Marriage statistics, child support and children in care: The last week in family law

Family lawyers have defended the profession after Gary Lineker accused them of fuelling acrimony between divorcing couples. In an interview with the Radio Times, Lineker called for a ‘mathematical equation’ to help couples divorce quickly so they could avoid what he called the ‘manipulative’ behaviour of lawyers. Chair of Resolution Nigel Shepherd agreed that there should be changes to help couples divorce amicably, but stressed that it is important that couples get legal advice. He said: “Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for people to finalise everything so quickly, or in such an amicable way, and that’s where the support of professionals is invaluable. Even where there is significant agreement from the outset, or where an agreement has been reached through mediation, couples will benefit from independent legal advice. We agree entirely with Mr Lineker that there should be clearer guidance about financial provision upon divorce, so that people understand the potential outcomes and consequences of any settlement reached.” However, other lawyers have said that the idea of a mathematical equation is ‘idealistic’, and that no equation could produce a fair result in all cases.

The Office for National Statistics has published statistics relating to marriages in England and Wales in 2013. The statistics show that there were 240,854 marriages in 2013, a decrease of 8.6% compared with 2012 and the first decline since 2009. Other points included that those aged 65 and over were more likely to marry in 2013 compared with 2003, with the greatest increase among women, and that the mean age at marriage was 36.7 years for men and 34.3 years for women in 2013, a small increase compared with 2012. Commenting on the decrease in the number of marriages, Elizabeth McLaren of the Vital Statistics Outputs Branch of ONS said: “The fall could indicate the continuation of the long-term decline in marriages since 1972 or could be due to couples choosing to postpone their marriage to avoid the number 13 which is perceived as unlucky by many cultures.”

The number of cases managed by the Child Maintenance Service continues to increase following the introduction of application and collection charging, according to the latest statistics in relation to the 2012 child support maintenance scheme published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The statistics showed that the Service’s caseload stood at 227,000 as at the end of February 2016, an increase of 21% when compared to November 2015. The statistics also showed that in the quarter to February 2016, 87% of Case Groups (i.e. all of the cases associated to a paying parent, for example a parent could have children with different partners, who are both claiming maintenance) were contributing towards their current liability, with 88% of cash due, paid.

Children in care are too often denied mental health treatment despite being four times more likely to experience them, according to a report by the House of Commons Education Committee. The report also said that children fostered in England are sometimes denied treatment simply because they move placement too often. Almost half of children in care have a diagnosable mental health disorder, the MPs heard, compared with about one in 10 children who are not in care. However, the Committee found that provision for children in care with mental health problems is poor in many parts of England, with a significant number of local authorities failing to identify mental health issues when children enter care. In some areas children in care can be turned away because their conditions are not deemed severe enough to qualify for treatment, and some child and adolescent mental health services were unwilling to begin treatment if a child moved into a new foster placement, even if this was within the same local authority. Neil Carmichael, Chair of the Education Committee, said: “Given children in care may have unstable family lives and are frequently moving foster or residential placement, this inflexibility puts vulnerable children in care at serious disadvantage in getting the support they deserve. This must change – we recommend children in care be given priority access to mental health assessments and never refused care based on their placement or severity of their condition.”

And finally, the Crown Prosecution Service has announced a recent conviction for the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. Adrian Lee, 21, was convicted at Liverpool Magistrates’ Court for engaging in controlling/coercive behaviour in an intimate/family relationship. Karen Renshall, reviewing lawyer at the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Controlling or coercive behaviour can have an extreme psychological and emotional impact on victims. Today’s conviction shows that this behaviour will simply not be tolerated. No-one has the right to restrict someone else’s freedom. Adrian Lee controlled every aspect of his victim’s life. He prevented her from seeing her friends and questioned where she had been if she came in late. He stopped the victim from using her mobile phone and controlled her social media, such as making her delete friends on Facebook.” Lee has been sentenced to six months imprisonment and a Restraining Order was imposed for two years.