Domestic violence, children in care and enforcing orders: The last week in family law

A rise in the number of children living with both birth parents to 70% has been welcomed by the Minister responsible for family policy, Iain Duncan Smith. The proportion of children whose parents are raising them together rose by 3 percentage points between 2010/11 and 2012/13. The latest statistics come as the government releases statistics on the number of couples accessing relationship support. Overall since 2010, £30 million government investment has seen 160,000 people access preventative relationship support, over 48,000 couples participate in relationship counselling and over 12,000 practitioners trained to help families in difficulty.

As it has every year since 2011, the Government has marked International Women’s Day by publishing a progress report in respect of its campaign to end violence against women and girls. The report details the Government’s achievements, including providing funding of £40 million between 2011 and 2015 to provide a bedrock of support to victims of domestic and sexual abuse, introducing new legislation and law enforcement tools including the criminalisation of forced marriage, new stalking laws, the national roll-out of Domestic Homicide Protection Orders and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, and revising the definition of domestic abuse to recognise that it affects young people as well.

Latvia’s parliament has formally complained to the House of Commons that children of Latvian descent are being illegally and forcibly adopted by British families. The intervention in the way social services take children into care comes as Latvia has been granted permission to give evidence during an appeal over the case of a six-year-old girl who has been removed from her mother. The mother wants to have the case transferred to Latvia and to have her daughter returned to her. The case is due to be heard this month. The complaint was contained in a Latvian parliamentary letter sent last month to John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the Commons. It states that there is “insufficient cross-border cooperation in relation to the UK’s national procedure of placing Latvian citizens up for adoption without parental consent” and that the Latvians were aware of “several cases in which UK authorities have acknowledged that obligations [to inform other countries] … stipulated by international treaties and EU legislation have not been fulfilled”.

Children in care are being failed by the Government, according to a Commons Public Accounts Committee report. In particular, the Committee says that the Department for Education shows “alarming reluctance to play an active role” in improving the lot of these children and poor local services are too often left to “fester”. A Department for Education spokesman responded to the report by saying that it “purposefully” ignored “very real progress” made by the Government.

The Law Commission has published a consultation paper on the enforcement of family financial orders in England and Wales. The Commission has been told that enforcement proceedings are “hopelessly complex and procedurally tortuous”.  There are limitations on the existing methods of enforcement in terms of their efficiency and effectiveness and there are few available tools to deal with debtors who choose not to pay. The Commission is seeking views on options for reform that would simplify and clarify the law and make it easier for the courts, practitioners and the public to use. In its consultation paper the Commission explores ways in which existing mechanisms for enforcing compliance can be made more effective and considers new mechanisms that might be used, in particular to bring pressure to bear on those who refuse to meet their obligations under a family financial order.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for February 2015. In that month Cafcass received a total of 954 care applications, a 7% increase compared to those received in February 2014. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,992 new private law cases, which is a 13% decrease on February 2014 levels.

And finally, the Supreme Court has allowed a wife’s appeal against the striking out of her application for financial remedies, which she made 18 years after her divorce was finalised. In Wyatt v Vince the wife’s application had been struck out as it was considered that it had no real prospect of success. However, Lord Wilson said that it was wrong to strike out for that reason and that in any event there was a real prospect that the wife would secure a comparatively modest award.