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Childhood vulnerability in England, potential new powers for child maintenance compliance and more

It’s been a thought-provoking week in family law with some sobering statistics about childhood vulnerability in England and the failure to prosecute cases of FGM. John Bolch joins us on the blog to discuss these and more in his weekly family law review.

Over 2 million children living in families with substantial complex needs

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner, has published her second annual report into childhood vulnerability in England. The report details the numbers of children who are growing up in England with vulnerability and risks that could affect their lives, well-being and life chances. It reveals that there are over 2 million children in England living in families with substantial complex needs, and that of these 1.6 million children have no established, recognised form of additional support. The report estimates that 825,000 children are living in a family with domestic violence and that over 100,000 children are living in a family with the so-called ‘toxic trio’ of domestic violence, mental health and alcohol or substance abuse.

Commenting on the report the Commissioner said: “Supporting vulnerable children should be the biggest social justice challenge of our time. Every day we see the huge pressures on the family courts, schools and the care systems of failing to take long-term action. The cost to the state is ultimately greater than it should be, and the cost to those vulnerable children missing out on the support can last a lifetime.” Clearly, failing to put resources into supporting these children is a false economy, as the huge current number of child care cases shows.

Failure to prosecute cases of FGM

There is a newly recorded case of Female Genital Mutilation (‘FGM’) every two hours in the UK, according to the latest NHS statistics on the subject. The statistics revealed that there were 6,195 women and girls treated for FGM in the past financial year, and that of those 4,495 were newly recorded cases. Of the 6,195 women and girls, 85 cases of FGM took place in the UK. I agree with the comments of Leethen Bartholomew, head of the National FGM Centre, who said: “Shockingly, the figures confirm that dozens of women and girls born in the UK have undergone FGM, despite the practice being illegal for over 30 years. Yet there still hasn’t been a single successful prosecution to hold perpetrators to account. FGM is child abuse and it’s vital that we work with affected communities to change hearts and minds about the practice. Agencies must also work better together to prosecute those who fail to protect girls from this type of abuse.” Quite.

Father gets a total of £50,000 in a compensation case against the Home Office

The Home Office has agreed to pay a total of £50,000 compensation after a three-year-old girl was left in care while her father was unlawfully detained for three months under immigration powers. In June 2017, after the father had served a prison sentence for wounding, the Home Office ordered him to be detained pending his deportation, despite a local authority recommending that he be reunited with his daughter so that he could care for her.

In July 2017, a family court judge endorsed the local authority’s plan for the father to look after his daughter, saying that if he was not released within four months an application would be made for the girl to be placed for adoption. Despite this, the Home Office moved the father to an immigration centre in Dorset, hundreds of miles from the place where his daughter was in care. He was released after three months in immigration detention, just days before his daughter was due to be placed for adoption. The Home Office admitted at the High Court that the detention of the father was unlawful, as it breached both the department’s own policies and the father and daughter’s right to family life.

The Home Office will pay £40,000 damages to the father for “false imprisonment” and “disruption” to contact with the child and £10,000 damages to the child.

The DWP publishes its response to the consultation on a new child maintenance strategy

And finally, the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has published its response to its consultation seeking views on a new child maintenance compliance and arrears strategy. The new strategy will include the introduction of a new power to allow the Child Maintenance Service to calculate a notional income from assets held by a paying parent, so that wealthy parents do not avoid their responsibilities by reducing their income from which child maintenance is usually calculated. New powers will also be introduced to allow deduction of maintenance from joint and business accounts, and to remove passports from parents who fail to pay what they owe.

Clearly, these new powers will be welcome and should help ensure that parents pay what they should, although how far they will go to alleviate the problem of non-payment is not so clear.

I note also that the response confirms that the DWP expects to write off nearly £2 billion in historic Child Support Agency arrears owed to parents.

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

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  1. spinner says:

    “and to remove passports from parents who fail to pay what they owe” – Why not remove passports from women who fail to obey child contact court orders or is that too much like treating men and women equally.
    “to calculate a notional income from assets held by a paying parent” – So the new strategy is the same as the old strategy but because it was replaced by another new strategy for some time the old strategy is now once again the new strategy. Make’s total sense to me.

  2. Paul says:

    For self-employed, there are so many loopholes the CMS doesn’t have the power to enforce. Cash for the business or to pay wages takes precedence. Some open a limited company solely to avoid paying maintenance. Main reasons are not that they do not want to contribute but they do not have contact with the children.

    Until contact issues can be looked at again, child maintenance avoidance will continue.

    Child maintenance is not counted as income for means-tested benefits such as Income Support, income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Housing Benefit, therefore, a lot of women opt to stay on benefits especially tax credits.

    Maintaining regular contact with a child, after separation or divorce, is an important part of parenting. Not only does it enforce the right of children to have contact with each parent, but it also provides emotional and financial support. Staying overnight with a non resident parent allows the child to continue to maintain the same level of emotional stability as they may have had before the separation. From a parent’s perspective overnight stays enable the parent to maintain and support the child’s welfare, and will also reduce the cost of maintenance payments they will be expected to contribute. Some mothers see this as a reduction in child maintenance and therefore do not want their child to have overnight stays with their father fuelling further parental conflict.

  3. Brid Hehir says:

    John. You mustn’t take everything you read from ‘FGM Industry’ sources at face vale. In regard to “Shockingly, the figures confirm that dozens of women and girls born in the UK have undergone FGM, despite the practice being illegal for over 30 years”. Yes, lots born here have had genital piercings and many of them are caucasian teens. Who should be prosecuted for that? The detailed information needed to interrogate his assertion isn’t produced by his source, NHS Digital.

  4. Bu says:

    The Child Maintenance Compliance and Arrears Strategy answers some questions.

    The Courts wants what’s in the best interest of the child which is contact with both parents.

    The Child Maintenance receivers financial interest is not to give contact so that she receives the maximum amount. By giving contact she receives less money.

    The best way forward is for the Child Maintenance to be paid into a child trust for the child which can be accessed by the child when the child reaches a certain age. This way the payer is satisfied that the money goes to the child and would be happy to contribute. The receiver would then not have a financial incentive to stop contact with the father and child.

  5. Vafia says:

    Justin Tomlinson named as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Work and Pensions. [email protected]
    Margaret Greenwood MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary [email protected]

  6. Vafia says:

    Marriage has been an institution in flux for centuries. The feminist revolutions which followed forced further changes in marriage. The result is a large fraction of women valued their independence more than their husbands. A common pattern has emerged for women. Marry, have kids (with a husband helping raise them during those early difficult years), divorce after they’re in school, and collect child maintenancet. This gets the children she wants without the bother of having a husband (after some years of marriage). The resulting high divorce rate over 60% with roughly 90% initiated by wives, makes marriage a risky proposition for men. The government aggressively collects child maintenance from predominantly fathers. The proportion of Black and Ethnic Minority children in families who lived with their custodial parent while their other parent lived outside their household was about twice as large as the proportion of White children. This is just an intermediate stage in the evolution of the modern family. I doubt we can do more than guess as what awaits us in the future as we continue sliding down the slippery slope of social change.

    • Stitchedup says:

      Well said, I’m personally sick and tired of seeing divorce and separation being promoted as the best thing since sliced bread. The consequences emotionally and financially are enormous for most average families. Unfortunately many family lawyers jump on the feminist band wagon and play the feminist mantra on the heart strings of often vulnerable women that are experiencing a mid life crisis, convincing them they’re an innocent victim and so the grass is greener elsewhere. They then promptly raid the family assets in return for the favour they’ve done for helping them to see the light. It’s affect on society is devastating and will be felt for decades to come.

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