Mediation, reform and statistics: The last week in family law

With the Bank Holiday and the summer vacation, it has been a quiet week for family law news. Here is a summary of what’s been going on.

Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced that the Government will fund one single mediation session for all separated couples, provided that one of them is in receipt of legal aid. Other recommendations the Government are taking forward include setting up an advisory group of experts to improve practice and make sure mediation is focussed on the best outcomes for any children involved, reviewing future Legal Aid Agency contracts with mediation providers to improve service, exploring options for reforming the management of the mediation sector and expanding the ongoing campaign to increase awareness of mediation and legal help for mediation, and the availability of legal aid for it.

The Ministry of Justice and Department for Education have published an update setting out the progress made since the Family Justice Review was published in 2011. Entitled A brighter future for Family Justice: a round up of what’s happened since the Family Justice Review, the update includes an annex setting out the progress that has been made against all 134 of the Family Justice Review recommendations.

The number of children in council care in England has risen by 12% in the last four years, with overall costs calculated at £3.4bn. The latest figures show that there were 68,110 children in care on 31 March 2013, including 42,228 who had suffered abuse or neglect. According to the Audit Commission This figure has risen by 12% or 7,210 in four years.

The Office for National Statistics has published the first statistics for same-sex marriage. A total of 1,409 marriages were formed between same sex couples between the 29th of March, when the first same-sex marriages took place, and the 30th of June. Of these, 56% of marriages were to female couples (796 marriages) while 44% were to male couples (613 marriages). The early uptake of marriages of same sex couples is lower than the uptake of civil partnerships. A possible reason for this is that before the introduction of civil partnerships there was no other option for same sex couples to formalise their relationships.

A leading family lawyer has warned that fear of soaring legal bills has turned divorce into a game of poker, in which too many wives are forced to “fold” and accept unfair settlements in order to keep their costs down. The problem has been exacerbated by the abolition of legal aid last year. A further factor could be that the average age at which people get divorced has increased, and parties therefore have more to lose in the settlement.

And finally, it has been suggested that parents are targeting summer holidays to force through changes in arrangements for children, by exploiting fears over school places. Disputes relating to schooling, payment of school fees or involving a change of address are deliberately issued in school holidays by parents who believe that the need to sort things out quickly will lead to the other parent making concessions that they might not otherwise agree to.