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What family lawyers were talking about this week…

After the feast last week, this week we have the famine. Still, with both a Bank Holiday and summer vacations I suppose that is only to be expected…

Family lawyers have claimed that the government’s scheme to fund a free mediation session for separating couples will do little to increase the number of people resolving disputes out of court. As mentioned in this post, last week Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced that a single free mediation session will be funded by the government for both parties if one of them is already legally aided.

However, Jo Edwards, chair of family lawyers’ group Resolution, says that while she welcomes the announcement, it will make little difference to take-up. The scheme is limited to cases in which at least one party is eligible for legal aid, and in any event it would only help where the case was suitable for mediation. She said: “We hope this measure will help some people separate in a way that minimises conflict. However, we do not expect this to have a significant impact on the number of couples resolving their disputes out of court. We call on Government to allocate funding to allow separating couples to understand their legal situation, explore the options available to them and support other dispute resolution processes in addition to mediation which may be more suitable for a wider number of people.”

Perhaps the biggest story of the week was the publication of the Rotherham child abuse report, as discussed here by Mark Christie, the head of Stowe Family Law’s dedicated Children’s Department. The report found that at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham by gangs of men predominantly of Pakistani origin between 1997 and 2013. Mark says that:this scandal is a shameful indictment of not only the perpetrators of the abuse but also of the authorities who are charged with protecting vulnerable children.” I couldn’t agree more.

The Ministry of Justice has released statistics concerning exceptional case funding in legal aid, for the period 1st of April 2014 to 30th of June 2014. During that time there were 125 applications in the family category. Of those just 4 were granted, 79 were refused, 16 were rejected, 2 were withdrawn and 24 were awaiting decision. Depressing, but no surprises there.

A Devon couple have presented the Minister for Equalities with a 40,000-signature petition requesting a change to the regulations governing the conversion of civil partnerships into same-sex marriages. Couples will be able to convert their civil partnership into marriage from the 10th of December. However, the draft regulations do not allow for a formal ceremony. Instead, they provide that a declaration should be signed by the couple in the presence of a superintendent registrar, and this can only take place during normal business hours Monday to Friday. The couple, Jakki and Sheila Livesey-van Dorst, reported that the Minister, Nick Boles, had “listened well” to their views. Mr Boles did assure them that the proposed certificate will be a marriage certificate and not a “certificate of conversion”.

Lastly, the number of cases handled by the Child Support Agency (CSA) under its previous old operational schemes is continuing to fall. According to a quarterly summary released by the Agency, in the quarter to June 2014 the older live caseload decreased by one per cent.

The ‘1993’ and’2003’ operational schemes were replaced on the 25th November last year by the ‘2012’ scheme. The 1993 and 2003 scheme caseloads will therefore steadily reduce as no new intake is received and cases close.

The percentage of CSA cases in which the non-resident parent is paying at least some of the child support due is has improved gradually over recent years and currently stands at 86.2 per cent, the Agency reports.The percentage of cases, meanwhile, in which the resident parent is paying “a full liability” (defined as 90 per cent or more of the child support due) now stands at 64.5 per cent.

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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