It may have been a short week due to the bank holiday, but it hasn’t been short of family law news…
A report exploring barriers to child maintenance arrangements for long-term separated parents and related support interventions has been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. Amongst other things, the report concluded that “parents were motivated to avoid disruption and change in their maintenance arrangement, and fear of disruption tended to have an impact on responses to case closure. Such fears tended to encourage parents to focus on obtaining a secure arrangement which was clearly understood by both parties. Parents also valued collaboration and the concept of an arrangement that would benefit their child in various ways, as well as financially. This could include collaboration in various aspects of parenting.” Whatever all of that means…
Meanwhile, not to be left out the Department for Education has published research which explores local authority practice and decision-making with regard to special guardianship orders (SGOs) in order “to gain a deeper understanding of changes in local authority professionals’ perspectives of how SGOs are being used since the [family justice] reforms, compared to previously”. (I’m not entirely certain why researchers can’t use plain English, but there we are.) For those who don’t know, an SGO is an order appointing one or more individuals to be a child’s ‘special guardian’. It is intended for children who cannot live with their birth parents and who would benefit from a legally secure placement, often with other family members. Findings of the research included that there is a perception that there has been an increase in the number of SGOs being made (see also this post), that family members often come forward as potential special guardians during proceedings, after the court has decided that the child cannot remain with its parents, and that family dynamics are often complex and can be challenging for special guardians. Nothing particularly unexpected there.
Latest statistics from the Adoption Leadership Board, covering January to March 2015, show that 2,810 children were waiting to be placed at 31 March 2015, a 40 per cent decrease from 31 March 2014, when there were 4,680 children waiting with a placement order not yet placed with an adoptive family. In addition, the time spent by children in care waiting for adoption has fallen sharply. In 2013-14, the average number of days between entering care and placement was 594 days, an improvement from 656 days in 2012-13. Latest quarterly data suggest there has been a further improvement to 533 days during 2014-15. Not such good news is the fact that it is taking longer for adopters to be approved by local authorities. In the second quarter of 2013-14 50 per cent of approvals made by local authorities were made within 6 months of registration, while in the fourth quarter of 2014-15 this had decreased to 28 per cent of registrations.
Another judgment has been published in a case in which a local authority suspected that a child intended to travel to Syria to join ISIS, and possibly enter into a forced marriage. In Re Z Mr Justice Hayden had “no hesitation” in granting the local authority’s ex parte application to make the girl a ward of court and to make a passport seizure order. It is interesting to see the family justice system being used as a tool to combat extremism – something that I’m sure was never envisaged until only a few years ago. I’m not entirely certain that this is the appropriate way to deal with the problem, but unless another solution is found we will no doubt be seeing a lot more such cases in the months and years ahead.
Lastly, in a case that highlights the contrast between the haves and have-nots in the family justice system, a High Court judge has ordered a husband involved in long-running financial remedy proceedings to pay his wife’s costs of the proceedings, amounting to around £334,000. In Joy v Joy-Morancho & Others, Sir Peter Singer said the husband’s conduct in trying to explain his financial circumstances amounted to ‘blatant dishonesty’ and that he had deliberately set about obscuring the true situation as to his past, present and future. Sir Peter made clear that his costs judgment should act as a deterrent to others considering deceiving the court. Let us hope that it does.
Have a good weekend.