Court of Protection, births and divorces: The last week in family law

A pilot scheme to allow the public and media greater access to Court of Protection hearings is to begin in January. Court of Protection hearings have usually been in private with only those directly involved in the case attending, save for rare exceptions, such as serious medical cases. The pilot will reverse that approach so that the Court will normally direct that its hearings will be in public and make an anonymity order to protect the people involved. The scheme will then provide evidence to assess whether the Court should in future hold its hearings in private or in public and whether access should be given to the media but not the public.

A bulletin presenting statistics on live births in England and Wales in 2014 by characteristics of the parents has been published by the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’). The statistics indicate that marriage or civil partnership remains the most common family setting for births in England and Wales as a whole, despite the steady fall in the percentage of births registered to married couples since the 1960s. In 2014 just over half of births occurred within marriage or civil partnership (53%), compared with 58% in 2004 and 93% in 1964. The proportion of births registered to cohabiting parents has increased in recent years with 32% of all births being registered to cohabiting parents in 2014, compared with 27% in 2004 and 10% in 1986, the first year these figures were available. Overall, 84% of births in 2014 were to parents who were married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting. Of the remainder, a further 10% of births were registered jointly by parents living at separate addresses, while only 5.4% were registered by the mother alone.

The ONS has also published statistics for divorces in England and Wales, for 2013. The main points from the statistics were that:

  • There were 114,720 divorces in England and Wales in 2013, a decrease of 2.9% since 2012, when there were 118,140 divorces. It has been suggested that this drop is due to the increase in the number of couples cohabiting, rather than marrying.
  • In 2013, there were 9.8 men divorcing per thousand married males and 9.8 women divorcing per thousand married females. A decrease of 27% for men and 26% for women compared with 2003.
  • The number of divorces in 2013 was highest among men and women aged 40 to 44.
  • For those married in 1968, 20% of marriages had ended in divorce by the 15th wedding anniversary whereas for those married in 1998, almost a third of marriages (32%) had ended by this time.

Moving on, the association of family lawyers Resolution has published the results of a survey it commissioned regarding the experience of parental separation or divorce upon children and young people. The ‘headline’ finding of the survey was that eight out of ten of the children and young people who took part in the survey said that would prefer their parents to split up if they are unhappy, rather than stay together. Other findings included that 62% of children and young people polled disagreed with the statement that their parents made sure they were part of the decision-making process about their separation or divorce, and that half indicated that they did not have any say as to which parent they would live with or where they would live following their parents’ separation or divorce.

And finally, a family court judge has named a social worker and her two managers, recommending their work and actions be investigated by their employers, Ofsted and the Health and Care Professions Council. Judge Mark Horton, at Portsmouth Family Court, found that the three had illegally taken children into care, breached a family’s human rights, altered the report of another social worker, lied under oath and withheld evidence from the court. “Given the enormity of what they did and the fact they still work as social workers it is right that I should name them … so that practitioners and members of the public coming across them are aware of their shortcomings in this case,” Judge Horton said.