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John Bolch on what family lawyers were talking about this week…

The first same-sex weddings took place in England and Wales last Saturday, the 29th of March. The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act was passed in July last year but it was not until the 13th of March that couples were able to register their intention to marry under the Act for the first time. Politicians from the main parties have hailed the change in the law. Prime Minister David Cameron said the move sent a “powerful message” about equality in Britain. He said the reform was necessary because “when people’s love is divided by law, it is that law that needs to change”.

An NSPCC report has said that children’s social services are so stretched that they are struggling to do more than merely respond to emergencies. The report, entitled How Safe Are Our Children 2014, suggests that because of rising demand many local authorities are raising the threshold at which they intervene to protect children. The charity estimates that just one in nine of children and young people who are at risk are receiving support. The Department for Education has responded to the report by saying that it was improving child protection by cutting red tape.

Parents who fail to show love and affection towards their children could be sent to prison for up to 10 years under a “Cinderella Law” to be announced in the Queen’s Speech in June, according to a report. The move will make “emotional cruelty” a criminal offence for the first time. This follows a campaign led by the charity Action for Children, which says the UK lags behind other countries. Its chief executive Sir Tony Hawkhead says that such a change would be a “monumental step forward for thousands of children”.

The Children and Family Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) became a part of the Ministry of Justice on the 1st of April. The transfer follows the Family Justice Review’s recommendation in 2011 that Cafcass join the Ministry of Justice to ‘bring court social work functions closer to the court process’.

The £75 court fee payable on applications for domestic violence injunctions is to be scrapped from the 22nd of April. The Ministry of Justice has said that this “will help thousands of women seeking non-molestation and occupation orders”.

In more good news for victims of domestic violence, new regulations which come into force on the 22nd of April will widen the evidence criteria for those seeking legal aid. Legal aid is still available for victims of domestic violence, so long as they can provide the required evidence. New evidence that can be used to access legal aid includes evidence of police bail for a domestic violence offence, a Domestic Violence Protection Order, evidence of referral to domestic violence support services from a health professional and evidence of not being able to access refuge accommodation.

Lastly, I suppose the biggest talking point this week has been the continued preparations for the opening of the new single family court on the 22nd of April. We’ve had a flood of new statutory instruments, relating to such things as implementing provisions of the new Children and Families Act in time for the new court, setting out the composition of the court and even bringing in new court fees on the 22nd of April. It’s an awful lot to get through, and makes me thankful that I am no longer practising!

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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