Civil partnerships, enforcement and child costs: The last week in family law

The Office for National Statistics has published its latest annual statistics on formations and dissolutions of civil partnerships, for 2017, analysed by the sex, age, and previous marital status of the couples and the place of registration. Amongst the main points were that there were 908 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2017, an increase of 2.0% compared with 2016 – this is the second annual increase since the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples was announced in 2013; that almost two-thirds (66%) of all civil partnerships formed in 2017 were between men; and that more than half (51%) of those entering a civil partnership in 2017 were aged 50 years and over – this compares with 19% in 2013, prior to the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples. Nicola Haines, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics, commented: “Despite the introduction of marriages for same-sex couples in March 2014, the number of same-sex couples choosing to form civil partnerships has increased slightly for the second consecutive year. Almost two-thirds of couples entering into a civil partnership in 2017 were male and more than half of all civil partners were aged 50 years or above. However, our latest data on marriages from 2015 shows that male couples accounted for less than half of all marriages between same-sex couples while only 16% of those marrying a partner of the same-sex were aged 50 and over.”

The Government has agreed to improve the enforcement of financial orders, in response to a Law Commission report. Courts can make these orders, which mean that one spouse or civil partner must pay money or transfer property to the other after a relationship breaks down. But in 2016 a report by the Law Commission found that the law in this area was too complicated, sometimes ineffective, and that orders fairly awarded by the courts were not always complied with as a result. Failure to recover money awarded can lead to significant hardship both for former spouses and their children. Now in a letter to the Commission, Justice Minister Lucy Frazer has said the Government will bring forward non-legislative measures to improve the enforcement system, whilst considering further reform in the future. Law Commissioner Professor Nick Hopkins said: “If a court decides that a former partner or children are deserving of financial support, it’s not for a debtor to act or do otherwise. These reforms will help to prevent serious hardship that some face when debtors refuse to pay, and I’m pleased Government is taking action to help those most in need.”

And finally, the Child Poverty Action Group (‘CPAG’) has published its latest Cost of a Child report, showing what it costs to raise a child to age 18, based on what the public thinks is a minimum standard of living. The report says that the overall cost of a child (including rent and childcare) is £150,753 for a couple and £183,335 for a lone parent. The CPAG say that a combination of rising prices, benefits and tax credits freezes, the introduction of the benefit cap and two-child limit, the bedroom tax, cuts to housing benefits and the rolling out of universal credit have hit family budgets hard. As a result, they say, life has been getting progressively tougher for families on low or modest incomes over the past ten years, with families on in-work and out-of-work benefits hardest hit. Even families with two parents currently working full time on the ‘national living wage’ are 11% (£49 per week) short of the income the public defines as an acceptable, no-frills living standard. For lone parents, even a reasonably paid job (on median earnings) will leave them 15% (£56 per week) short of an adequate income because of the high cost of childcare. A lone parent working full-time on the ‘national living wage’ will be 20% (£74 per week) short of what they need to achieve a minimum standard of living.