A week in family law: Adoption clarification and more

family law

The latest figures released by the Department for Education show that the number of looked after children in England and Wales is continuing to rise. There were 68,840 looked after children at 31 March 2014, an increase of one per cent compared to 31 March 2013 and an increase of seven per cent compared to 31 March 2010. The numbers have increased steadily over the past five years. Adoptions are also increasing. There were 5,050 looked after children adopted during the year ending 31 March 2014, an increase of 26 per cent from 2013 and an increase of 58 per cent from 2010. Although the number of looked after children adopted fell between 2010 and 2011, the number of these adoptions has since increased and is now at its highest point since the start of the current collection in 1992.

Still on the subject of adoption, in his judgment in R (A Child) the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has sought to address “widespread uncertainty, misunderstanding and confusion” over the correct approach to adoption applications, following the earlier case of Re B-S. He said: “There appears to be an impression in some quarters that an adoption application now has to surmount ‘a much higher hurdle’, or even that ‘adoption is over’, that ‘adoption is a thing of the past.’” However, he went on: “I wish to emphasise, with as much force as possible, that Re B-S was not intended to change and has not changed the law. Where adoption is in the child’s best interests, local authorities must not shy away from seeking, nor courts from making, care orders with a plan for adoption, placement orders and adoption orders. The fact is that there are occasions when nothing but adoption will do, and it is essential in such cases that a child’s welfare should not be compromised by keeping them within their family at all costs.”

The Cohabitation Rights Bill, introduced by Lords Marks, had its second reading in the House of Lords on 12 December and passed through to Committee stage. The Bill aims to give “certain protections for persons who live together as a couple or have lived together as a couple; and to make provision about the property of deceased persons who are survived by a cohabitant; and for connected purposes”. I discussed the issue of cohabitants’ rights here in this post.

The High Court has heard a challenge to the lawfulness of changes to legal aid for domestic violence victims. The case was launched by the Rights of Women campaign group and backed by the Law Society. Rules introduced in April 2013 under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act require victims of domestic violence to provide a prescribed form of evidence in order to apply for family law legal aid. The government claimed that the measure would protect cases involving domestic violence from its cuts in the scope of legal aid. However a report published by Rights of Women, Women’s Aid Federation England and Welsh Women’s Aid shows that despite changes to the list of evidence introduced in April 2014, nearly 40 per cent of women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence and face the choice of paying for a solicitor privately, representing themselves against the perpetrator in court or doing nothing.

Statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions have shown that in November 64 per cent of separated parents using the new Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) chose to make their own financial arrangements rather than relying on the state to collect and pay maintenance on their behalf. The figure is a six per cent increase since August. At the same time, the number of cases where the state is involved in collecting money from one parent and paying it to another has fallen to 36 per cent. However, single parent charity Gingerbread have pointed out that 2,900 fewer parents applied to the CMS in November than in May this year, after the application charge was introduced on 30 June, a drop of 30 per cent.

And finally, a senior government adviser has warned that children will be at greater risk of suicide if family court proceedings are opened up to greater publicity. Deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz said that the principle of increased transparency could have unintended consequences for children involved in proceedings. “It is only a matter of time”, she said, “before this deeply misguided motion, which has at its heart, I believe, an utter disregard for the welfare and best interests of children, and is in my view therefore unlawful, will result in the death of a child”. Is the headlong drive to open up the courts in order to satisfy public opinion ignoring the primary reason for family court privacy: the protection of the child?

Have a good weekend.

Photo by Mr T in DC via Flickr

John Bolch

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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