law. The Divorce, Dissolution and
Separation Bill, which was intended to bring in a system of no-fault divorce,
failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the last parliamentary
session, and was not carried over to the next session. However, the Government
confirmed in the Queen’s Speech that the Bill will be reintroduced. Margaret
Heathcote, National Chair of Resolution, the association of family lawyers,
commented: “Resolution is delighted that this vital Bill is being brought back,
and now call on government to reintroduce it as soon as possible, so that we
can finally end the blame game for separating families.”