A week in family law: Cafcass figures, civil partnerships, contact centres and divorce reform

October 18th 2019

Cafcass figures

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for September 2019, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 1,000 new care applications, 62 (5.8 per cent) fewer than in the same month last year. New care applications received by Cafcass have decreased year-on-year in each of the last eleven months, which makes one wonder where we will be when the figures level out. If, indeed, they ever will. As to private law demand, however, things continue to go in the other direction. Cafcass received a total of 3,803 new private law cases in September, 10.9 per cent (374 cases) higher than the same month last year. In eleven of the last twelve months the number of new cases has increased when compared with the corresponding month in the previous year.

Civil partnership statistics

As I reported here, the latest annual statistics on formations and dissolutions of civil partnerships in England and Wales, for 2018, have been published by the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’). Amongst the main points were that there were 956 civil partnerships formed in England and Wales in 2018, an increase of 5.3% compared with 2017, and the third annual increase following a large decrease between 2013 and 2015 after the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples in 2014; that nearly two-thirds (65%) of all civil partnerships formed in 2018 were between men, a similar proportion to the previous year (66%); and that more than one in five (21%) of those entering a civil partnership in 2018 were aged 65 years and over, compared with just 4% in 2013, prior to the introduction of marriages of same-sex couples. As I said in my post, civil partnership is clearly an idea that is not going to die. In fact, it is likely to become more popular, when it is opened up to opposite-sex couples.

More self-referrals to contact centres

New figures released by the National Association of Child Contact Centres (‘NACCC’) show that the number of parents self-referring directly to child contact centres has drastically risen in the last ten years. Self-referrals from separating parents have risen from 3.7% of total referrals in 2009/10 to 35.8% in 2018/19, in the same period, referrals from solicitors have reduced from 67.8% to 21.9%. The NACCC says that the figures are a clear indication of the consequences of legal aid reforms for families experiencing separation. Chief Executive of the NACCC Elizabeth Coe commented: “Parenting shouldn’t end when relationships do and we know many parents who separate feel the same way, which explains why the assistance from child contact centres is in such demand. We have noticed a huge change in source of referrals since legal aid reforms led to a reduction in provision for most family cases. Families who are going through a separation now often need to negotiate the family law system without the support of a legal professional. Our centre staff and volunteers are trained to support families through this process but the potential of increased stress and anxiety for parents is significant and the implications of reduced support is having an impact beyond child arrangements.” Yet another way in which the legal aid cuts have made life more difficult for separating parents.

Divorce Bill returns

Finally, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aims to bring in a system of no-fault divorce, and which failed to complete its passage through parliament before the end of the last parliamentary session, has been reintroduced into parliament, much to the relief of many family lawyers. For reasons unknown to me (possibly lack of time in the Commons), the Bill was reintroduced in the House of Lords, rather than the House of Commons, where the original Bill started. The Bill had its first reading in the Lords on the 15th of October. Its second reading is yet to be scheduled, but it seems to me that there is likely to be a general election before it completes its passage through parliament, so expect further delays, although the Bill appears to have general support, so hopefully whatever government is elected will proceed with this important reform.

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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