Care applications, CSA arrears and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|June 17th 2016

Another week with plenty going on in the world of family law:

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for May 2016, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 1,141 care applications, which is a 23 per cent increase compared to those received in May 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,267 new private law cases, which is a 17 per cent increase on May 2015 levels. It seems that every month I wonder whether these figures can keep increasing, and every month they do. Surely there must be a point at which our child protection system ceases to function properly? Or, with no disrespect to the hard-working people within the system, has that point already been reached?

The Wyatt v Vince case has, thankfully, settled. The case made the headlines last year when the Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Court of Appeal to strike out the wife’s financial remedies claim, which had been made 19 years after the parties were divorced, during which time the husband had amassed a substantial fortune. On 10 June Mr Justice Cobb approved an agreed settlement whereby, in full and final settlement of her claim, the wife would receive a lump sum of £300,000 and retain a payment on account of £200,000 paid to her by the husband towards the costs of the Supreme Court appeal. How much the wife will actually receive of her award remains uncertain, because of outstanding legal bills which have yet to be fully quantified.

A wife who is clearly expecting rather more is Christina Estrada, the former Pirelli calendar model, who has told the High Court in a preliminary hearing that she is seeking £238 million in a divorce settlement from her Saudi billionaire husband Sheikh Walid Juffali. Describing Estrada’s schedule of demands Justin Warshaw QC, appearing for Juffali, said: “We are firmly in ‘gasp’ territory.” Quite. Juffali’s lawyers have offered her an overall award of £32 million. The full hearing is due to take place before Mrs Justice Roberts over five days, commencing on 24 June. The High Court had previously rejected a claim by Juffali that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity because of his diplomatic status as a permanent representative to the International Maritime Organisation of Saint Lucia.

A new report published by single parent charity Gingerbread has found that hundreds of millions of pounds of child maintenance arrears owed to children are failing to be collected by the government, with new debts piling up in the new system worth an average of £668 per family. The report finds that in total almost £4 billion of unpaid maintenance arrears has accumulated over the 23-year lifespan of the Child Support Agency (CSA), and yet the government estimates that only around 12 per cent of this amount is ever likely to be recovered. The mounting costs mean that, according to government figures published last week, the average CSA maintenance debt owed to more than a million families is £2,067. At the same time, says Gingerbread, evidence suggests that decreasing effort is being put by the government into collecting more than £700m of arrears on existing cases.

Gingerbread Chief Executive Fiona Weir said:

“The accumulated level of CSA arrears is staggering and completely unacceptable. With analysis showing that one-in-five families are lifted out of poverty by child maintenance payments, this is vital money that parents, and their children can’t do without.”

Quite so.

The Ministry of Justice is carrying out a survey on the evidence requirements for domestic violence victims seeking legal aid. To qualify for legal aid, applicants must prove they have been, or are at risk of being, a victim of domestic violence by submitting at least one form of independent evidence, from a prescribed list. The Ministry say they want to be confident that victims, or those at risk of domestic violence, are able to access legal aid and that the process for doing so is as straightforward as possible. This is an important issue, and if you are able to take part in the survey, please do.

And finally, if you’re getting fed up with all the football on the TV, there’s now an alternative to watch. Marilyn Stowe has begun a new series of videos entitled Marilyn Stowe talks. In it she tackles the biggest news in UK family law this week, and she promises to answer viewers’ questions in forthcoming episodes. Rather her than me, although I have a face more suited to radio anyway…

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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