Divorce centres, foster care and contact: The last week in family law

Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) has stated that 40% of divorce petitions have to be returned to solicitors’ firms for correction, because of drafting or procedural errors. Examples of the reasons for petitions being returned are failure to enclose issue fees, lack of signature and missing or incorrect details. HMCTS has also provided more details of the Divorce Centre for London and the south East at Bury St Edmunds, which it says will eventually deal with over 40% of work in England and Wales.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has supported a call for statutory provision for funding for cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses, following the comments of the Master of the Rolls in Re K & H (Children), in which the Court of Appeal held that the court had no power to order HMCTS to provide funding for a lawyer to cross-examine a child. Jane Wilson, Chair of Resolution’s Domestic Abuse Committee, said: “…there is an urgent need for statutory provision to deal with these circumstances which, since the changes to legal aid and the increase in litigants in person, will sadly become more common … there is currently provision in the criminal court to allow payment for legal representatives to protect vulnerable witnesses. It’s only right and proper that the same provision is made for victims of domestic abuse in the Family Court.”

A survey carried out by The Fostering Network has suggested that teenagers in foster care in are being moved too often. According to the research, more than a third of teenagers in care are already living with their third foster family, one in four are living with at least their fourth family, and one in six with their fifth. The charity also said that the country needs about 8,000 more foster carers to cope with rising demand, explaining that around 52,500 of the 63,000 children in care in the UK live with foster families and that the vast majority will spend their entire childhoods in foster care, with only around 10% being adopted.

It has been reported that a two-year-old boy has been removed from his parents’ care after health workers raised serious concerns about the level of cigarette smoke and drug paraphernalia in the family home, with one health visitor saying that she had not come across such a “smoky house” in her ten-year career. The boy, who suffers with his breathing and uses an inhaler, was once found by a health worker asleep on a sofa next to his father, surrounded by a “visible cloud of smoke”. However, the level of cigarette smoke was just one of a number of concerns that emerged in the judgment, in which Her Honour Judge Louise Pemberton decided that the boy should be placed for adoption.

And finally, a new study by the University of Warwick and funded by the Nuffield Foundation has found that there is no evidence that family courts in England and Wales are discriminating against fathers because of gender bias. Dr Maebh Harding, from the School of Law, reviewed almost 200 case files from 2011 and concluded that contact applications by fathers were in fact “overwhelmingly successful”. Her report, co-authored with Dr Annika Newnham from the University of Reading, paints a generally positive picture of the role of the County Courts in resolving child law disputes at the time of the study. However, it does raise some concerns that equal or near equal care was being used as a way to ensure adult fairness, rather than achieving the best arrangement for the children.