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The latest figures from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) have shown that there was an 7.9% increase in the total number of applications received between April and September 2012 over the same period last year. The total number of applications received during that period this year was 5,374.

Each month of this financial year has seen the highest ever number of applications recorded for that individual month, with the exception of June.

During May and July 2012 Cafcass received 982 applications each month, the highest figure ever recorded for a single month.

There are many important considerations when going through divorce, but four out of five Brits believe that putting children’s interests first is right at the top of the list. Next comes avoiding conflict, according to a recent survey by family law association Resolution.

The group has launched a new advice guide, ’Separating Together: Your options for separation and divorce,’ designed to help separating couples understand and explore non-court based methods of resolving issues arising on the breakdown of a relationship.

“People have good intentions to prioritise the well-being of children and to avoid conflict during separation, but this can often be derailed by a lack of knowledge of non-court based options and an exposure to the adversarial nature of courts. Something is going very wrong, and often the result is emotionally and financially drained parents and deeply distressed children,” said Jo Edwards, Vice Chair of Resolution.

“However, there is another way. We’ve launched this guide because we want separating couples to know about non-confrontational alternatives to court. These methods can help prevent separation and divorce from being needlessly adversarial, and often can benefit the whole family through fairer settlements and by prioritising the interests of children,” he added.

 

A change in legislation that came into effect on 1st October has given couples tying the knot greater freedom of choice in the time their ceremony takes place.

People wanting to get married or register a civil partnership will be able to do so any time of the day or night under the Protection of Freedoms Act. Couples were previously restricted to between 8am and 6pm.

Mark Harper, Home Office Minister with responsibility for the General Register Office, said: 'The public requested that we repeal this law and we listened.

'Removing these restrictions will give people greater freedom of choice when planning their big day.'

This change is one of a number of measures being introduced as part of the Protection of Freedoms Act, which received Royal Assent in May this year. It was raised by members of the public through a cross-government survey, ‘Your Freedom’.

People had the chance to suggest ideas on restoring liberties that have been lost, repealing unnecessary laws and stripping away excessive regulation. The Act aims to put traditional British freedoms at the heart of the Whitehall agenda.

The change is permissive in that neither local authorities or religious groups are required to provide services outside the traditional hours.

The Government has published discussion papers seeking views – the first reviewing contact arrangements for children with their birth parents and the second looking at placing sibling groups for adoption.

The papers are based on proposals from the Government’s Advisor on Adoption Martin Narey, and call for views from professionals, charities, foster carers, children in care, adopted children and adoptive parents.

Martin Narey said:

“Today the Government is asking for views on two issues which are central to the long term welfare of such children. The first is about contact between children in care and their birth families. This follows advice from me to Ministers in which I have expressed anxiety about the amount of contact we allow and the potential of that to harm children. The second issue, on which I have also expressed concern, is about the extent to which we try to keep brothers and sisters together in planning for their adoption.

“On contact, many of the practitioners I have spoken to during the past year, and in numerous visits to local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies, have convinced me that too often we allow contact when it is not in the best interests of the child. Sometimes, even when contact is appropriate, we allow too much of it. It is not uncommon for infants in care to be shuttled, sometimes long distances, and every day, for meetings with their birth mother of two or more hours. The distress that causes to infants gravely troubles both their foster carers and their social workers.

“I have not suggested to Ministers that contact between birth families and children in care should not continue to be the norm. But I have urged them to consider whether the current legislative presumption in favour of contact is appropriate and whether, instead, policy should make clear that contact must always be in the interests of the child.

“On siblings, I have concluded that while we should and must do more to recruit adopters willing to take on the challenge of adopting two or more children simultaneously, we need to ensure that local authority and court decisions are informed by the research evidence which tells us - much as it might surprise us – that keeping siblings together may not always be in the interests of individual children. For example where, through a period of neglect, an older child has been effectively parenting a younger child, it can be vital for them to be separated so that each child can develop a positive attachment with their new parents.

“And the adopter challenge of successfully compensating for an early life of neglect, where a child has often suffered significant harm, will often be more manageable when adopters are coping with just one child, not two, three or four.”

 

Think tank Policy Exchange has published a paper examining the case for equal marriage.

The report takes a detailed looked at the pros and cons of same sex marriage, and claims that the balance of argument favours equal marriage.

The report recommends that:

  • Same sex couples should be allowed to marry and given the same benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples.
  • Religious bodies or institutions should not be forced to carry out same sex marriages on their premises.
  • Religious bodies or institutions should be allowed to ‘opt in’ if they wish to carry out a same sex marriage on their premises.
  • A fast track should be provided for existing civil partners who wish to transfer to full marriage.
  • Once equal marriage has been introduced, no new civil partnerships should be created.

David Skelton, co-author of the paper, said: “Marriage brings with it hundreds of years of history and a long record of providing stability. It is understandable that some religious bodies do not want to marry same sex couples and the state should respect their choice. Likewise, other religious bodies might wish to carry out gay marriage ceremonies on their premises and they should be able to opt in if they so wish.

“Gay people do not want to change the nature of marriage as some have argued. They just want to be part of an institution that transcends communities, promotes commitment and fidelity, as well as providing stability and a valuable social support structure.”

A recent survey from America has found that financial arrangements are the main cause of arguments, with couples who are married or living together averaging three arguments a month over money.

According to the survey, which was conducted for the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) by Harris Interactive, 27% of those who are married or cohabiting said disagreements over money are most likely to prompt a spat. That made it the most volatile topic, ahead of arguments about children, chores, work or friends.

Since 2007, the AICPA has conducted an annual survey of Americans to determine their top financial concerns and assess their financial well-being. Additional findings include:

  • Three in ten adults who are married or living with a partner have engaged in at least one potentially deceitful behaviour related to their finances. The most common such behaviours include hiding purchases and making major purchases without consulting their significant other.
  • Among married adults, 36% of those aged 55 to 64 say financial matters cause arguments, which is notably higher than the percentage of 18- to 34-year-olds (15%), or seniors (20%), who say the same.
  • The average number of arguments prompted by financial matters rises with age. While among all married adults the average number of disagreement is three per month, among those aged 45 to 54, the average number of arguments rises to four per month.
  • More than half of those whose financial status has declined in the past year, 53%, report that financial matters are most likely to prompt arguments with their spouse.

 

Commenting on new research from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) that claims that local authorities are acting more quickly to process care applications, Sue Kent, professional officer, British Association of Social Workers (BASW), said:

“It is welcome that Guardians feel local authorities are making more timely and appropriate interventions, and the fact that more serious neglect cases are being picked up is clearly vitally important for improving the life chances of vulnerable children. The rise in neglect cases reaching court perhaps could be seen as the impact of the ever worsening economic climate on many families who are struggling to cope.

“However, increasing demand must be matched by resources on the ground, to protect the integrity and professionalism of all children’s social workers, regardless of the field they work in. Although the child’s main professional relationship is with their local authority social worker, BASW members within Cafcass have previously reported that as children’s guardians, the restricted timescale, coupled with ever increasing workloads, often compromises their ability to practice ethically, as they have less time to develop relationships with children to represent their best interests in court cases, and ensure the local authority care plan is the right one for them.

“It is notable that the Cafcass report emphasises that family court work ‘does not detract from the importance of family support services to parents, aimed at preventing, as far as is possible, family breakdown and neglect’, since this area of work  – offering a genuine alternative to care proceedings is currently stretched beyond what is acceptable.

“This has to be a concern for the future, how are these families going be supported, and how will social workers cope with this ever increasing rise in their work while cuts to resources continue.”

The care system is facing major challenges as the number of looked after children rises and retiring foster carers are not replaced fast enough, Children’s Minister Tim Loughton has warned.

He has urged fostering services not to be blinkered when considering who has the capacity to foster and to reach out to a wider pool of potential carers – able to help the increasingly challenging needs of children coming in care.

The Minister has argued that there will be a rising turnover of foster carers over coming years, caused in part by an aging workforce – the vast majority are already in their late forties to mid-50s. He said without younger and skilled foster carers coming forward, the current shortfall of carers will only grow.

Announcing measures to strengthen foster carers’ recruitment and retention, he has called on more fostering services to target those in caring professions, like nursing, teaching and social work, as potential foster carers.

Three quarters of the 65,000 children in care at any one time are in foster care – with as many as 91,000 spending some time in the care system over the course of a year.

The Government has laid an order in Parliament to bring the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC) back under direct Ministerial control.

Work and Pensions Minister Maria Miller said:

“The Government is clear about how important strong family relationships are for children. All children have the right to financial support from both parents, which is why we are reforming the child maintenance service to put children at its heart.

"Bringing the system under direct control of Ministers will help that process."

The move follows a consultation conducted last year by the Government. The matter will be debated in both Houses of Parliament, and assuming it receives Parliamentary approval, CMEC will be abolished, and its current operational units will become a business unit of the Department  for Work and Pensions

Parents will be supported and helped to make their own, family-based child maintenance arrangements, although a new, streamlined and more efficient statutory child maintenance service will be introduced for those who need it.

 

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.”

 

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) has published a position statement setting out potential changes to the adoption system in response to criticism that it takes too long for a child in care to be permanently adopted.

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.