It’s been another week with no shortage of family law stories to talk about…
The government has published its strategy for improving services, support and advice for care leavers. The strategy makes a commitment that the government will use the Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme to rethink transitions to adulthood for young people in the children’s social care system. The focus will be on developing new ways to provide care leavers with the personal support networks they need to thrive. This will include piloting the ‘Staying Close’ scheme, which will give them the right to live near their former homes and maintain links with the staff. The strategy also identifies how the State, as a corporate parents, will support care leavers to achieve five key outcomes: that all young people leaving care should be better prepared and supported to live independently; that they enjoy improved access to education, employment and training; that care leavers should experience stability in their lives, and feel safe and secure; that they have improved access to health support; and that care leavers should achieve financial stability.
Mrs Justice Roberts has awarded former model Christina Estrada a settlement of about £75 million. Ms Estrada had been seeking a sum of £238 million from her former husband, Sheikh Walid Juffali. Her lawyers said the total settlement, taking into account her assets, was about £75 million, a figure that included a lump sum payment of £53 million from her husband. Juffali had previously sought to avoid Ms Estrada’s claim by claiming that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity. However, the Court of Appeal held that he was not entitled to such protection, due to his permanent residence in the UK.
It has been announced that another child contact centre is to close, as a result of the legal aid cuts. The Footprints Child Contact Centre in Bradford dealt with around forty families within a year of the cuts in April 2013. However, in the following year the number fell to 30, and this year there have been just six referrals. The centre will be closing next month. The news is sad but not unexpected. I just hope that the essential service that contact centres provide will not become a thing of the past.
Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for June 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,265 care applications, which is a 13 per cent increase compared to those received in June 2015, and the highest ever number for any one month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,599 new private law cases, which is a 6 per cent increase on June 2015 levels. The figures continue to go up. Surely, something must break at some point?
On that point, the House of Commons Education Committee has warned that increased workloads are causing high drop-out rates amongst social workers. This should not come as a surprise to anyone with any knowledge of the current state of our child protection system. The Committee say that 17 per cent of jobs were unfilled in 2015, and that the problem must be tackled urgently. I agree, but making social work a more attractive and rewarding profession is an enormous task. I also doubt that this will be a high priority for the new regime at Westminster.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) reveal that the number of people living together without being married is continuing to rise. In 2002 6.8 per cent of the population were cohabiting without ever having married or entered a civil partnership. By 2015 this figure had risen to 9.5 per cent of the population. The ONS say this may be explained by an increasing trend to cohabit instead of marry, or to cohabit before marriage, particularly at younger ages. The increase has led to renewed calls, for example from Resolution, the association of family lawyers, for the law to be reformed to give cohabiting couples property rights should their relationships break down. It does seem odd that such a large and increasing proportion of the population do not have such rights.
And finally, my favourite story of the week was that a region in Russia had banned divorce for a day, in order to promote family values. I’m sure making people wait a day longer before getting rid of their hated spouses will go a long way towards achieving that aim…
Have a good weekend.