Legal funding, marriage and divorce: The last week (or so) in family law

In an interview with the Financial Times Baroness Deech has said that divorce laws should be tougher on women. She argued that young women are being effectively dissuaded from pursuing careers, as finding a rich man is all they need to do under the current system. If their marriages break down, she said, they are automatically entitled to anything they might need. The Baroness has tabled a private member’s bill which would reform the law on division of property following divorce.

A High Court judge has ordered that Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) should pay for an advocate to cross-examine a child on behalf of the father, where the father was unrepresented and the child had made an allegation that she had been sexually abused by the father. Unlike in previous cases where it has been suggested that HMCTS should bear the cost of representing a party who was not previously represented, here the father was financially ineligible for legal aid. However, the judge considered that he could still not afford to pay for representation himself.

Meanwhile, and along similar lines, the President of the Family Division handed down his second judgment in the case D (A Child), in which parents faced with the possibility of having their child adopted against their wishes could not initially get legal aid to be represented in the proceedings. In the course of the judgment the President said of the parents, who have now been granted legal aid, that they could “be forgiven for thinking that they are trapped in a system which is neither compassionate nor even humane.”

Some details have emerged regarding the centralisation of divorce processing in England and Wales. It would appear that Bury St Edmunds has been identified as the likely venue for the London and South East Centre, although consultation has not been completed. Other centres have been agreed for the Midlands, North East, North West and Wales.

New guidance on the handling cases of domestic abuse is expected to help the Crown Prosecution Service to deal effectively with up to 20,000 more cases this year than two years ago. The updated guidance sets out handling on all aspects of domestic abuse offending including the many ways in which abusers can control, coerce and psychologically abuse their victims and reminds prosecutors that domestic abuse occurs in all communities and to both sexes. In the year 2012/13, there were just over 70,700 prosecutions for domestic abuse and current projections expect that figure to increase to nearly 90,000 by the end of this financial year. As the number of prosecutions grows, conviction rates have been maintained.

A survey by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has found that more than half of the UK believes that childcare should be shared equally between parents. The findings show a marked move away from the old attitude that the bulk of childcare responsibilities should be borne by the mother. Some 53% of those questioned said that childcare should be the equal responsibility of both parents while a further 22% believe that a couple should have the right to choose how they divide caring responsibilities, depending on their circumstances. Just under a quarter of those surveyed believe that childcare should be the mother’s main responsibility, with more than half of men thinking that childcare should be shared equally, compared to 50% of women.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for December 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 918 care applications, representing a 13% increase compared to those received in December 2013. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,735 new private law cases, which is a 4% decrease on December 2013 levels.

And finally, former High Court judge and Chairman of the Marriage Foundation Sir Paul Coleridge has proposed that couples be given extra tax breaks after passing landmark wedding anniversaries, in order to encourage ‘family stability’. He also said that couples who choose to cohabit rather than get married should not have children.