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A week in family law: Significant divorce figures, scarred children and a closed mailbox

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Significant divorce figures, or not 

As I discussed here in this post, the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published its latest statistical release giving figures for divorces in England and Wales for the year 2018, setting out annual divorce numbers and rates, by duration of marriage, sex, age, previous marital status, to whom granted, and the reason given for the marriage breakdown.

 The ‘headline’ finding was that there were 90,871 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2018, a decrease of 10.6% compared with 2017 and the lowest number since 1971. However, before you get carried away with these apparently significant divorce figures, the ONS goes on to tell us that:

recent Ministry of Justice statistics highlight an administrative reason behind the scale of this decrease: divorce centres processed a backlog of work in 2018 resulting in 8% more divorce petitions”.

The ONS expects this to translate into a higher number of completed divorces in 2019. Other findings included that the divorce rate among opposite-sex couples fell to 7.5 divorces per 1,000 married men and women from 8.4 in 2017, the lowest rate since 1971, although this will obviously also have been affected by the backlog of work in divorce centres in 2018; that the average duration of marriage among opposite-sex couples who divorced in 2018 was 12.5 years; and that unreasonable behaviour was the most common reason for opposite-sex couples divorcing in 2018, with 51.9% of wives and 36.8% of husbands petitioning on this ground – it was also the most common reason for same-sex couples divorcing. 

Children ‘scarred for life’ 

More than 140 children’s organisations are calling on political leaders to set out their solutions to the social problems that can leave millions of children ‘scarred for life’, including child poverty, mental health, domestic abuse and serious youth violence.

In an open letter to all political parties ahead of the general election, organisations including the National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC, Barnardo’s, Action For Children and The Children’s Society, say children are being ‘crowded out’ of the discussion of the nation’s future, leaving their needs overlooked and their voices unheard. As party leaders set out their visions for the future, the letter urges them to put children at the heart of this election, and take action to prioritise them in the next Parliament. There are nearly 14 million children living in the UK, of whom over four million live in poverty.

A child is taken into care every 15 minutes and one in eight 5 to 19-year-olds have at least one mental health condition. The charities say the services vulnerable children such as these rely on are facing a ‘funding crisis’ as the number needing help continues to rise. The Children’s Commissioner for England estimates it will require £10bn of investment to turn this situation around and support our children to thrive. The organisations insist children should be put at the front of the queue for increased funding.

The letter calls on political parties to focus on preventing crises in the first place by providing early support for children and families, to prevent their problems spiralling out of control and requiring more expensive services later. I wonder whether the parties are listening… 

Protection order mailbox closed 

And finally, we have the latest example of the downgrading of the family justice system due to insufficient funding. The Law Society Gazette has reported that a mailbox set up to inform police of protection orders made against forced marriage and female genital mutilation (‘FGM’) was abandoned after a year due to a lack of resources

The facility was introduced last year to notify the police as early as possible when the courts made such orders, but according to the latest published minutes of the Family Procedure Rule Committeeit is ‘not now functioning, because of police resources’. The central mailbox received all FGM and forced marriage protection orders from every family court in England and Wales. It was run by two officers from Norfolk Constabulary, who collated a register and logged every order before sending it to the relevant force. 

However, the job was apparently ‘resource-intensive’, and the cost was borne by Norfolk Constabulary’s own budget. Apparently, the Ministry of Justice is working on setting up a replacement system, but meanwhile how many victims of forced marriage and FGM will suffer? 

Have a good weekend. 

Get in touch 

If you would like any advice on divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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