A week in family law: Online divorces, support for families, and more

Family Law|Industry News | 11 Jan 2019 0

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The government has reported that 455 people made an online divorce application in the period between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, with 13 applying on Christmas Day itself. The figures were picked up by the national media as part of its ‘Divorce Day’ narrative, suggesting that more people issue divorce proceedings at this time of year than at any other time. However, the government’s agenda was actually to sing the praises of its online divorce service, which it says has attracted more than 23,000 applications since it was launched last April. I agree that figure suggests the service has been a success, but the figure for the Christmas week was nothing special, and does not indicate that we are presently witnessing an epidemic of people seeking a divorce, as some sections of the media would have you believe.

Justin Tomlinson, the Minister for Family Support, Housing and Child Maintenance, has announced a £2.7 million fund to increase support for disadvantaged families at risk of parental conflict. As a press release from the Department for Work and Pensions and Mr Tomlinson said: “Parental conflict can range from a lack of warmth and emotional distance, right through to verbal abuse. If children are exposed to this sort of distress over longer periods of time, their emotional and social development can be significantly affected. It may stop children from doing as well at school or even impact their career chances in later life. Children most at risk are those with parents who are out of work, on low incomes, or struggling with physical and mental health conditions.” The fund will be made up of 2 separate strands: £1.1 million will be for projects to support families at a greater risk of parental conflict, and £1.6 million for digital support to help parents find help online. Mr Tomlinson said: “Conflict between parents can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on children, and it’s often caused by external stresses. We want families experiencing problems to have easier access to help. This innovative fund will develop solutions for parents to repair their relationships, resolve any conflict and provide a safer environment for their children to grow up.” Let us hope it is successful.

It has been reported that the rise in the number of children taken into care has pushed 88% of councils over budget in the last financial year. Analysis by the Guardian newspaper and the Local Government Association (‘LGA’) found that 133 out of 152 councils responsible for children’s services overspent in 2017-18. Local authorities went over budget on children’s social care by an estimated £807 million, by far the highest area of overspending in council budgets. As the Guardian explained:

“The number of children being taken into care stands at a 10-year high. Government data published in November found that there were 75,420 looked-after children in England at the end of March, up 4% on the previous year. The number has increased every year since 2008, when the total was about 60,000.”

So the overspend is hardly surprising. There has apparently been a rise in funding for children’s services over the last ten years, but obviously it has not been enough. Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, is quoted as saying that the figures should act as a wake-up call to “the country-wide crisis we are facing in funding services to protect vulnerable children and young people”, and that: “The fact that the overwhelming majority of councils are now being forced to spend more than they had planned to on children’s social care highlights the urgent need for the government to provide new and long-term significant funding for children’s services.” Indeed.

And finally, in a piece of news that has got the media in a frenzy, and has no doubt attracted the attention of divorce lawyers around the world, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, reportedly the world’s richest person, has announced that he and his wife, MacKenzie, are set to divorce, after a 25-year marriage. Last year Mr Bezos came top of the annual list of the world’s billionaires compiled and by the American business magazine Forbes. He also became the first ‘centibillionaire’ (i.e. having a net worth in excess of $100 billion) included in the list. Of course, as Phoebe Turner, Managing Partner at Stowe’s London Victoria office suggested, his net worth may be somewhat lower after the divorce…

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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