Family Law News: Updates & Stats - just in case you missed it

Ministry of Justice Statistics set out the impact of Covid-19 on family court activity

The latest statistics show the substantial effect Covid-19 has had on family court activity between April and June 2020.  For example, the number of domestic violence remedy order applications increased by 24% compared to the same quarter last year and the mean average time from divorce petition to decree nisi was 23 weeks and decree absolute was 47 weeks.  Financial remedy applications made in April to June 2020 was down 18 per cent on the equivalent quarter in 2019.

Follow-up consultation report on the effectiveness of remote hearings published

Following Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO)'s initial research, at the request of the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the NFJO has published its findings of a follow-up consultation detailing reflections and experiences of remote hearings in the midst of the pandemic.
Between 10 September and 30 September 2020, over 1,306 respondents completed a survey and focus groups and interviews were undertaken with parents and several organisations submitted additional information.  The report highlights common problems such as: parents participating in remote hearings alone; a lack of communication between legal representatives and their clients before hearings; and communication difficulties during hearings due to the need to use more than one device or to adjourn the hearing.  Particular difficulties are experienced by parents who require an interpreter or who have a disability.

In response to the report, the President said:

"This emergency is without precedent. Judges and others have worked tirelessly, and continue to do so, so that the Family Court has continued to function without a break since the start of 'lockdown' in March. We have adjusted, developed and adapted our methods of working as the crisis has persisted.  Much of the work of the Family Court cannot be left to wait as many cases, involving the welfare of children as well as adults, are urgent. Because of the need for social distancing most cases are currently heard remotely (either wholly or in part). The report highlights that everyone is doing their best in the circumstances.

"This important piece of independent research, which holds a mirror up to the system, is a most valuable reflection after six months of remote working. Encouragingly, most professionals, including judges, barristers, solicitors, Cafcass workers, court staff and social workers, felt that, overall, the courts were now working more effectively and that there were even some benefits for all to working remotely.

"However, the report highlights a number of areas of concern that need to be addressed.  There are clearly circumstances where more support is required to enable parents and young people to take part in remote hearings effectively.  It is worrying that some parents report that they have not fully understood, or felt a part of, the remote court process.  Whilst technology is improving, there is clearly still work to be done to improve the provision of Family Justice via remote means. I am very alert to the concerns raised in this report, and I will be working with the judiciary and the professions to develop solutions."

Financial Remedies Court Pilot extended to the South West

With effect from 1 October 2020, the Financial Remedies Pilot be will launched in the South West.  The South West has been divided into three zones: 1) Bristol 2) Devon, Cornwall and South Somerset and 3) Dorset & Hampshire.  The lead judge in each zone will now coordinate the detailed local arrangements.

Access Mr Justice Mostyn's revised standard orders

Following Mr Justice Moystn's updates to the standard financial enforcement orders, all of the orders have now been gathered into one zip folder

Women divorced later in life may be missing out on state pensions

According to the analysis of LCP, tens of thousands of women who divorce later in life may be missing out on huge sums in state pension rights.  During 1998-2018, more than 100,000 women aged 60 divorced according to figures from the ONS.  The vast majority reached system state pension age before 6 April 2016 come under the "old" state pension system which makes significant provision for divorced women.  However, if they divorced after state pension age they benefit from a pension uplift only if they notify the Department for Work and Pensions ("DWP") of their divorce.

The LCP is encouraging women who divorced over state pension age and who reached state pension age before 6 April 2016 to notify the DWP as a matter of urgency to get their state pension reviewed.

The Law Society launches legal action against the Legal Aid Agency

The Law Society has lodged a judicial review against the Legal Aid Agency claiming that it failed to consult properly about a decision to move legal aid cost assessments in-house. 

Law Commission launches consultation on marriage law reform

The Law Commission is consulting on proposals to give couples greater freedom over where to hold their weddings and the form ceremonies can take.  They have put forward that the laws governing weddings, originally formed in 1836, are no longer suitable for the 21st century.  Proposals include allowing weddings to take place outdoors and in a wider variety of buildings (including private homes). 

The Law Commission are consulting on the proposals until 3 December 2020 with the aim to publish the final report in the second half of 2021.  Visit the Law Commission website for further details.

Guidance for family law disputes involving the European Union

The Ministry of Justice has published guidance for legal professionals, applicable from 1 January 2021, in respect of family law disputes involving the EU.  Click here to access the guidance and the EU Commission's published guidance,

The Pandemic's effect on children's wellbeing report

The State of the Nation 2020 report collates a range of published data to better understand children and young people's experiences of the pandemic and the continued support that will be required.

Published guidance for separated families and contact with children in care

The House of Commons Library has published a paper in response to key questions arising from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on separated families, access to children and maintenance arrangements.  The paper can be accessed here.

Increase in new private law cases received by Cafcass 

Cafcass received 4,262 new private law cases in September 2020, which is 14.5% (540 cases) higher than in September 2019.  Click here to view month-by-month figures.

United Kingdom joins 2007 Child Support Convention

On 28 September 2020, the UK deposited its instrument of ratification to the HCCH Convention of 23 November 2007 on the International Recovery of Child Support and Other Forms of Family Maintenance (2007 Child Support Convention).  The new instrument of ratification ensures continuity in the application of the Convention after the conclusion of the transition period following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.  The 2007 Child Support Convention will enter into force for the UK on 1 January 2021.

Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 to extend until 31 March 2021

The Department for Education has decided to extend some of the regulations to 31 March 2021which were originally due to expire on 25 September 2020.  Access further details and download the Government's response document detailing the extensions here.