Well, the last two weeks, actually.
As one would expect, there has not been a lot of family law news over the Xmas and New Year period, but it hasn’t all been parties and presents.
The agenda may have been limited, but domestic violence has been high on the list, with three different stories.
First came the news of a study by Citizens Advice which suggested that more than half a million victims of domestic abuse are too terrified to come forward and report their experiences. The figure came from a pilot project carried out by Citizens Advice in nine areas across the UK, in which clients were asked a series of routine questions when seeking help with issues such as debt and housing problems. The project found that 27 per cent had experienced domestic abuse at some time since the age of 16, 3 per cent higher than the national average reported for women. If this result is extrapolated across the UK, it is believed that there could be up to 540,000 more victims of domestic abuse than previously thought.
Next came the news that MPs from all parties are backing a tough ‘US-style’ law that would make domestic abuse a specific offence carrying a sentence of up to 14 years in prison. At present there is no specific criminal offence of domestic abuse, with offences such as assault being used instead. It is thought that in many cases the police, courts and prosecutors fail to take into account the previous abusive behaviour of an offender. The new offence would address this by making sentences reflect whether domestic abuse, both physical and psychological, was part of a pattern of behaviour.
Lastly came the depressing but not exactly surprising story of a Christmas ‘spike’ in domestic violence cases, a phenomenon reported to be keeping courts busy on New Year’s Eve. The story related to a court in Manchester, but the goings-on there were no doubt repeated across the country, as they are every year. The spike is thought to be down to: “Tensions over money and unrealistic expectations about having the “perfect” Christmas, combined with excessive alcohol, consumed in an enclosed space”.
Moving on to other topics, on Xmas Eve the Department for Education announced an extra £50 million funding “for councils as they prepare to implement reforms and work with voluntary adoption agencies – and each other – to recruit more adopters for the 6,000 children waiting for a loving home”. Also announced were new interactive maps “to help would-be adopters find out more about agencies in their area and across the country, help them make an informed choice based on performance and help them access the most appropriate recruitment agency for them – wherever it may be.”
And then there was the report by online parenting organisation Netmums, examining the impact of divorce upon children. The headline finding of the report, which involved surveying 1000 parents and 100 children, was that parents were ‘in denial’ of the effect of their divorce upon their children. In particular, 77 per cent of separated couples thought that their children had coped well, but only 18 per cent of children were happy that their parents were no longer together. Is this surprising?