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

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has warned that a rise in the number of private law children cases could indicate that efforts to encourage mediation have been ineffective. According to figures from Cafcass, the number of new private law cases has risen year-on-year for the third month in a row, ending a steady decline in the number of new cases. Helen Greenfield, a Law Society children committee member and family law associate at Resolution, said that the upwards trend could indicate that the government has not managed to get enough litigants to turn to mediation.

The Department for Work and Pensions has published a report which explores barriers to child maintenance arrangements for long-term separated parents and related support interventions. The report concluded that parents were motivated to avoid disruption and change in their maintenance arrangement, and fear of disruption tended to have an impact on responses to case closure. Such fears tended to encourage parents to focus on obtaining a secure arrangement which was clearly understood by both parties. Parents also valued collaboration and the concept of an arrangement that would benefit their child in various ways, as well as financially. This could include collaboration in various aspects of parenting. The extent to which such collaboration was seen as realistic or achievable varied widely, depending on the quality of the co-parent relationship.

The Department for Education has published research which explores local authority practice and decision-making with regard to special guardianship orders (‘SGOs’), in order to provide a deeper understanding of changes in local authority professionals’ perspectives of how SGOs are being used since the family justice reforms, compared to previously. An SGO is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s ‘special guardian’. It is intended for children who cannot live with their birth parents and would benefit from a legally secure placement, often with other family members. Findings of the research included that there is a perception that there has been an increase in the number of SGOs being made, that family members often come forward as potential special guardians during proceedings, once the court has decided that the child cannot remain with their parents, and that family dynamics are often complex and can be challenging for special guardians.

A High Court judge has praised a social worker’s handling of a case in which a 16-year-old girl attempted to fly to Syria to join ISIS after being “fully radicalised”. In a judgment published last week, Mr Justice Hayden praised the social worker for making an “outstanding contribution to the case”, which ended with the girl being placed in local authority care.

There has been a 40% decrease in the number of children waiting to be placed with adopters. Latest statistics from the Adoption Leadership Board, covering January to March 2015, show that 2,810 children were waiting to be placed at 31st March 2015, a 40% decrease from 31st March 2014, when there were 4,680 children waiting with a placement order not yet placed with an adoptive family. Further, in 2013-14, the average number of days between entering care and placement was 594 days, an improvement from 656 days in 2012-13. Latest quarterly data suggest there has been a further improvement to 533 days during 2014-15.

And finally, a High Court judge has ordered a husband involved in long-running financial remedy proceedings to pay his wife’s costs for the proceedings, amounting to around £334,000. In Joy v Joy-Morancho & Others, Sir Peter Singer said that the husband’s conduct in trying to explain his financial circumstances amounted to ‘blatant dishonesty’ and that he had deliberately set about obscuring the true situation as to his past, present and future. He made clear that the costs judgment should act as a deterrent to others considering deceiving the court.