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Nagalro, the Professional Association for Children's Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers, has recently published details of its submission to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Child Protection on how children will be affected by the government's proposed reforms of the family courts.

Nagalro's submission relates to three main areas:

  • the plan to reduce court scrutiny of children's care plans;
  • the impact of the proposal to limit care proceedings cases to six months, and
  • how to ensure that decisions taken are in the best interests of children.

Nagalro has welcomed the Government's commitment to ensuring that both parents can continue to be involved in a child's life after separation, but does not believe that the legislative options proposed by the Government are the best way of achieving this aim. Nagalro would prefer to see the change be driven by a focus on children's welfare, rather than on the rights of parents.

Nagalro would like to see more opportunities for children's voices to be heard in private law cases, and greater support for both parents and children going through separation or divorce.

 

The Government has announced its intention to introduce legislation to speed up the family justice system and reduce delays in the adoption system.

The planned Children and Families Bill would also strengthen the powers of the Children’s Commissioner – to champion children’s rights and hold government to account for legislation and policy.

The key measures affecting the family justice system under the Bill include:

  • Creating a time limit of six months by which care cases must be completed.
  • Making it explicit that case management decisions should be made only after impacts on the child, their needs and timetable have been considered.
  • Focussing the court on those issues which are essential to deciding whether to make a care order.
  • Getting rid of unnecessary processes in family proceedings by removing the requirement for interim care and supervision orders to be renewed every month by the judge and instead allowing the judge to set the length and renewal requirements of interim orders for a period which he or she considers appropriate, up to the expected time limit.
  • Requiring courts to have regard to the impact of delay on the child when commissioning expert evidence and whether the court can obtain information from parties already involved.
  • Requiring parents in dispute to consider mediation as a means of settling that dispute rather than litigation by making attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting a statutory prerequisite to starting court proceedings.
  • Freeing up judicial time by allowing legal advisers to process uncontested divorce applications.

 

Website, Netmums, has recently carried out a survey of its members to find out more about the current state of relationships in the UK and what factors can place relationships in jeopardy.

The survey found that around 50% of respondents reported their relationship to be “good” or “strong”, but 14% said their relationship was currently “rocky”. A further 25% of respondents were not sure whether they would still be with their current partner in ten years time.

Around two thirds of members polled felt that it was much harder now to maintain a relationship than it was a generation ago. Just under 40% blamed this on the fact that more mums are now going out to work.

Having children was found to put additional strain on a relationship, with around four fifths of respondents saying the resulting exhaustion had a negative effect on their relationship. Money worries and lack of time alone as a couple were also reported as pressure points.

Men like to know when their wife or girlfriend is happy while women really want the man in their life to know when they are upset, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

The study involved a diverse sample of couples and found that men’s and women’s perceptions of their significant other’s empathy, and their abilities to tell when the other is happy or upset, are linked to relationship satisfaction in distinctive ways.

Researchers recruited 156 heterosexual couples for the experiment. Of those, 102 were younger, urban, ethnically and economically diverse and in a committed but not necessarily married relationship. In an effort to find couples who varied in the ways they resolved conflicts and controlled their emotions, they also looked for couples with a history of domestic violence and/or childhood sexual abuse. The remaining participants, were older, suburban and middle-class married couples with strong ties to the community. In all, 71% of couples were white, 56% were married and their average length of relationship was three-and-a-half years.

Relationship satisfaction was found to be directly related to men’s ability to read their female partner’s positive emotions correctly. However, contrary to the researchers’ expectations, women who correctly understood that their partners were upset were much more likely to be satisfied with their relationship than if they correctly understood that their partner was happy. Also, when men understood that their female partner was angry or upset, the women reported being happier, though the men were not. The authors suggest that being empathetic to a partner’s negative emotions may feel threatening to the relationship for men but not for women.

The findings also show that the more men and women try to be empathetic to their partner’s feelings, the happier they are. The authors suggest that this research should encourage couples to better appreciate and communicate one another’s efforts to be empathetic.

 

The government has announced major reforms to the family justice system which it says will tackle delays, streamline processes and rebuild trust.

According to ministers, the changes in education and the introduction of parenting agreements which the review recommended will help ensure better recognition of the joint role of parents within wider society.

The government has also accepted the need to clarify and restore public confidence that the courts recognise the joint nature of parenting. It therefore intends to make a legislative statement emphasising the importance of children having an ongoing relationship with both their parents after family separation, where that is safe, and in the child's best interests.

The government is mindful of the lessons which must be learnt from the Australian experience of legislating in this area, which were highlighted by the Review and led them to urge caution. It will therefore consider very carefully how legislation can be framed to ensure that a meaningful relationship is not about equal division of time, but the quality of parenting received by the child.

The government has also announced that it will simplify the family justice system to help separating couples reach lasting agreement speedily, if possible without going to court. It will make it mandatory for separating parents who propose court action to resolve a dispute about their child to have an initial assessment to see if mediation is something which would be suitable instead, to help them agree on the arrangements for their child.

It will drive culture change and better cross-system working through the establishment of a new family justice board, accountable to ministers, made up of senior figures representing the key organisations who play a role within the system and who will have a clear remit to improve performance.

Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke said:

'The reform of family justice and child protection is a critical priority for government. Our reforms are ambitious and system-wide and particularly tackle the crucial problem of delay.

'More use of mediation, more effective court processes and more efficient provision of advice will help to create a family justice system which can better resolve these difficult emotional problems in the best interests of children and families.'

Posted by on in Family Law

The Ministry of Justice has published statistics on activity in the county, family, magistrates’ and Crown courts of England and Wales. The figures give a summary overview of the volume of cases dealt with by these courts over time, with statistics also broken down for the main types of case involved.

Family cases deal with issues such as parental disputes, child protection cases, divorce and separation, and cases of domestic violence. Volumes of many types of family cases have shown a fairly steady trend in recent years.

Key statistics include:

  • There were 30,400 decrees absolute granted for the dissolution of marriage in the third quarter of 2011; a decrease of 1% compared to the third quarter of 2010.
  • There were 5,500 domestic violence orders made in the third quarter of 2011; a drop of 14% on the 6,500 in the same period in the previous year. Domestic violence applications decreased 15% to 5,500 in the third quarter of 2011, compared with the corresponding quarter in 2010.
  • On matters affecting children, there were 7,700 children involved in public law applications made in the third quarter of 2011, a 28% increase on the same period for 2010.
  • There were 30,200 children involved in private law applications made in the third quarter of 2011; a 5% decrease on the third quarter of 2010. The trend in the number of children involved in private law applications has been downward since late 2009.

 

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has issued a warning over the consequences of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill. 

A survey of members undertaken by Resolution found that, according to the vast majority (87%), LASPO would mean that less than 25% of people they currently help would still qualify for legal aid.

The social implications would be considerable: the survey also found that 57% believe a parent risks losing contact with their child in at least half of their cases. Based on the surveyed lawyers alone, this represents well over 4,000 children.

LASPO would also withdraw legal aid from many parents trying to get back children who have been abducted within the UK, even though 91% of those surveyed believe there is a risk of abduction in at least some of their cases.

“It is clear that the Government’s proposed legal aid cuts could bring devastating consequences. Many of those currently eligible for legal aid would seriously struggle to obtain the legal advice and support that could ensure that they continue to see their children after a difficult separation”, said David Allison, Chair of Resolution.

“The changes also risk increasing the nation’s benefits bill. Many of our members say that the majority of their clients would not know what financial settlement they are entitled to, which could see them left dependent on the welfare state and benefits.

“Resolution is committed to the constructive resolution of issues arising from separation, through options such as mediation, and the organisation welcomes the Government’s desire to see fewer family cases going through the court system. However, there needs to be support for those for whom mediation is inappropriate, which, according to the survey, could be in as many as 40% of cases.

“We are concerned that, by focusing so heavily on mediation, the Government will punish those for whom it simply won’t work through no fault of their own – for example, if they have an abusive or uncooperative partner.”

 

Posted by on in Family Law

The Law Society has welcomed the delay in implementation of new rules governing civil and family legal aid, announced by the Ministry of Justice. The announcement was made in a written statement to Parliament and moves the implementation date from the originally proposed October 2012 to April 2013. 

A new report from Citizens Advice has warned that planned legal aid cuts will mean that most people who need free legal advice on separation, divorce, child support and family breakdown will no longer be able to get it.