Pensions, Cafcass figures and parental alienation: The last week in family law

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that the parents of more than 15,900 children have set up ‘family-based arrangements’ for paying child maintenance after receiving information and support from Child Maintenance Options, which was set up in 2008 to help separated parents work together to agree child maintenance arrangements. Minister for Welfare Delivery Caroline Nokes said: “We know children grow up to have better health, emotional well-being and educational attainment if their parents – whether together or separated – have a positive relationship. All children deserve the best start in life and that’s why, through Child Maintenance Options, we encourage separated couples to work together in the best interests of their children.”

A woman who lived with her late partner but did not marry him is entitled to receive a survivor’s pension under his pension scheme despite the fact that he did not nominate her to receive the pension, the Supreme Court has ruled. The ruling means that cohabitees will be treated the same as married couples, for whom no nomination is required for the survivor to receive a widow/widower’s pension. Responding to the decision, Graeme Fraser, Resolution’s spokesperson on cohabitation said: “[This] Supreme Court decision is highly significant for millions of unmarried couples in the UK in being placed on a fairer footing. It is hoped that this decision will pave the way for further recognition of their family rights and needs not only by the Courts but by Parliament. As the fastest growing family type in the UK, it’s crucial that these 3.3m cohabiting couples, alongside any children they may have, are provided considerably greater legal protection. Otherwise, as things stand, they are left vulnerable on the death of their partner or on relationship breakdown – hopefully [the] verdict paves the way for this to change.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for January 2017, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cafcass, the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,119 care applications, which is a 7% increase compared to those received in January 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,356 new private law cases, which is a full 17% increase on January 2016 levels.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby is to step down next year. A spokesperson for the judiciary confirmed that Sir James will be retiring next year, after The Times reported that he will be stepping down in 18 months. Munby, who turns 70 in July 2018, was appointed President of the Family Division in January 2013.

The Observer has reported that under proposed legislation domestic violence victims will no longer face the threat of being interrogated by their former partners in court. Under the Prison and Courts Reform Bill, which is due to be introduced this month, family court judges will be given new powers to stop alleged abusers from being able to torment their victims in court. Judges already have discretion to conduct a cross-examination themselves if a former partner is not represented by a lawyer. However, the change will allow judges to go further and appoint a legal aid lawyer to prevent alleged abusers from being able to question their former partners.

And finally, separated parents who pit their children against former partners are ‘guilty of abuse’, according to Anthony Douglas, the Chief Executive of Cafcass. Douglas has stated that the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other, often referred to as ‘parental alienation’, has become so common in family breakdowns that it should be dealt with like any other form of neglect or child abuse. He said: “It’s undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse in terms of the impact it can have. I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking.”