A week like no other: domestic abuse courts, child maintenance, COVID-19 and divorce reform

Family Law | 27 Mar 2020 1

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September 22, 2020

Family law news: It has been a week quite unlike any that most of us have experienced in our lives. Our liberties have been restricted in a way that would have been unimaginable only weeks ago. And this could just be the beginning of a very long haul.

At a time like this family law news hardly seems important, unless of course, it relates to the virus and the response to it. I have nevertheless come up with four stories this week, only one of which falls into that category.

Domestic abuse courts

The Ministry of Justice (‘MoJ’) has said that it will shortly announce more details on specialised domestic abuse courts, after being given £5 million in the Budget to pilot them. Under the pilot, the courts will allow criminal and family matters to be considered together.

The MoJ commented:

“Integrated domestic abuse courts have real potential to reduce the trauma of court and improve outcomes for victims. We will announce more detailed proposals for the pilot shortly.”

The Law Society Gazette reports that the news has been greeted with caution by solicitors, with uncertainty as to how they will work.

However, Phil Bowen, director of the charity Centre for Justice Innovation is quoted as saying:

“It is vital for the courts to ensure that their response to domestic abuse is coordinated and integrated across criminal, family and civil matters and that the courts ensure that victims of domestic abuse are kept safe and given fairer access to justice and that perpetrators are held to account.”

Child Maintenance Service statistics

The Department for Work and Pensions has published the latest release of statistics on the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’), between January 2015 and December 2019.

The two main stories are that as at December 723,500 children were covered by Child Maintenance Service arrangements and that 68% of parents due to pay child maintenance through the Collect and Pay service (i.e. through the CMS) paid some maintenance in the quarter ending December 2019.

You can find the statistics here.

Coronavirus Crisis: Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders

The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has issued guidance on compliance with child arrangements orders during the Coronavirus crisis.

He says:

During the current Coronavirus Crisis some parents whose children are the subject of Child Arrangements Orders made by the Family Court have been understandably concerned about their ability to meet the requirements of these court orders safely in the wholly unforeseen circumstances that now apply.

This short statement is intended to offer advice but, as the circumstances of each child and family will differ, any advice can only be in the most general form.”

The guidance concludes:

“The key message should be that, where Coronavirus restrictions cause the letter of a court order to be varied, the spirit of the order should nevertheless be delivered by making safe alternative arrangements for the child.”

You can find the guidance here.

Divorce Bill passes Lords

I would like to finish on a positive note for family law news.

The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will finally bring in a long-awaited system of no-fault divorce, ended its passage through the House of Lords (where it was introduced) on Tuesday, when it had its third reading. It was presented to the House of Commons on Wednesday (in a ‘debate-less’ process known as the first reading there) and will have its second reading debate in the Commons on a date to be announced.

It is probably inevitable that the Coronavirus crisis will delay the Bill (the House of Commons rose early for Easter Recess), but at least progress is still being made.

Have a good weekend. Stay home if you can, and stay safe.

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If you would like any advice on the issue raised in this week’s family law news please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist family 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.

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  1. Anon says:

    Allowing court managers and other staff to take the role of legal advisors as well as amalgamation of both civil and criminal hearings in a foreign jurisdiction, is effectively demolishing the ancient protections provided by English Common Law. Under English Criminal Law there must be evidence, or else a man must be found not-guilty. Under civil – there must be tangible evidence of contract, or else he is not liable. This is not what is happening in any courts today and especially the circus being labelled ‘family court’, where there is no judicial process at all. It is all fraud – they got away with massive oppression and fraud on the court with council tax and are now expanding the same void paperwork and abuse of power in order to render all people powerless against the state.

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