Finances, MIAMs and Cafcass statistics: The last week in family law

The Family Justice Council has published a guide to sorting out finances on divorce. The guide, which is designed to help litigants in person, was produced in response to a recommendation by the Law Commission in 2014 that there should be greater clarity regarding the distribution of assets and the determination of financial needs on divorce and civil partnership dissolution. Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division and Chair of the Family Justice Council, said: “The objective in all cases is to achieve a result which reflects the best possible outcome for each family. In this context, the guide provides a general overview of the law, as well as a detailed explanation of particular issues which are likely to arise, such as maintenance, housing and pensions. It also includes useful examples and FAQs, and describes what a judge is likely to do in similar cases.”
The Legal Aid Agency (‘LAA’) has responded to a Court of Appeal judgment which quashed those parts of the legal aid regulations which require documentary evidence in support of applications for legal aid for domestic violence claims to be no more than 24 months old. The Ministry of Justice is working on amended regulations. The LAA says that pending amended regulations providers are able to make determinations to grant legal aid or to make an application for a legal aid certificate in relation to civil legal services where the required documentary evidence is older than 24 months.
New figures obtained by the charity National Family Mediation (‘NFM’) show that government policy aimed at promoting mediation as the preferred way of settling disputes over parenting, finance and property has failed. Since April 2014 attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’) has been compulsory before a separating couple can apply for a court order in divorce proceedings. However, figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice show that in 2014/15 only one in 20 applications for private law proceedings to a family court followed the new ‘compulsory’ route – fewer than 5,000 MIAMs from over 112,000 private law applications. NFM’s Chief Executive, Jane Robey, said: “By requiring separating couples to attend a mediation awareness meeting, the government’s aim was to introduce a cheaper and less confrontational alternative to court. But with fewer than one in 20 of couples even attending the initial meeting, let alone following that route through to its conclusion, the law has failed.”
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for March 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,221 care applications, which is a 14% increase compared to those received in March 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,287 new private law cases, which is a 4% increase on March 2015 levels.
Cafcass’s statistics have also revealed that applications for care orders hit an all-time high in 2015/16. Between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 12,741 care applications, involving 21,666 children. The figures are the highest ever recorded by Cafcass, and represent a 14% increase on the 11,159 applications for 19,420 children made in 2014/15. The data also suggests that there is little sign of slowdown in the growth in care applications.
And finally, the Supreme Court has allowed an appeal against a decision that care proceedings relating to two children born in England to Hungarian parents should be transferred to Hungary. In the case the London Borough of Hounslow had applied for care and placement orders in relation to the children, with a final care plan for the children to be adopted in England, without the consent of the parents. However the mother, with the support of the father and the Hungarian Central Authority, applied for the transfer of the care proceedings to Hungary. The High Court made an order for the transfer of the proceedings to Hungary, and that order was upheld by the Court of Appeal. The Children’s Guardian appealed to the Supreme Court, which allowed the appeal, setting aside the request for a transfer of the proceedings to Hungary and returning the case to the High Court.