Statistics and updates : The last week in family law

Cafcass has published its latest statistics for both care and private law applications, for January 2014. During the course of the month Cafcass received a total of 883 care applications and 3,343 new private law cases. These figures represent a 9% decrease in care applications and a 13% decrease in private law cases, compared to the figures for January 2013.

More than 1.1 million or 7% of women and 720,000 or 4% of men have been victims of some kind of domestic abuse in the past year, according to official crime figures released by the Crime Survey for England and Wales. The figures also reveal that nearly 5 million women or 30% of the adult female population have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of sixteen.

The President of the Family Division has published his latest update upon the process of reform of the family justice system, View from the President’s Chambers (number 10). In this edition he informs us that: “In large measure the new Family Court is already up and running for most practical purposes”. He also provides updates upon other aspects of reform, including the proposed ‘Child Arrangements Programme’ (which will set out how private law children disputes will be dealt with), new rules regarding mediation and a project to standardise family court orders.

A study, published to coincide with Valentine’s Day, has indicated that as many as one in seven people who are divorced or separated admit they stayed with their partner for too long due to financial worries. Meanwhile, more than half of women in relationships say they would be concerned about their finances should they split from their partner. Further, a third of women have no retirement savings at all and a quarter will be reliant on their partner’s retirement pot.

A Freedom of Information request from the Ministry of Justice has revealed a continued decline in publicly funded family mediation, following changes to legal aid in April 2013. There were 665 mediation starts in November 2013 compared with 1173 in November 2012, a fall of 43%. During November there were just six claims for payment for ‘help with mediation’ (legal advice in parallel with mediation) lodged by family lawyers with the Legal Aid Agency and the number of people attending Mediation Information & Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) fell by 58% year-on-year.

The case RS v SS has hit the headlines. It concerned a father’s application for a transfer of residence of his two sons from their mother to him, a residence order having been made in favour of the mother in 2004. Granting the application, the judge found that the mother had “significantly failed” the children through what the judge called “a very permissive style of parenting”. The boys’ behaviour towards adults showed a lack of discipline and structure. The mother had consistently failed to meet the children’s educational needs and was more like a friend to them than a parent. On the other hand, the judge found that the father had “demonstrated far better insight into the needs of his teenage and pre-teenage boys, for example around issues of guidance and boundaries, than the mother.”

And finally, another case to make headlines was J and K (Children: Private Law). The case concerned a dispute between parents over the arrangements for their twin boys, now aged twelve. The dispute had gone on for more than ten years, and concerned various issues, including parental responsibility, contact and even the boys’ last names. Between June 2003 and November 2013 there had been no fewer than twenty-four hearings. What made the headlines, though, was the way in which the dispute was settled, including Mrs Justice Pauffley suggesting that, when the boys were dropped off and picked up, the parents should sit down around the kitchen table and have a cup of tea together.