Care demand, arbitration and more

Family Law|September 16th 2016

A week in family law

As the summer subsides, the family law news picks up…

The Office for National Statistics has published its latest figures in relation to the formation and dissolution of civil partnerships. The figures show that civil partnership formations have declined by 85 per cent since 2013, as a result of the introduction of same sex marriage in March 2014. There were 861 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2015, a fall of 49 per cent from 1,683 in 2014. The figures also show that there were 1,211 civil partnership dissolutions granted in 2015, a 14 per cent increase compared with 2014, and by the end of 2015, 6.8 per cent of male and 11.7 per cent of female civil partnerships in England and Wales are estimated to have ended in dissolution. The reduction in demand for civil partnerships begs the question: should we keep them, or should they be allowed to die?

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for the month of August 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,258 care applications, which is a 34 per cent increase compared to those received in August 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,535 new private law cases, which is a 23 per cent increase on August 2015 levels. These constant monthly increases have become like a broken record, playing a tune that no one likes. The Chief Executive of Cafcass Anthony Douglas has said that the service is working with the government to look at possible measures to stem demand, but those measures are going to have to be pretty effective to stop the system from breaking down entirely.

The charities Gingerbread and Women’s Aid have warned that domestic abuse survivors are being put at risk by the government’s new Child Maintenance Service (CMS). The charities are concerned that the lack of specialist training for staff, combined with the expectation that parents interact over payments, is leaving survivors open to financial and emotional abuse. They are worried that some parents are dropping out of the system entirely because they feel unprotected. They also say that they have heard from parents who are too frightened to go ahead with direct payments in case their abuser gets hold of their personal details, and that some won’t ask the CMS to collect the maintenance for them for fear of upsetting the other parent, who will have to pay a 20 per cent collection charge. They call for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to roll out specialist training and clear guidance for CMS staff on how to recognise and work with domestic abuse survivors, to offer survivors the option to fast-track to using the CMS collection service, and to drop the four per cent collection charges for single parents in cases of domestic abuse and review the 20 per cent charge for the paying parent. I agree that these are good ideas, but whether the DWP will implement them, we will have to wait and see – I won’t be holding my breath.

The first arbitration held under the children arbitration scheme introduced in July 2016 has taken place. We are told that the case concerned a dispute between parents about child arrangements, specific issues and general exercise of parental responsibility. The matter was referred to arbitration at the Dispute Resolution Appointment in ongoing proceedings as the court could not offer a final hearing listing for almost three months, whereas the parties needed a decision in the next couple of weeks. Just ten days elapsed from the date of referral to a final decision being made by the arbitrator. It all sounds very good, but arbitration is of course a dispute resolution method that is only available to those who can afford it.

Mr Justice Peter Jackson caused quite a stir this week when his judgment in Lancashire County Council v M & Others was published (the judgment was actually handed down in February). The reason for the interest was not so much the case itself (it concerned care proceedings relating to four children, where there was a concern that the father of the youngest two children might take them to Syria), but rather the language used in the judgment. Mr Justice Jackson went to great lengths to write the judgment in plain English, so that it was comprehensible, even for the children involved. The judgment even included ‘smiley face’ emojis, as they appeared in the evidence. The judgment has been hailed by many family lawyers as a model for making judgments clear and understandable.

And finally, a story of life in a modern society that I have been following for some time: the “demographic time bomb” that is facing Japan. The birth rate in Japan has been falling for years and it has now been calculated that if things continue as they are then the population could be reduced to just one by the year 3766. The lack of interest in relationships has been attributed to the prioritisation of careers over families. Could this be our own destiny?

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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