This week we had one major family law news story, and an avalanche of family law related research and statistics…
The major story was Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement of measures intended to increase the number of children who are adopted, and to speed up the adoption process. The measures aim to break down bureaucratic barriers and challenge councils to double the number of children placed with their new adoptive families at the earliest possible point, halving the time they are waiting in care for the full process to be completed. The government will also toughen up checks to ensure young people are placed with the best person able to care for them, rather than unsuitable distant relatives they have never met. David Cameron is quoted as saying: “It is a tragedy that there are still too many children waiting to be placed with a loving family – we have made real progress but it remains a problem. As Prime Minister I want to make sure that we do everything we can so children are placed in a loving home as soon as possible, giving them the best chance for a happy and fulfilled life.” Fine words, but I agree with this note of caution from Barnardo’s, who responded to the announcement by saying: “This is not a numbers game, and all decisions to place children for adoption must be made in the best interests of the child.”
Moving on to the research, it was interesting to read that they appear to be experiencing in America the same increase in divorces amongst the older population that we are experiencing over here. As I recall, suggested possible reasons for this phenomenon include increased life expectancy, a loss of stigma in being divorced and increasing participation in the labour market by women, making women more able to support themselves outside of marriage than in the past. The American research also indicates that the majority of divorces among older people involve second marriages, suggesting that second marriages are less stable than first marriages. Clearly, the idea of marriage for life holds less true today than ever. Governments should respond to this reality, rather than try to change it.
Also of interest, although not strictly a family law matter, was the news that a civil court user study by the Ministry of Justice has found that the majority of claimants in civil cases are keen to avoid court but lack enthusiasm for mediation. I don’t know if the study has any relevance to family mediation, but it does seem to support the view that I have always held about mediation – i.e. that it is a useful tool in appropriate cases, but is not a panacea that can replace court proceedings.
One organisation that would like to change the divorce statistics is the Marriage Foundation. They have published new research which they say indicates that the majority (60 per cent) of divorced couples were happy with their relationship only a year prior to their separation. The Foundation believe that the data suggests that many couples give up on their relationships too easily. I’m not sure about this. The impression I gained from about 25 years working as a divorce lawyer was that most people do not enter divorce proceedings lightly. I agree with Marilyn Stowe that most marriages fail due to a slow deterioration, rather than an abrupt explosion.
A statistic that I’m sure would not meet with the approval of the Marriage Foundation was that cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK, according to the Office for National Statistics. Another reality that the government should respond to, by giving basic property rights to cohabitees when their relationships break down.
And finally, yet more research indicates that the likelihood that a couple will divorce increases each time they have a child. Must be all those sleepless nights…
Have a good weekend.