Care cases, an international divorce, and more

Family Law|International|November 17th 2017

A week in family law

A local authority involved in a child guardianship case can be identified, a judge has ordered. In the case none of the parties involved were originally identified, but the child’s grandmother, in favour of whom Circuit Judge Stephen Wildblood QC had made a special guardianship order, wanted to make a public statement expressing her profound dissatisfaction about the way in which she had been assessed and treated by the local authority during the proceedings. The grandmother, who fought the case without legal assistance, had originally received a positive assessment by the council, but that changed, with the result that the child may have been adopted. Notwithstanding this, Judge Wildblood ruled in her favour, describing her as “an intelligent and courteous woman”. The case demonstrates just what personal qualities you need to challenge the system when it fails you, particularly when you don’t have the benefit of a lawyer.

The Office of National Statistics has published its Families and Households statistical bulletin for 2017. The bulletin covers trends in living arrangements in the UK including families, people living alone and people in shared accommodation, broken down by size and type of household. The bulletin states that cohabiting couple families are the second largest family type after married or civil partner couple families, and the fastest growing type. The statistics, which indicate that there are now getting on for seven million people cohabiting in this country, clearly demonstrate the need for some basic legal rights for cohabitants.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for October 2017, and the figures for both are on the rise once again. In that month the service received a total of 1,198 care applications, which is a four per cent increase compared with those received in October 2016, and the highest monthly total for an October on record. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,916 new private law cases, which is a worrying 16 per cent increase on October 2016 levels.

Following on from that it should come as no surprise that a group of children’s social care experts is to lead a review of the rise in applications for care orders and the number of children in care. The review, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, will examine the reasons for the rises, and will aim to identify changes that could be made to local authority and court systems, as well as national and local policies and practices to stem the increase of care cases and children in the care system. Participants in the review include the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, the chief executive of Cafcass Anthony Douglas, the president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services Alison Michalska, the children’s commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, and assorted academics, directors of children’s services and policy advisers. The review will run until June 2018 and is chaired by Nigel Richardson, a former director of children’s services in Leeds, and will be facilitated by the Family Rights Group. Let us hope that it comes up with some useful answers.

And finally, the biggest divorce story of the moment, at least judging by the number of times it crops up under that word in my news feed, is a certain divorce between the United Kingdom and the other members of the European Union, better known by the awful word ‘Brexit’. You may also have heard of it. Now, sorting out the ramifications of Brexit for family law may not be at the top of the Brexit Secretary’s agenda, but nevertheless it is it is a hugely important issue. Accordingly, Resolution, the Family Law Bar Association and the International Academy of Family Lawyers, have published a paper on it, setting out recommendations for the government. The group warn that a lack of progress on Brexit negotiations could leave tens of thousands of families and children in limbo. The paper states that current reciprocal agreements between the UK and other EU members’ states bring vital assurances to families across the EU, ensuring orders made in one country can be enforced in another, as well as harmonising the rules for where a case can be heard. The group say this reciprocity must be maintained after Brexit, in order to provide safeguards and reassurance to those families and their children affected by divorce or separation, and involved in cross-border EU-UK family or child protection cases. Sounds eminently sensible, but that of course is no guarantee that the government will listen.

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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