Adoption, divorce, transparency and more

Family Law|October 7th 2016

A week in family law

There may not have been many very big family law news stories this week, but there was certainly still a lot going on:

Statistics published by the Department for Education have shown that the number of children being adopted has fallen for the first time in more than four years. A total of 4,690 looked-after children were adopted in 2016, compared with 5,360 in 2015, a fall of 12 per cent. The fall was largely expected, due to a significant drop in the number of children being placed for adoption in recent years. The fall in adoption placements is widely believed to stem from the ruling in the case Re B-S in September 2013, in which the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby criticised the “sloppy practice” of social workers, and said that local authorities must provide evidence that all alternatives to adoption had been considered before bringing a case to court. The statistics also showed that the number of looked-after children is continuing to rise, having increased steadily over the last eight years. There were 70,440 looked-after children as of 31st March 2016, an increase of 1 per cent compared with 31st March 2015.

A briefing paper on the issue of no-fault divorce has been published by the House of Commons Library. The paper considers the current basis for divorce, looks at the attempt to introduce no-fault divorce via the Family Law Act 1996, discusses the arguments for and against the introduction of no-fault divorce and looks at other recent developments related to divorce. The paper says that advocates of no-fault divorce speak of reducing the conflict which can be caused by allegations of fault. In some cases, they say, the assertion of fault is considered to be a “charade”. Arguments against the introduction of no-fault divorce include that the institution of marriage should be supported; the risk of the divorce rate increasing if it is perceived to be easier to get a divorce; and the negative impact of family breakdown. Those arguments, however, simply do not add up. In other words, there is no reason why we should not have no-fault divorce now.

The Transparency Project has launched its Family Court Reporting Watch project. The project will monitor the publication of judgments and media coverage of family courts, highlight and try and secure corrections of inaccurate or misleading reporting, and explain difficult or controversial cases for non-lawyers, through clear explanatory blog posts. The project will also make official judgments and reliable commentary/explanations of cases available in one location by collecting and linking to them. I wish them the very best of luck in getting the media to publish accurate reports – they’ll certainly need it!

I mentioned here last week the case in which a former BBC actress had been cleared of abducting her child from Australia. The judgment in the case has now been published, along with a second judgment, dealing with an application relating to publicising the case, made on behalf of various newspapers. The judge, Alex Verdan QC, allowed the identity of the parents to be published, but not the identity of the child. As I said here, I find the decision a little odd, as anyone knowing the identity of the parents can easily find out the identity of the child, which seems to me to make any attempt to protect the child by not identifying him rather pointless.

A lawyer appearing for the applicant father in a child abduction case has been told off by the judge for serving documents on the unrepresented mother at the door of the court. Mr Justice Peter Jackson criticised the “intrinsic unfairness” experienced by litigants in person during family law cases said there should be a change in the way court documents are given to people who do not have legal representation, especially if, as in the case, they do not speak English. A salutary warning.

And finally, returning to the subject of blame for marriage breakdown, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has declared that divorce is mostly men’s fault. Mr Mugabe may be wrong about many things, but you can’t deny that he may have a point here. After all, why else would it be that far more wives than husbands issue divorce proceedings? Having said that, I suppose if you live in a country that allows polygamous marriage then you are always going to get more wives than husbands wanting a divorce…

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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  1. The numbers game | This Week in Fostering says:

    […] drop in the number of children being placed for adoption in recent years”, reported family lawyer John Bolch. The fall in adoption placements is widely believed to stem from the ruling in the case Re B-S in […]

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