A week in family law: mediation, care applications and more

Family Law|Industry News | 15 Apr 2016 0

The week’s news has been dominated by a Supreme Court decision, and some statistics which, for some at least, make pretty depressing reading.

We begin, however, with a small piece of good news. The Legal Aid Agency (‘LAA’) has responded to a Court of Appeal judgment which declared that the legal aid regulations which require documentary evidence in support of applications for legal aid for domestic violence claims to be no more than 24 months old were invalid. The Ministry of Justice is working on amended regulations, and the LAA has said that pending those regulations “providers are able to make determinations to grant controlled work or to make an application for a legal aid certificate in relation to civil legal services where the required documentary evidence is older than 24 months”. It may not be much, but at least it is a step in the right direction.

Moving on, the first statistics came from the charity National Family Mediation. They say that new figures obtained by them under a Freedom of Information request to the Ministry of Justice show that government policy aimed at promoting mediation as the preferred way of settling disputes over parenting, finance and property has failed. Since April 2014 attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (‘MIAM’) has been compulsory before a separating couple can apply for a court order in divorce proceedings. However, the figures show that in 2014/15 only one in 20 applications for private law proceedings to a family court followed the new ‘compulsory’ route – fewer than 5,000 MIAMs from over 112,000 private law applications. As Marilyn Stowe succinctly explains, the figures “send a very clear message: there is an across-the-board lack of enthusiasm for MIAMs and the whole principle of mediation on the ground.” Quite.

The other statistics came from Cafcass, which has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for March 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,221 care applications, which is a 14% increase compared to those received in March 2015. Cafcass’s statistics have also revealed that applications for care orders hit an all-time high in 2015/16. Between April 2015 and March 2016 there were 12,741 care applications, involving 21,666 children, the highest ever recorded by Cafcass, and representing a 14% increase on the 11,159 applications for 19,420 children made in 2014/15. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,287 new private law cases in March 2016, which is a 4% increase on March 2015 levels. How long can these figures keep going up?

On to the Supreme Court decision. In In The Matter of N (also known as Re N (Children)), the Supreme Court unanimously allowed an appeal against a decision that care proceedings relating to two children born in England to Hungarian parents should be transferred to Hungary. The case concerned an application by the London Borough of Hounslow for care and placement orders in relation to the children, with a final care plan for the children to be adopted in England, without the consent of the parents. However the mother, supported by the father and the Hungarian Central Authority, applied for an order transferring the care proceedings to Hungary. The High Court made that order, and that decision was upheld by the Court of Appeal. The children’s guardian appealed to the Supreme Court, which allowed the appeal, setting aside the request for a transfer of the proceedings to Hungary and returning the case to the High Court. The decision seems to have been generally welcomed by family lawyers.

In one of the oddest cases I can recall coming across the Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by a mother against an order preventing her from registering her children with forenames of her choice. The mother, who has a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, wished to call her twin children “Preacher” and “Cyanide”, the latter after the poison that she thought Hitler had used to kill himself. The question was whether the court had the power to prevent a parent with parental responsibility from registering a child with the forename of his or her choice. The Court of Appeal held that it did, although it was a power which should be used only in the most extreme cases and only with the sanction of a High Court Judge. This was such a case, and therefore the appeal was dismissed.

And finally, on perhaps a slightly lighter note, a US psychologist has launched a series of marriage counselling retreats on a riverboat in North Carolina. I’ve no idea whether this may work for couples whose marriage is in difficulty, although I would have one suggestion: hen-pecked husbands aggrieved at their wives’ dominating behaviour may be a little reluctant to board a vessel called Dragon Lady.

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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