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A week in family law: divorce centres, Cafcass figures and more

The family law news generator has swung back into action after the Easter break. Top stories include:

That the Law Commission has been asked by the government to conduct a review of the law governing how and where people can marry in England and Wales. The question underlying the review would be whether the current law provides a fair and coherent legal framework for enabling people to marry, including whether the law allows people to marry in a way which meets their needs and wishes, while recognising the interests of society and the state in protecting the status of marriage. Initial work will identify and provide an analysis of the issues that need to be addressed in order to develop proposals for the reform of marriage law, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.

That the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that there will be a phased implementation of operations at Bury St Edmunds divorce centre, which will serve London and the South East. It is believed that petitions will be accepted from specified areas from 15 June 2015, and that the centre will be fully up and running by October 2015. Meanwhile, HM Courts and Tribunal Service has produced a question and answer document to address the common concerns and queries that have been raised in relation to the implementation of dedicated divorce centres.

That the Labour Party has announced that if they win the general election they will bring forward a review into the controversial Child Maintenance Service. The process was originally scheduled to begin in 2016 but Labour would start the review immediately. The announcement was welcomed by single parent charity Gingerbread, which says it is very concerned that the current closure of existing CSA cases, and charges for parents who need to use its replacement, will mean even fewer families with effective child maintenance arrangements. I agree, and hope that there will be an early review, no matter what party or parties are in power after 7 May.

That Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for March 2015. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,066 care applications, a 16 per cent increase compared to those received in March 2014 and apparently the highest number of applications received by Cafcass in any individual month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,249 new private law cases, which is a ten per cent decrease on March 2014 levels, continuing the downward trend that began after legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters in 2013.

Lastly, that another judge has bemoaned the lack of legal aid, this time for a father opposing an application by a local authority for permission to withdraw an application to discharge a care order. In Re JC (Discharge of Care Order : Legal Aid), Her Honour Judge Hammerton said that the absence of legal funding for the father had placed him at a disadvantage and that his inability to obtain representation was “particularly inappropriate and unfair”. He was represented at the final hearing by a barrister acting pro bono, although that has led some lawyers to suggest that lawyers should not act pro bono, as that effectively supports the government’s policy of cutting back legal aid.

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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