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

CAFCASS Update

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for May 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 1,152 new care applications, 11.5% lower (149 applications) than May 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,950 new private law cases, 8.5% (311 cases) higher than May 2018.

Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill

The Lord Chancellor David Gauke has introduced the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill to Parliament. If passed, the Bill will finally bring in a system of no-fault divorce, thereby ending the ‘blame game’. Specifically, the Bill will: replace the requirement to prove either a conduct or separation ‘fact’ with a requirement to file a statement of irretrievable breakdown of the marriage (couples can opt to make this a joint statement); remove the possibility of contesting the decision to divorce as a statement will be conclusive evidence that the marriage has broken down irretrievably; and introduce a new minimum period of 20 weeks from the start of proceedings to conditional order stage. David Gauke commented: “Marriage will always be a vitally important institution in society, but when a relationship breaks down it cannot be right that the law adds fuel to the fire by incentivising couples to blame each other. By removing the unnecessary mudslinging the current process can needlessly rake up, we’ll make sure the law plays its part in allowing couples to move on as amicably and constructively as possible.” The Bill will have its Second Reading on a date to be announced.

Draft Domestic Abuse Bill

The Joint Committee of MPs and Members of the Lords on the Draft Domestic Abuse Bill has published its report on the Bill, and called for it to be amended to give greater protection to victims of domestic abuse. The recommended changes to the Bill are to ensure that all those affected by domestic abuse receive protection and a tailored response to their differing needs. The Committee welcomed the proposed measures in the Bill, but was concerned with ensuring their effectiveness in practice. The Committee was particularly concerned to ensure that children who experience domestic abuse, either as witnesses to it or in intimate relationships, are treated as victims and their needs responded to appropriately. In recognition of the fact that survivors of abuse require different support services, the Committee recommended that the Bill should require public authorities to have regard to the gendered nature of abuse and provide suitable services accordingly. Commenting, Mrs Maria Miller MP, Chair of the Joint Committee, said: “The Government’s draft bill on Domestic Abuse has been widely welcomed by organisations representing survivors of Domestic Abuse and those providing support services. The Bill is the culmination of many months of work and consultation and has been said by the sector to be a ‘once in a generation opportunity to address domestic violence’ and having ‘the potential to create a step change in the national response’. The committee has made detailed and wide-ranging recommendations that affect many aspects of the Bill, drawing from the excellent evidence we have received including oral evidence from those who have survived domestic abuse themselves. These include important recommendation relating to the treatment of children and migrant women, the importance of cross-departmental working in prevention and early intervention and the need for Commissioners to be fully independent and have the powers they need to enforce improvements in the provision of services.

Childcare Arrangements After Divorce

And finally, campaigners are calling for a shared parenting presumption in the law. The fathers’ rights charity Families Need Fathers Both Parents Matter Cymru has commissioned a YouGov poll asking to what extent the respondents agreed with a proposal that the law should be reformed so that judges have a presumption in favour of ordering that children spend roughly equal time with each parent after a divorce or separation, excluding cases where children were deemed to be at risk. 80% of the respondents agreed, and the charity said the poll supports the call for a change in the law to make it clearer what ‘normal’ should look like when parents split. The charity’s vice-chair of trustees, Anne O’Regan, said: “It’s a living bereavement for the parents and grandparents we see at our support meetings, broken by the selfish actions of controlling parents who simply grab the children, pull up the drawbridge and say “Take me to court”, knowing that this will be impossible for many to afford.

If you need assistance in divorce matters, childcare after a separation or are a victim of domestic abuse, please get in touch with our friendly team at Prince Family Law who will be happy to help.

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