Trends, reform, families and adoption: The last week in family law

The downward trend in private law cases reported by Cafcass last week has been declared “deeply worrying” by the chair of the Law Society’s family law committee, Naomi Angell, and the chair of Resolution’s children committee, Simon Bethel. They attributed the fall to parents giving up on the court system as a result of the removal of legal aid for most private family law cases from April 2013. Bethel doubted that the drop was due to cases being diverted to mediation, for which public funding remains available, as figures from the Ministry of Justice show the number of cases referred to mediation have plummeted. Despite the huge rise in parties representing themselves, he said the figures suggest parents are not finding their way through the ‘maze’ of options regarding their children when they separate, and that rather than receiving expert help to try and secure working shared care arrangements for their children, they are giving up.
Family lawyers’ group Resolution has also warned that the recent charges to the Child Maintenance Service Collect and Pay system, introduced on the 11th August, will hit vulnerable families the hardest. Stephen Lawson, Resolution family lawyer and member of its Child Maintenance Committee, said: “We’re concerned that these new charges may put many parents off using the Child Maintenance Service altogether. This means that children in vulnerable families may miss out on the maintenance support they need and deserve.”
The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has published his 13th View from the President’s Chambers. Entitled ‘The process of reform: an update’, the View sets out the latest developments regarding such things as transparency, experts, divorce and the standardisation of family court orders. The President also took the opportunity to draw attention to and praise the work of the Family Justice Young People’s Board, a group of around 40 children and young people who have been through the family justice system or who have an interest in children’s rights and the family courts.
David Cameron has announced that all government policies will have to pass a “family test”. In a speech to the Relationships Alliance group in London, he argued that parents and children were too often overlooked and could be left worse off by reforms. Accordingly, from October, every new domestic policy “will be examined for its impact on the family”. The prime minister also said that online music videos could be given age ratings, and more money would be put towards relationship counselling services.
The number of children placed for adoption has risen by 14 per cent over the last year, according to latest government figures. Provisional figures for 2013/14 show that 5,210 children were placed with adoptive parents, compared with 4,560 during 2012/13. The figures also show there was an 11 per cent drop in the number of children identified as needing to be adopted but who had not yet been placed with an adoptive family. The figures come as the government continues its policy aimed at making the adoption system simpler and more effective.
Home Secretary Theresa May has launched a consultation asking whether the law needs to be strengthened in order to provide better protection to domestic abuse victims by spelling out that domestic abuse can be emotional and psychological as well as physical. Mrs May said: “The government is clear that abuse is not just physical. Victims who are subjected to a living hell by their partners must have the confidence to come forward. I want perpetrators to be in no doubt that their cruel and controlling behaviour is criminal. We will look at the results of this consultation carefully in order to continue providing the best possible protection and support for victims of domestic abuse.”
And finally, it has been reported that disputes about burial plans and legacies are driving older couples to the divorce courts. As this story in The Telegraph says, it brings a whole new meaning to the idea of staying together ‘til death us do part…