Child maintenance arrears, Cafcass figures and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|November 13th 2015

A week of varied family law news…

The Child Maintenance Service has published new figures that reveal that £35 million of arrears owed to children has accumulated, less than two years after the Child Maintenance Service (CMS) opened its doors to all new applicants. Responding to the figures, which were for the period August 2013 to August 2015, Gingerbread’s Chief Executive, Fiona Weir, said:

“These statistics raise questions about how seriously the new CMS is taking the non-payment of maintenance owed to children. With more than half of ‘paying’ parents associated with the maintenance arrears, this is disappointing for a new service where there is a clear government commitment to ensuring that children receive their child maintenance payments on time and in full.”

Gingerbread also said that the figures come against a backdrop where a further £1 billion of child maintenance arrears owed to children in existing Child Support Agency cases are going to be transferred to the CMS over the next three years for collection, raising questions about just how ready the CMS is to take on this load. I’m afraid the whole scenario is depressing, both in its familiarity and its predictability.

The latest figures from Cafcass for care applications and private law demand, for October 2015, have been published. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,079 care applications, another seven per cent increase, compared to those received in October 2014. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,311 new private law cases, which is actually a two per cent decrease on October 2014 levels, but still continuing the upward trend since August.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) has warned that victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable witnesses are being put at risk by the erratic handling of sensitive cases by police and prosecutors. HMIC said it was concerned to find that the risks to vulnerable witnesses were not properly dealt with in a third of the 195 cases it examined, including instances of racial or homophobic abuse and domestic violence. Inspectors examined a total of 460 case files from across England and Wales and identified 195 cases that involved vulnerable or intimidated victims and witnesses. Most of these were recorded as being afraid or intimidated, while a fifth were victims of domestic violence. In 21 per cent of the 195 cases, the police failed to identify the vulnerability of a victim or witness and so did not put measures in place to manage this risk through the court process.

The Court of Appeal has handed down what has been described as a key ruling on the liability of councils for foster care abuse, concluding that local authorities do not owe a child in such care a ‘non-delegable duty of care’, to ensure that they are protected from harm. The Court also confirmed that a local authority cannot be held vicariously liable for the wrongful actions of foster parents. In NA v Nottinghamshire County Council the claimant had been placed with two sets of foster parents: Mr and Mrs A from 1985-86, and Mr and Mrs B from 1987-88. At first instance Mr Justice Males had found that the claimant had been physically abused by Mrs A and sexually abused by Mr B. The claimant argued that the local authority was liable to her either because it was vicariously liable for the torts of foster carers or because it owed to her a non-delegable duty of care. However, Mr Justice Males rejected both arguments. He also held that the local authority social workers had not been negligent and so had done nothing wrong. The claimant appealed but three Court of Appeal judges upheld the earlier ruling that a local authority cannot be held vicariously liable for the deliberate acts of foster parents.

And finally, a sad reminder of the stress that parties to family proceedings can be under. In KS v MK the mother, the respondent to the father’s Hague Convention application that she return their child to Spain, suffered a very serious decline in her mental health and wellbeing as a result of the legal proceedings, which culminated when she was admitted to hospital after a suicide attempt. Very sensibly, the father has withdrawn his application. I wish the family well.

Have a good weekend.

Photo by Jon Hathaway via Flickr

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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