A week in family law: litigants in person, adoption and more

Family Law|Industry News | 1 Apr 2016 1

It may have been another short week, but once again there was plenty of family law news. We weren’t even spared over the Easter break, when the first two items were published:

First off, Citizens Advice published a report into the plight of the litigant in person in the family justice system resulting from the legal aid cuts in 2013. The report presents Citizens Advice research that reviews the challenges faced by litigants in person and the gaps in service left by the abolition of legal aid, exploring what people’s experiences are, not only in court but before and after the case, in order to assess how well current services meet people’s needs. As I explained here, the findings of the report are quite damning, including not just the obvious difficulties of a litigant representing him or herself, but also the way the experience adversely affected other aspects of their lives. These are things that clearly were not properly considered before the cuts were implemented. The report make various recommendations, which hopefully will be given proper consideration.

The second interruption to our Easter repose came from the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan who unveiled a new ‘blueprint for adoption’, a “plan to see more children placed in loving, stable homes by ensuring adoption is always pursued where it is in a child’s best interest.” In a typically over-enthusiastically worded press release we were told that the new four-year strategy “explicitly sets out for the first time how it will deliver a system where all children are matched with adoptive parents without delay, free from the shackles of council red tape” and that “every single child adopted from care will have a designated teacher and ‘virtual school head’ who will provide tailored support to help children overcome trauma and give these young people the best possible education.” As usual, it all sounds so marvellous, but will it really do anything to reverse the recent downward trend in the number of adoption orders being made?

Moving on, it has been revealed that the Court of Protection is considering giving judges more power to make family members cover the legal costs in disputes over an incapacitated person’s property, affairs or care. Under current rules the costs for these disputes are normally paid out of the incapacitated person’s estate. However, under the changes now being considered, judges would be given greater scope to direct family members to pay these costs. Having seen quite a few cases in which vulnerable people and their estates have been abused by their deputies (see, for example, this post), this sounds to me like a good idea.

The Ministry of Justice has published its latest Family court statistics quarterly, for the period October to December 2015. Amongst the key findings were the following:

  • The number of cases that started in family courts in England and Wales in October to December 2015 was 62,456, up 6 per cent compared to the equivalent quarter of 2014, but maintaining a fairly steady flat trend. Nearly half of new cases are divorce cases.
  • The average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application made in October to December 2015 was 28 weeks, and the trend over the past year has remained stable at this level following the longer term downward trend seen since 2011.
  • There has been a decrease in the time taken for private law cases overall in the last year: down 1.3 weeks to 14.1 weeks – reversing the upward trend seen following the legal aid cuts in 2013, with timeliness returning to the levels prior to the cuts.

All of which seems to be pretty good news, or at least not bad news.

And finally, the best news item of the week was surely the story about the Indian businessman who has been allowed by a court in Delhi to divorce his wife after she repeatedly taunted him about his weight, calling him a ‘fat elephant’. As someone whose girth in recent years has stretched to elephantine proportions, I wholeheartedly agree with this decision.

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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    1. Stitchedup says:

      He also claimed she regularly slapped him, criticised his sexual performance and kicked him out of their home

      “The …incidents established on record by the respondent/husband, by themselves, constitute sufficient evidence of the respondent being subjected to cruelty by the appellant. The calling of names and hurling of abuses such as ‘Hathi’, ‘Mota Hathi’ and ‘Mota Elephant’ by the appellant in respect of her husband – even if he was overweight, is bound to strike at his self respect and self esteem.”

      The wife had never claimed the taunts were made jokingly or “out of love and affection”, Justice Sanghi noted. He cited other incidents between the couple. On one occasion the wife had threatened suicide and on another told her husband he would have to transfer his property to her if he wanted her to live “like a devoted wife”. On a further occasion her parents and family friends had assaulted the husband.

      Physical violence, emotional abuse and coercive control…. Glad you find it amusing John.

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