Weekly Family Law Update January 15, 2020

Divorce reform, children in care and tech abuse: The last week in family law

The Government has re-introduced
the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will bring in a system of
no-fault divorce, to Parliament. The
Bill was first introduced in June 2019 after a public consultation and is being
brought before Parliament again following the General Election. The new law
will remove the ‘blame game’ by allowing one spouse – or the couple jointly –
to make a statement of irretrievable breakdown, without having to prove that
the breakdown was the fault of the other spouse. It will also stop one partner
contesting a divorce if the other wants one, which in some cases has allowed
domestic abusers to exercise further coercive control over their victim. The
Bill will also introduce a 20-week period between the initial petition stage
and when the court grants the provisional decree of divorce (the ‘decree
nisi’). This will provide a meaningful period of reflection and the chance to
turn back, or where divorce is inevitable, it will better enable couples to
cooperate and make arrangements for the future. Justice Secretary and Lord
Chancellor Robert Buckland QC MP said: “The institution of marriage will always
be vitally important, but we must never allow a situation where our laws
exacerbate conflict and harm a child’s upbringing. Our reforms will stop
divorcing couples having to make unnecessary allegations against one another
and instead help them focus on separating amicably. By sparing individuals the
need to play the blame game, we are stripping out the needless antagonism this
creates so families can better move on with their lives.”

New figures show that the
number of children in care has risen by 28 per cent in the past decade with the
system reaching breaking point, the Local Government Association (‘LGA’) has
revealed. The LGA is warning that this huge increase in demand is combining
with funding shortages to put immense pressure on the ability of councils to
support vulnerable children and young people, and provide the early help that
can stop children and families reaching crisis point in the first place. The
figures show that 78,150 children are now in care, up from 75,370 in 2018.
Councils have seen a 53 per cent increase in children on child protection plans
– an additional 18,160 children – in the past decade. Councillor Judith Blake,
Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “These figures show
the sheer scale of the unprecedented demand pressures on children’s services
and the care system this decade. This is unsustainable. Councils want to make
sure that children can get the best, rather than just get by, and that means
investing in the right services to reach them at the right time.”

And finally, three in four
domestic abuse victims have been exposed to “controlling, humiliating or
monitoring” behaviour by their former partners using technology, new figures from
Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, show.
Refuge found 4,004 women seeking help last year – around three-quarters of the
total – had faced abuse from their ex-partner perpetrated via technology. The
tech abuse includes current or former partners using smartphones or their
children’s iPads and games consoles to track a woman’s location, sharing
so-called revenge porn on the internet or repeated phone calls and messages or
harassment via social media. Refuge also say they have seen a rise in tech
abuse cases which involve abusers using smart locks, webcams and smart heating
systems to “monitor, control and gaslight” victims in the past two years. Sandra
Horley, chief executive of Refuge, thinks such cases were underreported because
many women are simply unaware of what is happening to them. She said: “As technology becomes more advanced and more
readily available, perpetrators will continue to find new ways of using it to
facilitate abuse. Frontline staff at Refuge have recorded an alarming rate of
tech abuse cases. Put simply, tech
abuse is the misuse of everyday technologies and devices by perpetrators, for
the purposes of controlling, humiliating or monitoring their victims. It almost
always occurs alongside other forms of physical or sexual violence,
psychological and economic abuse.”