A week in family law: Child maintenance, MIAMs, civil partnerships and more

Family Law|October 5th 2018

The latest statistics for the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) have been published by the Department for Work and Pensions. The main stories are that 630,000 children are currently covered by CMS arrangements, 407,600 through Direct Pay arrangements between the parents and 222,400 through the CMS’s ‘Collect & Pay’ service. A total of £219.4 million child maintenance was due to be paid between April and June 2018, and £793.2 million in the last 12 months. Of the sums paid between April and June 2018 £197.3m was paid through the Collect & Pay service, or due to be paid through Direct Pay arrangements. Of that total £164.6m was paid through Direct Pay arrangements and £32.7m was paid through the Collect & Pay service. It all sounds marvellous, but whether these figures represent a success for the current child maintenance system, I have my doubts.

Meanwhile, the latest legal aid statistics published by the Ministry of Justice have shown that Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) decreased by 7% during April to June 2018, compared to same quarter last year. They currently stand at just over a third of the levels they were at prior to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in 2013. Mediation starts did not change, although outcomes decreased by 7%, and are now sitting at around half the levels they were at before the legal aid cuts. All of which leads me to wonder whether it is time to put an end to the MIAMs farce.

The big family law news of the week was Theresa May’s announcement at the Conservative Party Conference that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to enter into a civil partnership rather than get married. Campaigners have, of course, been calling for this for some time, and the move obviously follows the Supreme Court ruling last June that the present law is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The government says the move will provide greater security for unmarried couples and their families, and will address the “imbalance” that allows same-sex couples to enter a civil partnership or get married, a choice denied to heterosexual couples. It also said that there were “a number of legal issues to consider, across pension and family law”, although Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt promised that the change in the law would happen “as swiftly as possible”.

The announcement has led to repeated calls to extend civil partnerships to sibling ‘couples’. I have given my views on that subject here, in this post back in July. As I said then, I can see any serious reason why sibling couples should not be able to enter into civil partnerships. The post was written with reference to Lord Lexden’s Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Amendment) (Sibling Couples) Bill. The Bill received its second reading in the House of Lords on the 20th of July, but its committee stage is yet to be scheduled, so who knows how long it will be before it completes its progress through parliament, if indeed it ever does. Perhaps the government would be prepared to ‘tack it on’ to their own civil partnership amendment bill?

And finally, it is an all too common scenario that parents whose children are the subject of public law proceedings seek to avoid the children being taken into care by removing them from the country. The Republic of Ireland is a common destination for such parents. Obviously, such action should not be allowed to succeed – if there are concerns over the welfare of a child, then they should be investigated by the authorities and courts of the child’s home country. It was good, therefore, to see the High Court of Ireland recently order the return of a child that had been the subject of care proceedings taken by Lincolnshire County Council. The Council had obtained an interim care order, and placed the child with her grandmother, but the parents covertly removed her from the grandmother’s home during the night, and took her to Ireland. Whilst she accepted that the mother “genuinely believes that she has been done an injustice by the English doctors, nurses, social workers, lawyers and courts”, Ni Raifeartaigh J. found there had been a wrongful removal of the child from the jurisdiction of England and Wales, and that there was no good reason on the facts of the case not to order a return. Accordingly, she made such an order. You can read the full judgment here.

Have a good weekend.

Author: John Bolch

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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