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A week in family law: children in care, recording devices and more

Family Law|Industry News | 27 May 2016 0

It’s been another packed week for family law stories…

First up, too many children in care are ending up behind bars, according to a new independent review. Around half of the 1,000 children currently in custody in England and Wales have experience of the care system, despite less than one per cent of all children in England, and two per cent of those in Wales, being in care. The review, which was chaired by the crossbench peer Lord Laming and established by the Prison Reform Trust, says that this is a tragic waste of young lives, which must be addressed if all children in care are to get the best start in life. The review suggests that children in care should not be prosecuted for minor offences, and calls for a coherent programme of reform to help improve the life chances of looked after children and prevent future crime. There does certainly seem to be a lot of sense in not prosecuting these children for the sort of behaviour that would not be referred to the police if they lived with their parents.

Moving on, UK law discriminates against single surrogate parents, the President of the Family Division has held. The ruling was made in a case concerning a British biological father of a boy who was born through a US surrogacy arrangement. The father applied to the court for a parental order, which is needed to extinguish the legal status of the surrogate, and to enable a UK birth certificate to be issued for the child. However, the application was refused because UK surrogacy law only allows couples, and not single parents, to apply for parental orders. The President declared that the law is incompatible with the father’s and the child’s human rights, and discriminates against them. In response to the ruling the government has said that it is considering amending the law to comply with the declaration.

A father has had his daughter moved from his care to that of the mother, after he placed recording devices on his daughter, so that he could record her meetings with a social worker. The father made the recordings because he wanted to be able to show that his daughter was saying things to professionals that they were not reporting or acting upon. However, Mr Justice Jackson said that the recordings had not produced “a single piece of useful information”. He said that the recording programme was a prominent indicator that the father and his new partner could not meet the child’s emotional needs as main carers, which was the main reason that he decided to change her home base. He also made it clear that it is almost always likely to be wrong for a recording device to be placed on a child for the purpose of gathering evidence in family proceedings. Unfortunately, this kind of attitude whereby family law professionals are not trusted is what can result from the propagation of the ‘secret family courts’ narrative.

Nearly one in five UK couples argue regularly or consider separating, a study has suggested. The study, carried out by the relationship charity Relate and based on a survey of 20,980 people in relationships from 2013-15, suggested that some 2.87 million people were in what they described as “distressed” relationships. That sounds an awful lot, and I feel like I should be surprised by such a number, but I’m afraid I’m not. Dr David Marjoribanks, the Evaluation and Research Officer at Relate, expressed his concern at the effect of such relationships upon any children involved, pointing out that the conflict in intact relationships can be just as damaging to them as when relationships end. A good point, showing that it is not necessarily best to stay together ‘for the sake of the children’.

I will conclude this roundup with my favourite story of the week, that wealthy men find their partners less attractive. Or, to put it another way, if a man believes he is wealthy then he is less likely to be satisfied with his partner’s appearance. And who said romance was dead?

Have an enjoyable Spring bank holiday 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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