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What family lawyers were talking about this week…

The last of a series of changes to the child maintenance system was implemented on the 11th of August. Under the new system parents are encouraged to agree child maintenance between themselves, known as a ‘family-based arrangement’. Alternatively, they can use a new online banking-style self-service facility known as ‘Direct Pay’. Under this, the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) will calculate the amount of the maintenance but the parents will have to arrange payments between themselves. If the parents are not able to cooperate then the CMS can be asked to calculate, collect and pay out the maintenance under the ‘Collect and Pay’ system, for which collection charges are payable.

Family lawyers’ group Resolution has warned that the recent charges under the Collect and Pay system will hit vulnerable families the hardest. Stephen Lawson, Resolution family lawyer and member of its Child Maintenance Committee, said: “We’re concerned that these new charges may put many parents off using the Child Maintenance Service altogether. This means that children in vulnerable families may miss out on the maintenance support they need and deserve.” Quite.

A Cambridge University academic has been ordered to return her seven-year-old son to his father in Japan, a family court has ruled. Judge Angela Finnerty said the woman should not have brought the child to England until a family court in Japan had resolved a dispute she was having with her estranged husband. The father had asked Judge Finnerty to order his son’s return to Japan under the terms of the Hague Convention on child abduction. This is one of the first such cases involving Japan, which only adopted the Convention on the first of April this year.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for July 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,013 care applications, representing a 16% increase compared to those received in July 2013 and the highest number ever recorded for a single month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,928 new private law cases, which is a large 36% decrease on July 2013 levels.

That downward trend in private law cases has been declared “deeply worrying” by the chair of the Law Society’s family law committee, Naomi Angell, and the chair of Resolution’s children committee, Simon Bethel. They attributed the fall to parents giving up on the court system as a result of the removal of legal aid for most private family law cases from April 2013. Bethel doubted that the drop was due to cases being diverted to mediation, for which public funding remains available, as figures from the Ministry of Justice show the number of cases referred to mediation have plummeted. Despite the huge rise in parties representing themselves, he said the figures suggest parents are not finding their way through the ‘maze’ of options regarding their children when they separate, and that rather than receiving expert help to try and secure working shared care arrangements for their children, they are giving up. Sounds like a great success for government policy.

Lastly, as I mentioned here in this post,the President of the Family Division has circulated two reports: the Report of the Financial Remedies Working Group, whose task is “to explore ways of improving the accessibility of the system for litigants in person and to identify ways of further improving good practice in financial remedy cases … confined to matters of practice and procedure”, and the Interim Report of the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group which is reviewing the issue of children and vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in family proceedings. Both reports invite consultation, discussion and comment.

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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