Effective child maintenance, Cafcass figures and more

Family Law|August 12th 2016

A week in family law

The summer vacation is now in full swing, but the family law news continues…

There has been a media outcry over the legal aid bill for Ellie Butler’s parents, Ben Butler and Jennie Gray. Butler and Gray had the benefit of legal aid payments totalling £1,449,899, over a period of 15 years. That sum related to the criminal proceedings against them (which cost about £260,000) and to care proceedings relating to Ellie and her younger sibling. The outcry seems to be along the lines that because they were found guilty (Butler of murdering Ellie, Gray of child cruelty and perverting the course of justice) they shouldn’t have been granted legal aid, or at least not to such an extent. In other words, taxpayers’ money was wasted on the legal aid. Of course, those putting forward such arguments have the benefit of hindsight. At the outset, when legal aid was granted, the legal aid authorities did not know what Butler was like, and obviously could not have foreseen what was going to happen.

Statistics for ‘effective family-based child maintenance arrangements’, for the year from April 2015 to March 2016, have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’). The DWP defines an ‘effective family-based arrangement’ as an arrangement agreed between the parents that is either a regular financial agreement where at least some of the agreed maintenance amount is always/usually received on time and the parent considers the arrangement to be working very or fairly well; or an ‘ad-hoc’ arrangement which includes a financial element (or transaction in kind e.g. provision of a school uniform) and the parent considers the arrangement to be working very or fairly well. The DWP statistics indicate that 26 per cent of those who contacted CM Options, the gateway to the Child Maintenance Service, set up family based arrangements and that of those 77 per cent were effective. Sounds impressive, but just how effective is this new child maintenance system?

The “troubled families” scheme to tackle entrenched social problems set up by the government following the riots in 2011 has been branded ‘a failure’, having had no discernible impact on unemployment, truancy or criminality. This conclusion is apparently contained in an unpublished Whitehall report, which it has been claimed has not been published because it would be embarrassing to ministers. The scheme, which cost a total of £1.3 billion, aimed to “turn around” the lives of the most troubled families in the country, by breaking the cycle of problems such as poor parenting, domestic abuse and other issues, including institutional care. A senior civil servant interviewed for an investigation by BBC’s Newsnight programme described the report as “damning”, and attacked the scheme as “window-dressing”. We will have to see what the report says, when and if it is published, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time that a much-heralded government initiative has failed to deliver what it promised.

Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for July 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,305 care applications, which is a 16 per cent increase compared to those received in July 2015, and once again the highest number of applications ever recorded by Cafcass in a single month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,468 new private law cases, which is at a similar level to that seen in July 2015. Surely, the care system must be reaching breaking point? Indeed, I understand that Cafcass is in talks with the government to halt the rapid increases in the number of applications being made for children to be taken into care, although exactly how that could be achieved, I don’t know.

And finally, to my favourite story of the week. Apparently, ‘mistress dispelling’ agencies are becoming a thing in China. For a sum of money that would make most family lawyers jealous, the agencies engage in a variety of tactics to persuade ‘the other woman’ to break off her relationship with a married man. Somehow, I can’t see it catching on over here…

Have a good weekend.

Author: John Bolch

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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