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A week in family law: Divorce, child maintenance and forced marriage

Family Law|Industry News | 22 Jun 2018 5

There have been various reports of delays at the Bury St Edmunds Divorce Centre, the busiest divorce centre in the country, as I mentioned here in this post. For example, the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was recently told that there has been a doubling in the amount of time it takes the centre to process divorce petitions, going from about three to six months for cases to reach the decree nisi stage. The problem is lack of staff, as many of us thought might be the case, with just a few centres doing the work previously done by some 110 divorce county courts. Susan Acland-Hood, CEO of HM Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’), has responded saying that they are aware of the issue, and are using extra staff and help from other divorce centres, to sort the problem out. Hopefully, improvements will therefore soon be seen at Bury St Edmunds, although hopefully also not at the expense of the ten other divorce centres.

Still on the subject of divorce, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett of Maldon, has given an update on the online divorce pilot. Delivering the first Sir Henry Brooke Annual Lecture he said: “The pilot has now moved to general availability since 1 May … In the paper-based world, an uncontested divorce requires a petitioner to fill out a form and file it with the court … 40% of those forms have to be sent back to the applicant. They are rejected because they had not been completed properly. The form checking is done by District Judges or fee paid deputies. It is mind-numbing work which does not call for the skill of a judge or the cost involved in deploying a judge to such work. But a 40% rejection rate also wastes the time of the petitioners and of HMCTS in processing the forms … The new online process … is designed (as with so much we all do online) to prevent a person moving on to the next stage unless the earlier stage has been completed fully and correctly. The rejection rate is now only 0.5%. The benefits all round are enormous. The President of the Family Division has been singing its praises at every turn. It is the shape of things to come.” Yes, but as I have said here before, most users of the system will still need proper legal advice.

The Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) has published statistics on the performance of the Service between August 2013 and March 2018. The statistics show that as at March 601,600 children were covered by CMS arrangements, 391,300 through ‘Direct Pay’ arrangements (where the CMS calculate the maintenance and the parents arrange the payments between themselves) and 210,300 through the Collect & Pay Service, whereby the CMS collects and manages the payments between the parents. £201.2 million child maintenance was due to be paid between January and March 2018. Of that, £152.1 million was due to be paid through Direct Pay arrangements, and £27.9 million was paid through the Collect & Pay service. Worryingly, the other £21.2 million was unpaid. You can read all of the statistics here.

And finally, a nineteen year old man from South Yorkshire has become the first male to be granted a forced marriage protection order. The man’s parents had arranged the marriage when he was five years old, and he had received threats for not complying. Forced marriage protection orders can contain restrictions on perpetrators from taking any steps to force a person into marriage, and a breach of the order is a contempt of court. Protection orders were also obtained for the man’s three younger siblings. Natasha Rattu, of Karma Nirvana, a charity that helps women and men who are subjected to forced marriages and honour-based abuse, said males being forced into marriage was a “hidden problem”, and that: “Men from minority communities find it very difficult to speak out about abuse so this order is fantastic and will send out a powerful message that it is not just women who are suffering.” Let us hope that it does.

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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    1. Mr T says:

      Worryingly, the other £21.2 million was unpaid.

      Why worryingly? Stop spreading the cognitive distortion that children are losing out somehow. It is the responsibility of BOTH of their parents to provide for them not (mostly) dads.

      This scheme needs scrapping it is vastly outdated and is not in the interests of NRP human rights or equality. It causes parental alienation.

      It’s needs retiring.

    2. Helen Dudden says:

      It’s interesting to find that there is now protection for forced marriages for the male population, within certain religious beliefs.
      I feel there is a difference between an arranged marriage, and a forced marriage. This has to be made clear.

    3. Helen Dudden says:

      Is it fair to not have some protection in relationships?

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