A week in family law: Domestic abuse, care proceedings and parental alienation

Family Law|October 25th 2019

This week in family law,

Postcode lottery

The Government has confirmed that survivors of domestic abuse will be provided with essential, life-saving support in safe accommodation from next year, thanks to a new legal requirement upon every council in England. As outlined in the Queen’s Speech, the government intends to amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to include for the first time a statutory duty on councils to provide support.

The Bill aims to transform the response to domestic abuse to better protect victims and their children, ensure they have the support they need, as well as pursuing their abusers. Many councils are already providing tailored support to those in need, but this move will bring an end to the postcode lottery of support for those fleeing abusive relationships.

Ahead of this new duty coming into force in 2021, the government has also announced a further £15 million in funding to run these essential services in 2020 to 2021 – a 20% increase on 2019 to 2020. Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of national domestic abuse charity Refuge, said:

“This much needed change in the law could mean an end to the postcode lottery of finding emergency accommodation and would ensure critical specialist services are on a much more sustainable financial footing. We look forward to working with the government to make sure every woman and child can access the support they need, and that means sustainable funding that meets a need and addresses current shortfalls.”

Notice the word “could” in that first sentence…

Striking figures

New research by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory has revealed that the number of new-born babies subject to care proceedings in Wales (per 10,000 births) more than doubled between 2015 and 2018.

In 2015, for every 10,000 births in Wales 39 new-borns became the subject of care proceedings within two weeks of birth. By 2018, the rate had risen to 83 cases per 10,000 births.

In 2018, 52% of all infants (under one year old) subject to care proceedings in Wales were under two weeks old, a higher proportion than in 2015 (38%).

Around half of these babies were born to mothers who had previously appeared in care proceedings concerning another child. Whilst there are some differences in the rates of care proceedings issued for new-borns across Wales, all the family court areas recorded a marked increase in the numbers of new-borns in child protection cases from 2015 onwards.

Lisa Harker, Director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory commented:

“The removal of a baby into care is perhaps the most difficult decision that professionals can make to intervene in family life. This study provides an important starting point for discussions about how to ensure that more babies are able to be safely cared for by their parents and that any intervention by professionals is designed to avert potential harm.”

Striking figures. You can find the full report here.

Heart-breaking

Finally, a case that I reported upon here on Wednesday has made the national papers, albeit sometimes not entirely accurately reported.

It is the sad case A (Children: Parental alienation), in which a father was left with no contact with his children, due to them being alienated from him by their mother. Unfortunately, at least one report stated in its headline that His Honour Judge Wildblood QC banned the father from seeing his children. That is not true. What happened is that, after years of litigation, the father withdrew his application for contact with his children, in the face of the children’s fixed opposition, and in the light of the fact that, because of that opposition, a transfer of residence to the father would clearly not work (that headline has since been corrected, but the damage was done, as I saw a TV report of the case yesterday that used the word ‘banned’).

Thankfully, the final words of Judge Wildblood’s judgment addressed to the father, were (mostly) reported correctly:

“This has been a long, heart-breaking and expensive set of events for you to endure. I am truly sorry that this is the outcome and I do hope that you will find some happiness in the future despite all that has occurred.”

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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