Divorce, child maintenance, mediation and civil partnerships: The last week in family law

The latest divorce statistics, for divorces in England and
Wales in 2017, have been published by the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’).
The main points included that there were 101,669 divorces of opposite-sex
couples in England and Wales in 2017, a decrease of 4.9% compared with 2016,
but similar to the number seen in 2015; that there were 338 divorces of
same-sex couples in 2017, more than three times the number in 2016; that there
were 8.4 divorces of opposite-sex couples per 1,000 married men and women aged
16 years and over, representing the lowest divorce rates since 1973; that the
divorce rate for opposite-sex couples was highest among men aged 45 to 49 years
and women aged 40 to 44 years; and that unreasonable behaviour was the most
common reason for opposite-sex couples divorcing, with 52% of wives and 37% of
husbands petitioning on these grounds. Commenting on the figures, ONS
statistician Nicola Haines said: “Divorce rates for opposite-sex couples in
England and Wales are at their lowest level since 1973, which is around forty
per cent lower than their peak in 1993. However, among older people rates are
actually higher in 2017 than in 1993 – perhaps due to the fact we have an
increasingly ageing population and people are getting married later in life.”

The latest quarterly statistics for the Family Court, for
the period April to June 2018, have been published by the Ministry of Justice.
The main points included that the number of cases starting in the family courts
increased, with 68,141 new cases being started in that period, up 7% on April
to June 2017, driven by an 18% rise in matrimonial cases starting; that the
average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 30
weeks in April to June 2017, two weeks up from the same quarter in 2017 and the
highest average since early 2014; and that the number of divorce petitions had
also increased, with 32,230 divorce petitions being made during April to June
2018, up 18% on April to June 2017 – the highest quarterly figure since the
start of 2013, following a long period of stability.

The Department for Work and Pensions has published its
latest statistics for the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’). The main stories
are that 630,000 children are currently covered by CMS arrangements, 407,600
through Direct Pay arrangements between the parents and 222,400 through the
CMS’s ‘Collect & Pay’ service. £219.4 million child maintenance was due to
be paid between April and June 2018, and £793.2 million in the last 12 months.
Of the sums paid between April and June 2018 £197.3m was paid through the
Collect & Pay service, or due to be paid through Direct Pay arrangements.
Of that total £164.6m was paid through Direct Pay arrangements and £32.7m was
paid through the Collect & Pay service.

The latest legal aid statistics published by the Ministry of
Justice have shown that Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’)
decreased by 7% during April to June 2018, compared to same quarter last year, and
currently stand at just over a third of the levels they were at prior to the
abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in 2013. Mediation starts
did not change, although outcomes decreased by 7%, and are now sitting at
around half the levels they were at before the legal aid cuts.

And finally, Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that heterosexual
couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to have a civil partnership
rather than get married. The government says the move, which follows the
Supreme Court decision in June that the current law was incompatible with the
European Convention on Human Rights, will provide greater security for
unmarried couples and their families, and it will address the “imbalance” that
allows same-sex couples to enter a civil partnership or get married, a choice
denied to heterosexual couples. The government said there were “a number of
legal issues to consider, across pension and family law” and ministers would
now consult on the technical detail. However, Equalities Minister Penny
Mordaunt promised that the change in the law would happen “as swiftly as
possible”.