Two weeks in family law: An anniversary, sobering statistics, and inefficient courts

Family Law|April 26th 2019

It’s been a predictably quiet couple of weeks in family law, with the Easter break. However, there were one or two interesting stories that cropped up, of which the following are my picks.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Children Act the Department for Education has announced that children in and on the edge of care will benefit from £84 million of new investment for projects designed to strengthen and support families, reaffirming the Act’s core principle that, where possible, children are best brought up with their parents. Up to 20 councils will receive funding to help improve their practice, supporting families to stay together wherever appropriate, so that fewer children need to be taken into care, and giving them the best chance to succeed in life. Three ‘early adopters’ have been unveiled to deliver one of three landmark projects originally run through the Department for Education’s Innovation Programme: Darlington, Cambridgeshire and Middlesbrough. The launch of the government’s Strengthening Families, Protecting Children programme will start work to roll out the three successful projects to other eligible councils, where there are persistently high numbers of children being taken into care. Commenting upon the announcement Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: “We must assist those parents facing difficulties and work with them to strengthen their family relationships so they can properly support their children. In the year that sees the 30th anniversary of the Children’s Act, we must stay true to its heart – that where possible and safe, children are best brought up, loved and supported by their parents.” Amen to that.

Next, as I reported here, the Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has published statistics about the separated family population. As I said, the statistics, which are for the period April 2014 to March 2017, show that at any point during that time there were around 2.5 million separated families in Great Britain, which included about 3.9 million children. Sobering stuff. The statistics were produced to provide information on child maintenance arrangements between parents in separated families, showing that in 2016/17 around 48% of those families had a child maintenance arrangement, whether voluntary or arranged through the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’). As for the other 52%, who knows?

Still on the subject of child maintenance, the DWP has also published statistics on cases processed under the current child maintenance scheme administered by the CMS, for the period August 2013 to December 2018. The ‘main stories’ revealed by the statistics were that: 671,300 children are covered by CMS arrangements, 432,500 through ‘Direct Pay’ arrangements (where the CMS calculates the amount of maintenance to be paid and the parents arrange the payments between themselves), and 238,800 through the ‘Collect & Pay Service’ (where the CMS collects the maintenance); and that an estimated £237.4 million child maintenance was due to be paid between October and December 2018, £45.8 million more than the same period in 2017. If you are so inclined, you can find the full statistics here.

And finally, you can’t keep a good man down: the former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has been back in the news. Hearing applications by the Queen’s Proctor for the setting aside of divorce decrees in four different cases on the ground that the petitions had been presented before the expiration of the period of one year from the date of the marriage, Sir James took the opportunity to comment upon how well the regional divorce centres are working (or not, as the case may be). For the uninitiated, the eleven regional centres were established in 2015, taking over the work of dealing with divorce (but not matters ancillary to divorce, such as sorting out finances) from some 110 divorce county courts spread around England and Wales. When that happened, there were concerns expressed by many as to how the centres would deal with their huge workloads, and it seems that those concerns have been proved to be well founded. Sir James commented in the case (which you can read here) that: “It is, unhappily, notorious that some Regional Divorce Units have become bywords for delay and inefficiency, essentially because HM Courts and Tribunals Service has been unable or unwilling to furnish them with adequate numbers of staff and judges.” Ouch.

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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