Legal aid, child support and 26 weeks: The last week in family law

The Ministry of Justice has released statistics concerning exceptional case funding in legal aid, for the period 1st of April 2014 to 30th of June 2014. During that time there were 125 applications in the family category. Of those just 4 were granted, 79 were refused, 16 were rejected, 2 were withdrawn and 24 were awaiting decision.

A Devon couple have presented the Minister for Equalities with a 40,000-signature petition requesting a change to the regulations governing the conversion of civil partnerships into same-sex marriages. Couples will be able to convert their civil partnership into marriage from the 10th of December. However, the draft regulations do not allow for a formal ceremony. Instead, they provide that a declaration should be signed by the couple in the presence of a superintendent registrar, and this can only take place during normal business hours Monday to Friday. The couple, Jakki and Sheila Livesey-van Dorst, reported that the Minister, Nick Boles, had “listened well” to their views. Mr Boles did assure them that the proposed certificate will be a marriage certificate and not a “certificate of conversion”.

The Child Support Agency has seen a steady rise in the rate at which the 1993/2003 Scheme live caseload is decreasing. According to the quarterly summary released by the Agency, in the quarter to June 2014 the live caseload decreased by 1%. From the 25th of November last all new applications for child maintenance are made under the 2012 scheme. The 1993 and 2003 scheme caseloads will therefore steadily reduce as no new intake is received and cases close. Despite the decrease in caseloads, the percentage of cases contributing towards their current liability has improved gradually over recent years and currently stands at 86.2%. The percentage of cases paying a full liability (defined as 90% or more) is 64.5%.

Statistics released by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) show that more than two-thirds of court areas in England have failed to meet a target for care proceedings to be completed within 26 weeks. The figures also showed that the average time care applications that were completed between April and June this year stood at 31 weeks. The 26-week limit was brought in by the Children & Families Act and applies to cases initiated from the 22nd of April.

A couple have been given permission to keep a two-year-old girl they brought into England from Nigeria after a High Court judge concluded they had been deceived into thinking that they were her parents. Mrs Justice Hogg said that the woman had thought she had become pregnant and given birth after undergoing “herbal treatment” at a “treatment centre” in Lagos which cost around £4,500. However, DNA tests in England revealed that the child’s DNA did not match either parent. Social workers had suspected that the couple had wrongfully attempted to pass the child off as their daughter and had “concocted a story”, but Mrs Justice Hogg concluded that the girl must have been removed from her mother when newly born and handed to the couple without them realising. In the light of that ruling, social workers agreed to the couple becoming the child’s guardians, and Mrs Justice Hogg gave her approval to this arrangement.

And finally, a former family judge has claimed that children are being damaged by the rising number of estranged couples representing themselves in family court, following the legal aid cuts last year. Crispin Masterman told BBC Wales that the emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing of children involved in such cases risked being damaged by the court process. He said that taking lawyers “out of the equation” in most cases had meant more contested court hearings and longer delays in resolving cases. He said: “The damage that’s done is both emotional and probably, in some cases, psychological as well, and the difficulty is that parents don’t see this, they’re so tied up in their own issues that they forget that the child’s welfare is the paramount issue.”