Child maintenance, adoption and civil partnerships: The last week in family law

Natalie Ceeney, the chief executive of HM Courts & Tribunals Service, has said that the increase in the number of litigants in person following the legal aid cuts has not caused more delays in the civil courts. Giving evidence to the House of Commons justice committee she said that litigants in person “have not actually increased the court budget or the demands on the court – some take longer but some are shorter.” Her views are not shared by many lawyers who use the courts.

David Bacon MP has introduced a ’ten minute bill’ to bring in no-fault divorce. The bill essentially proposes that there be added to the current law an option for the parties to divorce by mutual consent, without needing to prove anything else. The bill passed its first reading in the House of Commons and will have its second reading on the 4th of December.

The Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has published statistics detailing the number of children benefiting from ‘effective family-based child maintenance arrangements’ (‘FBAs’) after contacting the Child Maintenance Options service. An FBA is a child maintenance arrangement which parents have agreed between themselves. The DWP define an ‘effective FBA’ as either a regular financial arrangement where at least some of the agreed amount is always/usually received on time and the parent considers the arrangement to be working very/fairly well, or an ad hoc arrangement which includes a financial element (or transaction in kind e.g. school uniform) and where the parent considers the arrangement to be working very/fairly well. The statistics tell us that over the year 2014/15 52,000 children benefited from an effective FBA secured after contact with Child Maintenance Options and that since the creation of the Child Maintenance Service in 2008 199, 000 children have benefited from an effective FBA after contact with Child Maintenance Options.

The Department for Education (‘DfE’) has announced that more than 2,000 families have been helped through a ‘life-changing government fund’ worth over £7 million in the past 6 months. A DfE press release states: “Thousands of adoptive families are now accessing essential therapy services to help their children close the door on previous traumatic experiences and settle into their new life – backed by £7 million of government investment. Since the introduction of the fund in April 2015 – the most significant reform to adoption support in a generation – applications have been made by every single council the length and breadth of the country.”

New guidance published by the Ministry of Justice last week aims to help couples in the middle of stressful divorce litigation arrange their finances easily, and provides helpful information for those supporting divorcing couples. Prepared by the Family Justice Council and designed by the not-for-profit website Advicenow, the ‘Sorting out your finances when you get divorced’ guide provides information about financial settlements for couples who are getting divorced or ending a civil partnership, and aims to help them understand more about what a judge might do in cases like theirs, to give them a better chance of making a fair agreement with their former spouses, without having to go to court.

And finally, according to the latest bulletin from the Office of National Statistics the number of civil partnerships created dropped from 5,646 in 2013 to 1,683 in 2014, following the introduction of marriages of same sex couples in March 2014. The statistics also informed us that over half (57%) of civil partnerships were between males in 2014 – a change from 2013 when only 47% of partnerships were between males – and that the number of civil partnership dissolutions granted in 2014 was 1,061, an increase of 8.9% since 2013.