Highlights of another busy week in family law:
The Ministry of Justice has published its latest legal aid statistics, for January to March 2016. The statistics show that the number of Mediation, Information and Assessment Meetings (MIAMs) are down 14 per cent compared to the same period in 2015. They also show that there were 3,384 MIAMs in that period, which represents about half the number there were prior to legal aid for most family matters being abolished in 2013.
Nigel Shepherd, Chair of the association of family lawyers Resolution, responded to the statistics by saying:
“The legal aid statistics out today tell a very clear story: the government’s strategy is not working. The number of mediation assessments is down 14 per cent compared to the same period in 2015, showing that fewer people are getting help to resolve matters out of court, contrary to the government’s stated objectives.”
The Family Justice Council has published its Guidance on “Financial Needs” on Divorce. As the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby stated in his Foreword to the Guidance, it “is intended as a useful tool for the judiciary in relation to the making of orders to meet financial needs following divorce and the dissolution of civil partnerships.” In particular, the Guidance is aimed at addressing the “unacceptable regional disparities” in the application of the law relating to financial needs on divorce by judges around the country. All very laudable, but it just strikes me as rather strange that it is considered necessary to provide our judges with such guidance.
The Ministry of Justice has also published statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales in the first quarter of 2016. The statistics show that during that period 60 per cent of care or supervision proceedings were disposed of within 26 weeks, following on from the 26 week time limit for completing these cases, introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014. They also show that the average time for the disposal of a care or supervision application was 28 weeks. Amongst the other findings was that the average time for the disposal of divorce cases involving financial remedy proceedings has been steadily increasing from the start of 2015 to 24.8 weeks in January to March 2016, following a long period of stability around 20 weeks. So, some good news, some not so good.
A consultation on plans to make deduction orders to recover child maintenance arrears from joint bank accounts held by a non-resident parent (NRP) has been launched by The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Arrears can only at present be recovered from bank accounts held solely in the name of the NRP. The idea is that the orders will only be made against the share of the funds in the account owned by the NRP. Other account holders will have the opportunity to make representations in relation to the orders, including providing evidence about the amount contributed to the account by the various account holders. The DWP intends that the new provision will come into force in June next year. The idea of taking steps to ensure that NRPs meet their obligation to pay child maintenance is obviously laudable, but does this open a can of worms?
The Legal Services Board (LSB) has published research which indicates that ten to 13 per cent of the market share for divorce services was supplied by unregulated providers, essentially online divorce providers and fee-charging McKenzie friends.
Law Society chief executive Catherine Dixon commented on the research by saying:
“Many legal services can be provided by regulated and unregulated providers. If legal services are purchased from a solicitor, buyers can rest assured that the service is fully regulated, that insurance is in place, and that in the event that something goes wrong they have the right to redress. Unfortunately, however, it is not always clear to consumers whether they are buying from a regulated provider. As the LSB research shows, there are a number of unregulated providers supplying the same legal services as solicitors and many buyers simply will not know that they won’t get the same level of protection from an unregulated provider if something goes wrong.”
I have, of course, written here previously on the dangers of unregulated McKenzie friends.
And finally, news that I as someone with two sisters already knew: parents spend more on their daughters than their sons. No wonder I had such a deprived childhood…
Have a good weekend.
Image by Guy Sie via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.