Divorces, Drug and Alcohol Courts, and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

Statistics for the number of divorces in England and Wales in 2016 have been published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The main points arising from the statistics were that there were 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 5.8% compared with 2015, and that there were 112 divorces of same-sex couples in 2016, of which 78% were among female couples. Nicola Haines of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch at the ONS commented: “Although the number of divorces of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales increased by 5.8% in 2016 compared with 2015, the number remains 30% lower than the most recent peak in 2003; divorce rates for men and women have seen similar changes. This is the second year that divorces among same-sex couples have been possible since the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples in March 2014. Our latest marriage figures show that of the 4,850 marriages formed between same-sex couples in 2014, 56% were female couples. In 2016, there were 112 divorces among same-sex couples, with female couples accounting for 78% of these.”

The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) and partner local authorities are to receive £6.2m over seven years to support the court’s work within the family court system. FDAC aims to help families whose children are subject to care proceedings due to parental substance misuse and domestic violence in the home. The FDAC National Unit welcomed the announcement, saying: “FDAC achieves better outcomes for parents, better outcomes for children, and better value for money. But funding is a constant battle … Today’s announcement will support hard pressed local authorities to set up and deliver FDACs for a minimum of five years. This level of sustainability will ensure FDACs have sufficient time to flourish and for robust evidence to be collected about the outcomes FDAC achieves and its value for money.”

The Ministry of justice has published a report analysing family court data to explore links between adverse family experiences and proven youth offending. A key finding of the report was that those in contact with the public law system were more likely to offend and commit multiple offences between the ages of 10 and 17 than those of the equivalent age group in the general population. They also, on average, started offending earlier than offenders of the same age in the general population. Findings from the evidence review suggest that the link between offending and public law may be explained to a large extent by shared risk factors, including family poverty and parental neglect or abuse, and wider evidence indicates that when children have been taken into local authority care, placement type and instability have been linked to higher offending rates. There is, however, concern about unnecessary criminalisation of children in care homes and this may explain, in part, the higher offending levels for this group.

And finally, the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales has revealed that the police recorded 511,319 domestic abuse-related offences in the year ending June 2017, an 18% increase on the 431,768 offences recorded the previous year. However, it is important to note that the increase is likely to be driven by improvements in crime recording by the police. As well as general improvements, the police may have improved their identification of which offences are domestic abuse-related and more victims may be coming forward to report these crimes. The latest data from the Crime Survey for England and Wales showed that there was no change in the prevalence of domestic abuse among adults aged 16 to 59 between the year ending March 2016 (6.1%) and the year ending March 2017 (5.9%). The apparent decrease was not statistically significant. Included in the rise in domestic abuse-related crimes are offences of coercive or controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship. This became a new criminal offence as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015 and came into force on 29 December 2015. Of the 38 forces for which data was available, 4,246 offences of coercive control were recorded in the year ending March 2017.