A week in family law: child maintenance and more

Family Law|Industry News|January 30th 2015

The number of absent parents who are now paying towards the cost of their children through the Child Support Agency (CSA) has hit an all-time high, according to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They say that nearly nine out of ten of non-resident parents within the CSA system are now contributing towards child maintenance to support their children, with help from the CSA, and that in the past twelve months, the CSA has helped collect and arrange more than £1.2 billion of payments, thanks to tougher enforcement action against parents who previously refused to pay, as well as vastly improved processes. So much for the good news…

…now for the bad news: The BBC has pointed out that accounts prepared for Parliament by the DWP class £2.9 billion of the £3.9 billion maintenance arrears owed by absent parents as “uncollectable“. Ministers have said that the focus was on debts for children still being brought up, but that old debts would not be “forgotten”. We shall see…

Moving on, more than a third of children in care in England who have siblings are having to live apart from any of them, according to research by the Family Rights Group (FRG) charity. The FRG found that almost half of sibling groups in local authority care had been split up, and said that separating siblings could have “lifelong consequences”. Children who live in residential homes or with unrelated foster carers fared worst in terms of being placed with brothers and sisters, with almost three quarters of them being separated from their siblings. By contrast, only eight per cent of children fostered by relatives were split from their siblings, and only five per cent of children put up for adoption.

The Press Association has obtained figures which show that since the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’, came into force in England and Wales last March there have been at least 3,760 applications so far, resulting in 1,335 disclosures. The true totals are likely to be higher, as three police forces did not release their statistics. The figures include both “right to ask” cases – where information was requested – and “right to know” – where police warn potential victims without being asked to do so. I wish the scheme well, although I do still have some reservations about it.

The final report of the Financial Remedies Working Group has been published. The group was established last June by the President of the Family Division, 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. The report sets out the group’s recommendations for the reform of procedure in financial remedy proceedings, for helping litigants in person, for the use of standard from court orders and in relation to arbitration. There are some good ideas there, but I do wish that reform was not piecemeal.

Data released by the Office for National Statistics shows that cohabiting couple families are now the fastest growing family type in the UK. According to the data cohabiting couple families grew by 29.7 per cent between 2004 and 2014. This information has prompted renewed calls for reform of the law to give property rights for cohabitants after their relationships break down, although I wouldn’t hold your breath.

And finally, a house husband who was supported by his millionaire wife for years has been granted permission to appeal against a financial settlement that he claims is forcing him to quit their one million pound home and get a full-time job. Under the settlement Rupert Nightingale received £300,000 and maintenance of £50,000 a year. He was unhappy that his payout would be partially funded by the sale of the former matrimonial home in Wimbledon where he still lives and that his maintenance was discounted by £36,000 a year, the sum the judge considered he could earn. A case of gender bias?

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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