MIAMs, care proceedings and child maintenance: The last week in family law

More than a quarter of councils have been judged “inadequate” by Ofsted inspectors, with three-quarters in total rated as less than “good”. Ofsted’s Chief Inspector Sir Michael Wilshaw described the findings, in the latest annual Ofsted social care report, as unacceptable, saying that the child protection system was permeated by “widespread levels of mediocre provision”, with too many children “not receiving the services they deserve.” The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (‘ADCS’) has criticised Wilshaw’s comments as “a partial and excessively negative story that destabilises the very services it seeks to improve”. President of the ADCS Dave Hill said: “That a quarter of the local authorities inspected so far are deemed to be inadequate is concerning, but this highlights the challenging times we are in: funds are reducing, particularly in terms of early help services, demand for help and support is increasing as is public scrutiny.”

A woman who wants to use her dead daughter’s frozen eggs to give birth to her own grandchild has won her case in the Court of Appeal. In the case the daughter died in 2011. Before she died she had undergone treatment to collect three eggs, which were then frozen. After her death her parents sought to give effect to their daughter’s wishes and to try to conceive a child, with donor sperm. The child would be carried by the woman and raised by both parents as their grandchild. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority refused to allow the export of the eggs to a fertility clinic in the USA.  The parents sought a judicial review of that decision, but this was refused. The parents therefore appealed to the Court of Appeal, which has now allowed the appeal.

The latest legal aid statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of Mediation, Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) are down 14% compared to the same period in 2015. The statistics show that there were 3,384 MIAMs in the period of January to March 2016, about half the number there were prior to the abolition of legal aid for most family matters in 2013. In response to the legal aid statistics, Nigel Shepherd, Chair of Resolution said: “The legal aid statistics out today tell a very clear story: the government’s strategy is not working. The number of mediation assessments is down 14% compared to the same period in 2015, showing that fewer people are getting help to resolve matters out of court, contrary to the government’s stated objectives.”

The Ministry of Justice has published statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales in the first quarter of 2016. The statistics show that during that period 60% of care or supervision proceedings were disposed of within 26 weeks (following on from the 26 week time limit for completing these cases introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014) and that the average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application was 28 weeks. Other findings included that the average time for the disposal of divorce cases with financial remedy has been steadily increasing from the start of 2015 to 24.8 weeks in January to March 2016, following a long period of stability at around 20 weeks.

The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a consultation on plans to make deduction orders to recover child maintenance arrears from joint bank accounts held by a non-resident parent (‘NRP’). At present arrears can only be recovered from bank accounts held solely in the name of the NRP. The idea is that the orders will only be made against the share of the funds in the account owned by the NRP. Other account holders will have the opportunity to make representations in relation to the orders, including providing evidence about the amount contributed to the account by the various account holders. It is intended that the new provision will come into force in June next year.

And finally, research by the Legal Services Board (‘LSB’) has revealed that 10 to 13% of the market share for divorce services was supplied by unregulated providers, essentially online divorce providers and fee-charging McKenzie friends. Commenting upon the research, Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon said: “Many legal services can be provided by regulated and unregulated providers. If legal services are purchased from a solicitor, buyers can rest assured that the service is fully regulated, that insurance is in place, and that in the event that something goes wrong they have the right to redress. Unfortunately, however, it is not always clear to consumers whether they are buying from a regulated provider. As the LSB research shows, there are a number of unregulated providers supplying the same legal services as solicitors and many buyers simply will not know that they won’t get the same level of protection from an unregulated provider if something goes wrong.”