A week in family law
We begin with the release of the latest child support/maintenance statistics by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). These statistics, which relate to the three months up to the end of September 2017, concern child maintenance arrangements made after parents spoke to the Child Maintenance Options (CMO) service. For the benefit of those who don’t know, CMO “provides impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance.” The statistics indicated that out of the 55,900 parents that had contact with CMO between May and July 2017, 75% had a child maintenance arrangement at the time of surveying in September. Of those, 17% of parents set up a ‘family-based arrangement’ (i.e. they arranged child maintenance themselves), 8% already had a family-based arrangement, and 50% now have an arrangement with the Child Maintenance Service. 85% of parents with a family-based arrangement apparently thought that it was “working fairly or very well”. It all sounds wonderful (as is the intention of the DWP), but “fairly well” doesn’t sound too great to me (it certainly doesn’t sound like the non-resident parent is paying all they should, when they should), and what about the 24% of parents who had not agreed a child maintenance arrangement after contacting CMO?
The biggest family law news story of the week involved another of those awful removal of life support from a seriously ill child cases. My goodness, I am so glad that I never had to deal with such a case. The responsibility for deciding this particular case fell to Mr Justice MacDonald in the High Court, who ruled that doctors can withdraw life-support treatment from Isaiah Haastrup, contrary to his parents’ wishes. Isaiah suffered “catastrophic” brain damage due to being deprived of oxygen at birth. As a result, he has a low level of consciousness, cannot move or breathe independently and was connected to a ventilator. The NHS Trust applied to the court for a declaration that the provision of life sustaining treatment was no longer in his best interests. His parents opposed the application, saying that it was not anybody’s right to say who should live and who should die. However, Mr Justice MacDonald was satisfied that it was not in Isaiah’s best interests for life sustaining medical treatment to be continued.
A fully online divorce application process is being piloted across England and Wales for the first time, HM Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) and the Ministry of Justice have announced. The pilot initially allowed people seeking a divorce to use an online system which offered prompts and guidance to assist them in completing their application, which they would then have to print off and post to the court. Last month HMCTS extended the service so that the application is now fully digital – submitting the form, sending the relevant documents, and payment. They claim that the new system “has drastically cut the number of applications being returned because of errors – showing a 90% improvement from paper forms.” The next stages in the pilot will include making the system available for use by legal representatives. It all sounds very good – let us hope that the final reality lives up to this early promise.
And finally, I don’t normally mention public law cases here, as it is now about twenty years since I last dealt with one myself. However, when a judge says in his judgment that he is at his “wit’s end” to do what is best for a child, then I think that is noteworthy. The judgment I am referring to is K (A Child), which concerned an application for a secure accommodation order in relation to a young person. The young person concerned is from Kent. He had been living in residential units, first in Kent and then in Northampton. Unfortunately, his behaviour deteriorated significantly over Christmas and the Northampton placement informed the local authority that they were unable to accommodate him any longer. As a result he had to be moved to a secure placement, but the only one available was in Scotland. Not only did this mean that he was hundreds of miles from his mother, but he has apparently been subjected to the most appalling racial abuse at the placement (he is of Jamaican heritage). Dealing with the case, His Honour Judge Scarratt said that it had been impossible to find the boy a suitable secure accommodation place in England. He called this “an outrage”, and expressed “the hope that at least the Secretary of State may take some action to see what can be done for these children who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in these difficult and really quite dreadful circumstances.” Quite.
Have a good weekend.