A week in family law: Civil partnerships, coercive behaviour, child support and more

Family Law|March 15th 2019

It appears that the Civil Partnerships Bill, which provides (amongst other things) that opposite-sex couples may enter into a civil partnership, is to become law. The Bill passed its third and final reading in the House of Lords on the 7th of March, and is due to have a few uncontroversial amendments made by the Lords considered in the House of Commons today, before it receives Royal Assent. If it becomes law the Bill will require the Secretary of State to make regulations to change the law relating to civil partnership, to bring about equality between same-sex and other couples, with such regulations coming into effect within 6 months of the Bill being passed. Tim Loughton MP, who sponsored the Bill, commented after the third reading on Twitter: “Delighted to say my Civil Partnerships Bill passed its final stages in the Lords in just 2 minutes with unanimous support. Now just one more hurdle in the Commons on March 15th which will hopefully be a formality and then when the Queen signs it becomes law”. It will be very interesting to see what the take-up of civil partnerships will be amongst opposite-sex couples.

In a case that will hopefully send out a clear message, a man who repeatedly beat his pregnant partner has been jailed for three years for displaying controlling and coercive behaviour. The man’s behaviour included stopping his partner from going anywhere without him, taking away her phone or looking through her messages, and ordering her to delete her social networking accounts so that she had little contact with her family and friends. The relationship had apparently started off well, but within three months the man had become controlling and violent, and in one attack he punched his victim and fractured his own hand in the process. In addition to the prison sentence the court also made a restraining order, stopping the man from contacting the victim. Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) prosecutor Emma Harris commented: “[The man] demonstrated extremely controlling behaviour, which included assaulting his partner and trying to isolate her from her friends and family. Having suffered months of isolation and emotional and physical abuse, the victim showed immense bravery by giving evidence during the trial, and I would like to thank her for the courage she has shown. I hope today’s sentence provides some comfort to the victim and shows the CPS’s commitment to prosecuting cases of domestic abuse.”

The Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has published statistics for child maintenance outcomes for parents that have spoken to Child Maintenance (CM) Options, surveyed in December 2018 (CM Options is a free service that provides impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance). The statistics show that out of the 41,800 parents that had contact with CM Options between May and July 2018, the DWP estimate 80% had a child maintenance arrangement in December 2018. This is 33,600 Child Maintenance Service, court and family-based arrangements. The percentage of parents choosing a Child Maintenance Service Arrangement after speaking to Options has increased, from 47% to 57%, and the percentage having a family based arrangement (i.e agreed between the parents) has decreased, from 26% to 22%. In better news, the percentage having no arrangement has decreased, from 25% to 19%. 86% of parents with a family-based arrangement thought it worked ‘fairly’ or ‘very well’. Out of the parents whose family-based arrangements involved regular financial payments, 89% said their payments were on time and 96% said they received ‘some’ or ‘all’ of their payment. Hmm…

And finally, the latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for February 2019, which have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’). In that month the service received 1,001 new care applications during February 2019. This is 16.1% (192 applications) lower than February 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,721 new cases during February 2019. This is 20.2% (625 cases) higher than February 2018 and highest demand for February since 2013. So yet again we have improving news on the public law front, but significantly worse news in relation to private law.

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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