Troubled families, co-parenting, stalking and a divorce error: The last week in family law

An evaluation of the Government’s Troubled Families
Programme has shown that it has reduced the number of children in care.
Troubled Families is a programme of targeted intervention for families with
multiple problems, including crime, anti-social behaviour, truancy,
unemployment, mental health problems and domestic abuse. Local authorities
identify ‘troubled families’ in their area and usually assign a key worker to act
as a single point of contact. Central Government pays local authorities by
results for each family that meet set criteria or move into continuous
employment. The first phase of the programme ran from 2012 to 2015, during
which time local authorities worked with around 120,000 families, and ‘turned
around’ 99%. However the independent evaluation of that programme found no
evidence that the programme had made any significant impact across its key
objectives. The second phase of the programme was launched in 2015 and runs
until 2020, with £920 million allocated to help an additional 400,000 families.
Analysis of the 2015-2020 programme suggests that the programme is cutting
numbers of children in care by up to a third.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service
(‘Cafcass’) has said that effective co-parenting could be the answer to keeping
children out of the courts. At a conference held by Cafcass and the Association
of Family and Conciliation Courts, Cafcass suggested that agencies from across
the sector need to place a greater emphasis on co-parenting and find ways to
effectively support parents so that they can prioritise the interests of their
child, despite the stress they may be suffering during and after separation. In
addition, Cafcass has suggested that a public health approach to the problem of
‘toxic parenting’ would help to prevent cases from reaching crisis point, with
health and social care professionals working together in a more integrated way,
to refer families to tailored evidence-based support in order to resolve
difficulties at an earlier stage. Cafcass Chief Executive, Anthony Douglas
said: “Toxic parenting is as much a social problem as domestic abuse and knife
crime.

Today’s conference will allow us to confront and examine
this issue and discuss some of the best ways to support effective co-parenting,
so that children have the best upbringing possible as well as being kept out of
the court system.”

The Stalking Protection Act 2019, which makes provision for
protecting persons from risks associated with stalking, has come into force.
The Act creates a new ‘stalking protection order’ (‘SPO’), which is available
on application from the police to a magistrates’ court. An SPO enables the
imposition of both prohibitions and requirements on the perpetrator. Any breach
of the terms of the SPO would result in a criminal offence. The order is
designed for use particularly in cases where existing interventions are not always
applicable, namely when the stalking occurs outside of a domestic abuse
context, or where the perpetrator is not a current or former intimate partner
of the victim (so called ‘stranger stalking’); or the criminal threshold has
not, or has not yet, been met (such as while a criminal case is being built),
or the victim does not support a prosecution.

And finally, former President of the Family Division Sir
James Munby has berated the government over legal aid restrictions which left a
divorced couple labelled as bigamists through no fault of their own having to
rely upon free help from lawyers. In the case the husband had issued divorce
proceedings on the basis that he and the wife had been separated for two years,
and the wife consented to the divorce. However, the parties had not been
married for two years when the divorce was issued, and therefore they had not
been separated for two years. The error was not spotted by the court, and the
divorce went through. Both the husband and the wife subsequently remarried. The
error then came to light, and the Queen’s Proctor applied to the court to have
the divorce set aside as null and void, which would have meant that the parties
were still married to one another, and had therefore committed bigamy. However,
Sir James Munby ruled that the marriage was not void, adding: “What I was faced
with here was the profoundly disturbing fact that [the wife] does not qualify
for legal aid but manifestly lacks the financial resources to pay for legal
representation in circumstances where, to speak plainly, it was unthinkable
that she should have to face the Queen’s Proctor’s application without proper
representation. The state has simply washed its hands of the problem, leaving
the solution to the problem which the state itself has created to the goodwill,
the charity, of the legal profession.”