A week in family law
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for January 2017, and the upward trend has returned. In that month the service received a total of 1,119 care applications, which is a 7 per cent increase compared to those received in January 2016. It appears that 2016/17 will be a record year for care applications. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,356 new private law cases, which is a huge 17 per cent increase on January 2016 levels, putting yet more pressure on the system.
It has been announced that Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, is to retire next year. This was confirmed by a spokesperson for the judiciary, after The Times reported that he will be stepping down in 18 months. Sir James, who turns 70 in July 2018, was appointed President of the Family Division in January 2013. Let us hope that he is replaced by someone who is prepared to put similar levels of energy into supporting and improving the family justice system.
The Chief Executive of Cafcass Anthony Douglas has stated that separated parents who pit their children against former partners are ‘guilty of abuse’. He said that the deliberate manipulation of a child by one parent against the other, which is often referred to as ‘parental alienation’, has become so common in family breakdowns that it should be dealt with like any other form of neglect or child abuse. “It’s undoubtedly a form of neglect or child abuse in terms of the impact it can have. I think the way you treat your children after a relationship has broken up is just as powerful a public health issue as smoking or drinking”, he said. For a discussion of this emotive topic, and an explanation of who the real victims are, see this video by Marilyn Stowe.
In a very unusual case, a wife is appealing against the refusal of the court to grant her a divorce. Tini Owens, who has been married for 39 years, issued divorce proceedings on the basis of her husband’s alleged unreasonable behaviour. However, her husband denied that he had behaved unreasonably and defended the divorce. At a hearing last year Judge Robin Tolson refused the divorce, stating that Mrs Owens’ allegations were “of the kind to be expected in marriage”. Mrs Owens has now taken her case to the Court of Appeal, her counsel arguing that Judge Tolson had not made “proper findings of fact”. The Court of Appeal is expected to hand down its judgment shortly. The case clearly demonstrates the nonsense of the law saying that a marriage has not broken down when one party no longer wishes to remain married to the other. It is surely the best advert for no-fault divorce that we have had for many years, and has led to renewed calls from family lawyers for the introduction of that long-needed reform.
Meanwhile, despite the obviousness of the benefits of bringing in no-fault divorce, the government has confirmed that it has no current plans to change existing legislation. In reply to a question by Lord Pendry, justice minister and House of Lords spokesperson Lord Keen of Elie said the government was committed to improving the family justice system so that separating couples can “achieve the best possible outcomes for themselves and their families”. He added: “Whilst we have no current plans to change the existing law on divorce, we are considering what further reforms to the family justice system may be needed.” In other words, the government wants to look like it cares about family justice, without actually doing anything. Hopefully, the absurd plight of Mrs Owens will receive sufficient publicity and public sympathy to force the government to reconsider.
And finally, a story to which I take great exception. It was reported here that first born children are ‘smarter than siblings’. Utter balderdash. Anyone knows that the last born are the smartest…
Have a good weekend.