A week in family law: Child maintenance changes, Cafcass figures, and more

Family Law|Industry News|January 18th 2019

It’s been a strangely quiet week for family law news. Perhaps there has been some other big news story happening, I don’t know. Still, I did come up with the following:

The NSPCC has said that the law must recognise children as victims of domestic abuse between parents. They point out that Department for Education figures for 2017/18 show domestic abuse was a factor in 246,720 child protection assessments across England – more than half of all child protection assessments, where factors were identified, during that period. The government are yet to publish the outcomes of last year’s consultation on domestic abuse, but their proposed new definition of domestic abuse only refers to the effects of abuse on those aged 16 and over, leaving younger children unrecognised by the justice system. The charity says that legal recognition would give children greater protection through domestic abuse protection orders, help professionals take action to protect children at risk, and help authorities ensure there are specific support services for children and young people.

Almudena Lara, Head of Policy at the NSPCC, said:

“It is quite astonishing that the government is dragging its feet when deciding whether to recognise young people as victims when almost a quarter of a million children that we know of are living with domestic abuse in England alone. As well as the day-to-day distress that living with domestic abuse creates, it can cause long-term problems into adulthood that can only be addressed through targeted services that understand the complex trauma children living with domestic abuse experience. For this to be done effectively we need government to open their eyes to the harm domestic abuse has on children and give them victim status in the upcoming White Paper to ensure they receive the services they need.”

All of which appears very sensible.

A consultation has been launched by the Department for Work and Pensions seeking views on changes to the powers that the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) use to calculate child maintenance and enforce payments. The proposals in the consultation seek to strengthen the current, 2012, child maintenance scheme. The CMS has a range of powers to obtain information necessary to ensure child maintenance liabilities can be accurately calculated and, where necessary, enforced. The consultation seeks views on changes to two particular aspects of these powers: qualifying a CMS inspector’s ability to enter private property and widening of the current list of organisations with a legal obligation to provide information following a request by the CMS. The consultation period ends on the 11th of February. I haven’t really given these changes much thought, but in general anything that makes it more likely that children will benefit from child maintenance must surely be a good thing.

The tide really does seem to have turned at last when it comes to the number of care order applications being made. The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for December 2018, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 975 new care applications, the first time the number has dipped below the 1000 mark in more than three years. The figure is 4.6% (47 applications) lower than December 2017. As to private law demand, the picture is not so good: Cafcass received a total of 3,105 new cases during December 2018. This is 13.1% (360 cases) higher than December 2017, and the second highest December figure on record.

And finally, The Guardian has reported that a mother involved in long-running care proceedings concerning her teenaged son has been spared jail for accepting an invitation to attend a parents’ evening at his school. I’ve not seen a report of this judgment (you can find one of Mr Justice Hayden’s previous judgments in relation to the case here), but apparently the court’s order that the mother should not contact the boy included an exemption to the effect that she could “attend parents’ evening at the request of the school”, and the mother claimed that this included the “generic invite” that she had received. The local authority applied to have her committed to prison for breaching the order, but Mr Justice Hayden declined to make a committal order, saying that the invite had been sent in error. He did, however, order that the clause that allowed the mother to accept invitations from the school be removed.

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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