I have been so busy helping my clients, (many weekends included), that I haven’t had a moment to put any family law news online for quite some time now. It’s been hectic to say the least. However, over the short Easter break I found an opportunity to write a short family law news update. So what’s been happening in the world of family law? Lots of things.
There has been a big increase in the number of private law children applications being issued. Apparently 38% of all separating couples in 2018, were unable to sort out their child arrangements and they took their cases to the family court. It is unsurprising perhaps that the family courts are currently creaking and groaning with the increasing volume of work, generally.
‘Parental alienation’ is behaviour which is now acknowledged by Cafcass in their new assessment framework. Have a look on their website. Parental alienation is currently the subject of a government petition, which a number of people have already signed. You can find out about the petition online if you go to https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/164983. There you will see that it states that it is a Petition ‘to introduce a law that recognises Parental Alienation as a criminal offence”. It goes on to explain that “Parental alienation can have severe effects on children —low self-esteem and self-hatred, lack of trust, depression, substance abuse and other forms of addiction – as children lose the capacity to give and accept love from a parent’.
No fault divorce is on the governments agenda at last. This proposed reform is well overdue and may bring England and Wales into line with many other jurisdictions.
Family lawyers have been informed that the 11 regional divorce centres, have “failed” and there is a formal recognition that they have been inadequately resourced. Sir Andrew McFarlane, the new president of the Family Division, recently spoke at the Resolution’s Annual Conference. He stated that the 11 centres ‘have not worked well‘ and ‘indeed, some, particularly Bury St Edmunds, Liverpool and Bradford have provided a wholly unacceptable service’. There has been talk of one divorce centre processing all divorces in the future.
Divorces are taking the court longer to process. Those granted a decree nisi, last year had an average wait from the issue of the divorce petition (to decree nisi) of 29 weeks and 54 weeks for the decree to be made absolute.
Increasingly separating spouses are being urged to consider Arbitration rather than using the court process to resolve their financial issues. For those who can afford it, it is certainly quicker to use Arbitration than go through the court process. Arbitration is entirely confidential and it is flexible in terms of its timetable (unlike the court process, which works to a fixed timetable).
There remains much uncertainty amongst family lawyers about the impact of Brexit.
Over six and a half million people cohabit in this country. However, it appears that there still remains a lack of awareness about the property, pension and income rights following a cohabiting couple’s breakup. Currently, cohabitation property cases are heard in the County Court (rather than the Family Court) and they are governed by strict property rights. Many family lawyers believe that there is an urgent need for legislative change bringing greater protections for cohabiting couples. Parliament has been listening. There have been lively debates in both houses of Parliament over the last 12 – 14 months. Lawyers organisations such as Resolution continue to work and petition the government to grant cohabiting couples basic legal rights upon separation.