A WEEK IN FAMILY LAW
Well, actually a bit more than a week, as I’m starting with a couple of stories that I omitted from my roundup last Friday.
The first story is about the problem-solving Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs), and I wanted to mention it here to once more praise the excellent service they provide. The good news is that the number of councils using FDACs is to expand, with nine London boroughs joining the fifteen other local authorities around the country in operating a FDAC. What is more, further expansion is planned across the UK later in 2018. For anyone who doesn’t know, the FDAC service gives parents involved in care proceedings more intensive support than they normally get, with hearings (without lawyers) led by dedicated, specially-trained judges who provide frequent encouragement and challenge as parents work on their recovery. The latest research indicates that families receiving FDAC are significantly more likely than families in standard care proceedings to be reunited with their children and for the parents to have ceased misusing substances. Let us hope that the resources are found for these courts to cover the whole country.
The other ‘old’ story that I missed last week is that rates of marriage amongst opposite sex couples have fallen to their lowest ever level, according to new figures in a report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Key findings in the report included that there were 239,020 marriages between opposite-sex couples in 2015, a decrease of 3.4 per cent from 2014, and that marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2015 were the lowest on record, with 21.7 marriages per thousand unmarried men and 19.8 marriages per thousand unmarried women. As Sarah Snow, Managing Partner of Stowe Family Law’s Manchester office, pointed out on talkRADIO, marriage rates have been declining since the 1970s, so this is nothing new. However, the fact that fewer couples are choosing to marry does clearly highlight the need for legal protection for cohabitants.
Moving on to this week, there was only really one subject in the news: domestic abuse, and how to deal with it.
Firstly the charity Women’s Aid has published a report looking at service provision and the needs of women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. Amongst its findings the report says that only 28 per cent of women using community-based services, such as drop-in services, reported domestic abuse to the police, while 43.7 per cent who use refuges reported. In addition to this, of those who reported, only 13.2 per cent of the community-based service users and 17 per cent of the women resident in refuge services said that there had been a criminal case or criminal sanctions taken against the perpetrator. Commenting on the figures the Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Katie Ghose said:
“Our new findings show that very few women experiencing domestic abuse see any criminal justice outcomes in their cases and have limited involvement with the police, but they do access lifesaving support from specialist services.
“That’s why refuges and community-based support services are vital for survivors to be able to get the help they need, when and where they need it. These life-saving services are not an optional extra but an essential piece of the jigsaw in our response to domestic abuse.”
Secondly, and finally, on International Women’s Day yesterday the Government launched a consultation on domestic abuse, “seeking new laws and stronger powers to protect and support survivors.” The consultation will seek views on measures to be included in the government’s draft Domestic Abuse Bill. The Government (i.e. the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice) says that it intends to adopt a “tough new approach” to domestic abuse. This will include new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders “to better shield victims against further abuse by enabling courts to impose a range of conditions on abusers.” These conditions could include compulsory alcohol treatment, attending a programme to address their underlying attitudes or addictions, and using electronic tagging to monitor them. Breaching the order would become a criminal offence. Further, the Governments says that: “Economic abuse will be recognised for the first time as a type of domestic abuse, covering controlling circumstances in which victims have finances withheld, are denied access to employment or transport, or are forced to take out loans and enter into other financial contracts.” The consultation closes on 31 May. All very interesting, although I’m not sure that it was appropriate to launch the consultation on International Women’s Day (the Prime Minister specifically mentioned International Women’s Day when commenting upon the consultation). After all, as we well know, men are also victims of domestic violence.
Have a good weekend.