Child abuse, civil partnerships and domestic violence: The last week in family law

The National Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (‘NSPCC’) has reported that they received 4,749 calls from adults concerned about abusive or violent behaviour around children last year, a 77 per cent increase from 2012/13. The charity said that callers were seeking guidance after witnessing distressing signs such as visible bruises, parents being taken to hospital, children being exposed to rage and rough handling and aggressive behaviour towards parents of young babies. NSPCC’s chief executive, Peter Wanless, felt it was a good sign that more people were reporting signs of children being affected by domestic abuse. He said: “Domestic abuse can have a huge impact on a child’s physical and emotional wellbeing, and this sharp increase in reports shows that more people are speaking up on behalf of frightened children living in violent homes. We all have a part to play in tackling domestic abuse, and it’s important to pick up the phone if you’re concerned so that our trained advisers can offer non-judgemental advice, discuss possibilities and take action where necessary. Stepping in early and putting the child at the heart of all decisions in domestic abuse cases is vital in keeping children safe. It is vital that young people affected by domestic abuse have access to the right kind of support.”

There were 890 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2016, an increase of 3.4% compared with 2015, new figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown. This is the first annual increase since the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples was announced in 2013. A statistician at the ONS said that it showed that a minority of same-sex couples still prefer this option to marriage. Responding to the figures Resolution spokesperson on civil partnerships, Graeme Fraser, said: “The increase in civil partnerships, for the first time since the introduction of same sex marriages, demonstrates how modern families are changing. It’s important that the law keeps up. These figures will be of interest to policymakers and anyone monitoring the debate about extending civil partnerships to heterosexual couples – who may also wish to choose this way of marking their commitment to each other over marriage. Clearly more same sex couples chose a civil partnership in 2016 than in 2015. Sadly, it therefore stands to reason that dissolutions are also on the rise, by nearly 9% last year. It’s therefore vital that professionals and politicians keep in mind all types of modern families, including civil partners and cohabiting couples, when considering how to deal with relationship breakdown.”

The latest legal aid statistics, for the quarter April to June 2017, show that the number of Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) in that period was down by 11% compared to the previous year. The figure currently stands at around a third of what it was prior to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in 2013. There were 1,600 mediation starts in the period, down 24% on last year ago, which is the lowest number since legal aid was abolished. MIAMs are intended to establish whether the case is suitable for mediation. In most cases anyone intending to apply to the court for private law children proceedings or financial remedy on divorce is required to attend a MIAM. It had been the hope of the government that there would be a greater take-up of mediation after legal aid was abolished, thereby reducing the need for contested court proceedings.

And finally, an MP is to try to introduce a law to create a register of those convicted of domestic violence and make police warn new partners of a repeated offender’s violent past. Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts wants anyone guilty of domestic violence to be required to give police their name, date of birth, home address and National Insurance number within three days of a conviction. Police would then be given powers to warn new partners of the persistent offenders about their criminal history. Offenders would be required to tell police of any new relationships they start. If they fail to do so, they could be imprisoned. Mrs Saville Roberts said: “Domestic violence and coercive control are very serious crimes that too often leave victims inadequately protected. Campaigners and charities are telling us that there are hundreds, if not thousands of men with multiple domestic violence victims but currently the onus is on new partners to ask the police for details about their prospective partner’s history, and unsurprisingly, this is rarely done. My Bill will create a register with specific extra conditions for perpetrators with more than one victim. Offenders will have to report and be monitored by the police and victims will have the right to access details of any previous violent or controlling behaviour. I fully intend on bringing this Bill to the House of Commons but I hope that the UK Government will incorporate a domestic violence offender’s register in its own forthcoming review of violence against women.”