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Children in need, divorce fees and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News | 30 Oct 2015 0

There may not have been any really big family law news stories this week, but there were certainly some interesting ones nevertheless.

For example, there were two stories regarding children in need. Firstly, the number of children who were the subject of a child protection plan as of 31 of March continues to follow the upward trend of recent years, according to figures published by the Department for Education. At that date 49,700 children were the subject of a child protection plan, compared with 39,100 six years ago when the children in need census began. The numbers starting and ending a child protection plan in the year both continue to increase. All very concerning, but is the increase due to more children being neglected, or simply because, in these post-Baby P days, local authorities are more likely now to take action?

The other story regarding children in need was the announcement by the Prime Minister and Education Secretary Nicky Morgan of a comprehensive review into children’s residential care, “to help put an end to a life of disadvantage for some of the most vulnerable children in care”. The independent review – headed up by Sir Martin Narey, former Head of the Prison and Probation Services in England and Wales and CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s – will look at which children should be in residential care, how it can be improved and how government can achieve the “very best” for every single child in their care. Let us hope that that lofty goal is met.

Moving on, senior judges have warned that plans to increase court fees for divorce could leave couples stuck in loveless relationships. The government plan is to increase the fees to £550 from the current figure of £410, despite the fact that we were told not so long ago by the Ministry of Justice that the true cost of an uncontested divorce petition was only £270. The Judicial Executive Board is quoted as saying that there was “something unappetising about the state making a growing profit on a legal necessity and a source of unhappiness for many people”. I could not have said it better.

Next, two judgments published this week, both of which I have commented upon here.

Firstly, a “well-known” professional football player has won an appeal against the amount of child maintenance he had been required to pay. I suspect that the fact that the father is a footballer has been the real source of interest for most reading this story. However, the real point of the judgment is that, when considering the amount of child maintenance they should award, the courts should use the child support formula as a starting-point, and should only depart from the formula if there are good reasons for doing so. As I mentioned in my post, the judgment of Mr Justice Mostyn is also notable for his comments regarding the difficulties faced by judges when all of the parties before them are self-represented.

Secondly, an appalling case of an attorney appointed to look after his mother’s affairs who, amongst other things, awarded himself the staggering sum of £117,000 from her estate in respect of his expenses. Hearing the case, Senior Judge Lush concluded that: “One would be hard pressed to find a more callous and calculating attorney, who has so flagrantly abused his position of trust.” Indeed. Unsurprisingly, Senior Judge Lush made an order removing the son as his mother’s attorney.

And finally, I could not end without mentioning one of the worst examples of litigation misconduct I have come across in the thirty-odd years I have been involved in the law. I will not spoil the fun by giving details – all I will say is that if you want to know how not to conduct yourself in a financial remedies claim, read this judgment.

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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