Child support, divorce and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

Quarterly statistics on the progress of the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) child support schemes, to September 2019, have been published by the Department for Work & Pensions. The CSA was set up in 1993, and in 2012 the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) was created to replace the CSA. The closure of the CSA is progressing, and all on-going liabilities have ended. Parents have been given the opportunity to consider afresh their child maintenance arrangement and whether they wished to apply to the CMS. A number of CSA cases remain which have historical debt built up under the CSA schemes and some of these cases have been moved onto the CMS IT systems. This remaining debt is being addressed by offering a final chance at collection, where this is possible at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer, as outlined in the child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. The statistics show that the total number of CSA cases has decreased to 176,400 in September 2019, from 261,100 in June 2019; that the total CSA historical debt balance has decreased to £798 million, from £915 million in June 2019; that the CSA has written to 136,000 parents with care to ask if they want a last attempt to be made to try to collect the debt owed to them; and that 410,400 cases held on CSA systems have had their historical debt adjusted or written off in line with the compliance and arrears strategy.

The Divorce, Dissolution
and Separation Bill 2019-20, which will introduce a system of no-fault divorce,
is to have its second reading in the House of Lords this week. The second
reading is the first opportunity for members of the Lords to debate the key
principles and main purpose of a bill, and to flag up any concerns or specific
areas where they think amendments are needed. After the second reading the Bill
will pass to committee stage, which involves detailed line by line examination
of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the bill. Starting from the
front of the bill, members work through to the end. Any member of the Lords can
take part. Usually starting about two weeks after the second reading debate,
committee stage generally lasts for up to eight days, but can go on for longer.

The Crown Prosecution
Service (‘CPS’) has published a bulletin containing prosecution data for
quarter 2 2019-2020. In relation to domestic abuse the data shows that the
total number of suspects referred by the police to the CPS for a charging
decision fell from 98,470 in 2018/19 to 86,665, a fall of 12.0 per cent.
Timeliness for domestic abuse charging
decisions in that period went down from an average of 8.9 days in 2018/19 to an
average of 12.1 days, and the volume charged fell from 67,462 in 2018/19 to
59,685, a fall of 11.5%. Completed domestic abuse prosecutions fell from 78,624
in 2018/19 to 69,756, a fall of 11.3%. Domestic abuse includes any incident or
pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour,
violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional)
between those who are or have been intimate partners or family members,
regardless of gender or sexuality. Family members include mother, father, son,
daughter, sister, and grandparents, whether directly related, in laws or step
family.

And finally, HM Courts
& Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) has announced that three of its regional
divorce centres, which were opened in 2015 to deal with all divorce cases, have
closed, and that it is to begin closing two other venues. The centres at Stoke,
Wrexham and Port Talbot have closed, and those at Bradford and Nottingham are
to close. The centres at Newport, Liverpool, Southampton and Bury St Edmunds
will remain open. The reason for the closure is the increase in online digital
divorces, which are processed in the national Civil and Family Service Centre
in Stoke-on-Trent. HMCTS said: “Our four remaining regional divorce units will
remain as we reduce the legacy work already in the system. As that work reduces
we will consolidate the remaining paper work into the venue in Bury St Edmunds
with the [service centre] dealing with all new cases. At that point any legacy
work will be transitioned into the Bury St Edmunds venue which will be our
longer-term legacy site dealing with legacy work and the small amount of work
that does not have a digital journey.”