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Whilst I was away: Babies in care, family court stats and a Form E error

The eagle-eyed reader may have spotted my absence from these august (web) pages last week. This was due to my being foolish enough to contract the flu. Now, I would normally try to work through such things, but this was the real McCoy: full-blown influenza, complete with wild temperature fluctuations, a hacking cough, constant headaches etc. etc. Working through, or even the mildest exertion, was not an option. Thankfully, though, l am now on the mend, albeit still at least a week away from feeing anywhere near ‘normal’. Flu jab for me next winter…

Unfortunately one cannot choose when to have the flu, and last week was actually quite a busy and interesting one for family law news. Accordingly, I thought I would do a post akin to my usual Friday ‘week in family law’ posts, in order to get back up to speed. Amongst the stories that caught my eye whilst doing a post-flu catch up were the following:

Research by Lancaster University has revealed a “huge” rise in the number of new-born babies who are subject to care proceedings in England. Unsurprisingly, the research also found that once a woman’s first child had been removed it is likely that any subsequent children will also be taken away very soon after their birth. All very depressing. I’m not sure what the answer is, or even if there is one.

Still on the subject of children in need, the Prime Minister has announced that poorly performing children’s services must improve or be taken over by high-performing authorities, experts and charities. As with so many pronouncements from on high this sounds all very impressive, but I’m really not sure what it adds to the existing situation. I’m also not sure what it will do for morale within those ‘poorly performing’ authorities.

According to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, police in England and Wales are on the verge of being “overwhelmed” by “staggering” increases in reports of domestic abuse. Recorded cases rose 31 per cent between 2013 and 2015, and this has led to “excessive” workloads and affected the quality and speed of investigations in some forces. I’m not sure why recorded cases have risen so sharply, but surely more resources are needed? Not that they are likely to be forthcoming.

The National Audit Office has reported that absent parents owe nearly £4 billion in child support arrears. As we know, this is not actually news, although the figure is so staggering that it bears repetition. The child support system truly has been a complete disaster for millions of children.

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has published its latest quarterly statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales, for the period July to September 2015. I’ve not had the opportunity to go through the statistics in detail, but amongst the headlines I’ve seen were that the number of cases that started in family courts remains about the same, that the average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application was 28 weeks (with 60 per cent of such cases being disposed of within the 26 week ‘time limit’), that there has been a decrease in the timeliness for private law cases overall in the last year and that there has been a general upward trend in the number of applications for non-molestation domestic violence remedy orders since the end of 2012.

The MoJ also published its latest legal aid statistics, for July to September 2015. The headline finding in these statistics was that the number of mediation starts in that quarter rose by 19 per cent, following the sharp fall after the introduction of LASPO in April 2013. Of perhaps greater interest, though, was the fact that almost half of all exceptional case funding applications that had been determined were granted – the highest number and proportion of grants since the scheme began. Hopefully, that scheme is finally doing the job for which it was surely intended.

The relationships charity Relate has published a new report Breaking up is hard to do, aimed at “assisting families to navigate family relationship support before, during, and after separation”. The report calls for a national helpline and for a single point of access to support and information. Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice, has responded to the report, and her response will be the subject of my post here tomorrow.

And finally, thousands of divorce settlements could be compromised due to a software error on the MoJ’s online Form E. Now, having done a fair bit of computer programming in the past, I can tell you that there is this concept of subjecting your code to rigorous testing and debugging, before publishing the program. Errors in the code are fixed and the code is tested again to check that the fixes have not introduced further errors. It can be a lengthy process, but for something as trivial as a Form E I can’t imagine that it would be too onerous. Unfortunately, it seems that it was too onerous for those tasked with writing the Form E code for the MoJ. We all make mistakes, but this is very suggestive of the MoJ getting the job done ‘on the cheap’.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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  1. Andrew says:

    As you will have seen, Marilyn and I are at odds about the Form E affair. I think that unless the party who has lost out can prove that the party who has gained knew about the error and took deliberate advantage the loss must lie where it falls – she thinks the order can be amended, subject to the obvious point that if the money has been spent, it’s been spent. What think you?

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