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A week in family law: child support updates, digital developments and more

After all of the Supreme Court excitements of last week, this has been a much quieter week for family law news. Still, there have been a few developments of note.

Child maintenance

Firstly, statistics for the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) for the quarter ending 31st of March 2018 have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. I will not bore you with the details, but the statistics show that the number of cases managed by the CSA is continuing to fall, as the CSA closes its cases through the Case Closure process. Cases managed by the CSA are being closed and parents are encouraged to arrange child maintenance themselves or to contact the Child Maintenance Service, which now deals with all new applications for child maintenance. I don’t think anyone will be sad to see the ultimate demise of the much-maligned Child Support Agency, but the question is: will the Child Maintenance Service actually provide a better service for caring parents in desperate need of financial support?

Good news on children representation

Secondly, research on the role of children’s representation in public family law (i.e. care) proceedings has been published by the Ministry of Justice. Children subject to public law cases are usually represented by both a publicly-funded legal representative and a Cafcass guardian. This is known as the ‘tandem model’ of representation. The research explored how this model is working in practice during public law proceedings, and whether any reforms to the model are feasible or appropriate to ensure the rights of the child are safeguarded, efficient judicial case management is supported and public resources are effectively allocated. The research concluded that the tandem model is working well, and that, overall, any reform of the current model, or consideration of an alternative model, is not required. In backing the retention of the existing system the research found that it was important for children to have their welfare needs to be met by Cafcass guardians and legal issues covered by a solicitor or barrister representing them. Good to see that what is best for the child has not been trumped by the desire to save money.

Family justice research released

Thirdly, the Ministry of Justice has also published a summary of the findings of recent research relevant to family justice. The Family Justice Research Bulletin includes summaries of recently published and ongoing or forthcoming studies under three themes: private family law, public family law, and international evidence. The private family law section includes research in the areas of access to justice, parental separation, navigating the court process, domestic abuse, and no-fault divorce.

Click to divorce

Fourthly, HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) has given further details about how it will develop its new online divorce facility, including enabling lawyers to electronically file petitions on behalf of their clients. Earlier this month HMCTS launched a digital divorce application process to the public.

HMCTS divorce service manager Adam Lennon said that this was “only the beginning”. He explained that the rest of the divorce process would be put online over the coming months, and said: “We are also currently working with legal professionals to develop an online application for them to use which will allow them to submit a petition on behalf of a client online.”

In addition to this, work is also underway to develop a public law service for proceedings relating to the care of vulnerable children, along with a private law service, relating to parental disputes over children.

The first prosecution for forced marriage case

And lastly, in the first prosecution of its kind in the UK, a mother who forced her daughter to marry a relative almost twice her age has been sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison. In 2016 the mother took her then 17-year-old daughter to Pakistan, under the guise of a holiday. When they arrived, the daughter was told that she was to be married to a 36-year-old, and when she protested the mother threatened to burn her passport, and assaulted her.

The mother returned to the UK without her daughter but was taken before the Family Division of the High Court, following the involvement of social services. The mother lied to the court that the girl had not been married and wished to stay in Pakistan, but the judge ordered her immediate return to the UK. The girl was brought back to the UK with the assistance of the Home Office and told police and social workers what had happened. Hopefully, this case will send out a clear message to any potential perpetrators of this awful crime.

Have a good weekend and spring bank holiday.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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