Unrepresented litigants, divorce figures and vulnerable children: The last week in family law

Sir Andrew McFarlane, the
President of the Family Division, has called upon lawyers to help fund a
support scheme for unrepresented litigants. The call came just days after the
Support Through Court charity, which provides free support and guidance to unrepresented
litigants, confirmed that it was closing four of its offices in court buildings
around the country. Sir Andrew told a conference run by the charity that it
seemed reasonable to invite each of the main private client family law firms
and barristers’ chambers to consider making a modest annual contribution, to
ensure that Support Through Court services are available to every unrepresented
litigant in every court centre.

The Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published its
latest statistical release giving figures for divorces in England and Wales,
for the year 2018. The release sets out annual divorce numbers and rates, by
duration of marriage, sex, age, previous marital status, to whom granted, and
the reason given for the marriage breakdown. Amongst the main points were the
following: that there were 90,871 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2018, a
decrease of 10.6% compared with 2017 and the lowest number since 1971; that
recent Ministry of Justice statistics highlight an administrative reason behind
the scale of this decrease: divorce centres processed a backlog of work in 2018
resulting in 8% more divorce petitions – the ONS expects this to translate into
a higher number of completed divorces in 2019; that the divorce rate among
opposite-sex couples fell to 7.5 divorces per 1,000 married men and women from
8.4 in 2017, the lowest rate since 1971 – this will also have been affected by
the backlog of work in divorce centres in 2018; that the average duration of
marriage among opposite-sex couples who divorced in 2018 was 12.5 years; and
that unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for opposite-sex couples
divorcing in 2018, with 51.9% of wives and 36.8% of husbands petitioning on
this ground – it was also the most common reason for same-sex couples
divorcing.

And finally, ahead of the general election over 140
children’s organisations are calling on political leaders to set out their
solutions to the social problems that can leave millions of children ‘scarred
for life’, including child poverty, mental health, domestic abuse and serious
youth violence. In an open letter to all political parties, organisations
including the National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action For
Children and The Children’s Society, say children are being ‘crowded out’ of
the discussion of the nation’s future, leaving their needs overlooked and their
voices unheard. As party leaders set out their visions for the future, the
letter urges them to put children at the heart of this election, and take
action to prioritise them in the next Parliament. There are nearly 14 million
children living in the UK, of whom over four million live in poverty. A child
is taken into care every 15 minutes and one in eight 5 to 19-year-olds have at
least one mental health condition. The charities say the services vulnerable
children such as these rely on are facing a ‘funding crisis’ as the number
needing help continues to rise. The Children’s Commissioner for England
estimates it will require £10bn of investment to turn this situation around and
support our children to thrive. The organisations insist children should be put
at the front of the queue for increased funding. The letter calls on political
parties to focus on preventing crises in the first place by providing early
support for children and families, to prevent their problems spiralling out of
control and requiring more expensive services later.