As mentioned here, the week began with a disagreement between Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and domestic violence charity Women’s Aid over whether or not domestic violence is a “life choice”. Now, I’m not going to get into an argument over what Mr Gove said or what he meant, but I must agree with Women’s Aid. A person may make a choice to stay with an abusive partner, but that is not the same as choosing to be a victim of domestic violence. They make the choice because they hope things will get better (they rarely do), or because they don’t think there is anywhere they can go to escape, or simply because they fear they will be economically worse off if they were to move. All family lawyers will be familiar with the look of despair on the face of a victim of serial domestic violence – they are desperate to find a way out of the trap in which they find themselves.
The crisis in child protection services seems to be deepening, with a survey of 600 child protection professionals by Community Care suggesting that the threshold needed to get help for a child suffering from neglect has increased over the past year due to council budget cuts and rising numbers of referrals. The findings are disputed by the Department for Education, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that with a system having fewer resources to deal with more work, something has to give. As we saw last week, the government is quick to criticise when things go wrong, but simply passing the blame does not address the real issues.
A study by the National Centre for Social Research has shown that one in eight divorced or separated fathers have lost all contact with their children. Save for mentioning economic factors, the study doesn’t really investigate the reasons for the loss of contact, although no doubt in many cases those reasons would be disputed by the parents. However, whatever the reasons, virtually every such case is a tragedy for the child or children concerned. This is why the courts have regularly made clear that contact between a child and the non residential is highly desirable and shouldn’t be denied unless the child’s welfare demands it – see, for example, the recent case of M (Children).
The latest quarterly statistics from the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) have been pounced upon by single parent charity Gingerbread. Gingerbread says that the statistics show just how many children – who currently depend on the CSA to collect child maintenance – could lose out when collection charges are introduced. They claim that “potentially hundreds of thousands of children will be losing over £70 on average per year under the new scheme”. Such is progress.
The judgment in the case Re C (A Child), handed down yesterday, is likely to cause a stir. It describes a “catalogue of errors” in a dispute between the parents, where the father was denied direct contact with his son after the court assumed an allegation made against him was true without properly investigating it. The whole travesty was not helped by the fact that, for the most part, neither parent was legally represented. In his judgment Lord Justice Ryder set out guidelines (which have been approved by the President of the Family Division) that will hopefully go some way to preventing a repetition.
And finally, the judgment in the Young divorce was handed down today. There may be disappointment in some quarters that we will no longer be treated to regular lurid news stories about the case. I wouldn’t despair, however – I’m sure that the case will still has a long way to run, whether to the appeal courts or in proceedings to enforce the order imposed!
Have a good weekend!
Image by Chris Potter via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
John Bolch is a family law commentator