Local authorities turn away 80% of homeless 16 and 17 year-olds

Local authorities turn away 80% of homeless 16 and 17 year-olds

Posted by on Mar 31, 2015 in News

A new report Getting the House in Order published by The Children’s Society has revealed shocking statistics about England’s young homeless.

Each year 12,000 homeless 16 and 17 year-olds ask local councils for help with housing. 80% of them did not receive accommodation, and many of them are not even assessed – meaning that councils are breaking the law.

Even those who are accommodated still face huge risks. 8% were placed in Bed and Breakfasts, despite government guidance stating that this is unsuitable, as they are often targets for sexual predators and drug dealers.

The Children’s Society is calling for councils to make sure all teenagers are assessed and given support. They ask that B&B accommodation be banned completely, and any accommodation used should be regulated.

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Supreme Court: benefits cap breaches children’s rights, but will not be overturned

Supreme Court: benefits cap breaches children’s rights, but will not be overturned

Posted by on Mar 27, 2015 in News

In 2013 the Government introduced a benefits cap which limits the amount an out-of-work family can receive to £500 per week. This is a blanket policy and does not take into account individual circumstances.

An appeal against the cap was brought by two mothers who, having suffered domestic violence, fled and as a result of the cap are now facing homelessness.

3 out of 5 judges in the Court held that the cap does not comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which requires the best interests of children to be the most important factor. They said that the cap deprived children of “the basic necessities of life”.

However, the UN Convention is not incorporated into UK law, and so the Government is under no obligation to put the needs of children above all else.

The cap does not, on the other hand, breach Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This article prohibits discrimination. Therefore the judges dismissed the appeal.

Although this means that the cap is still in force, the Government has been placed under pressure to reconsider its application, particularly following the comments of the senior judges who stated that the cap disproportionately affects women and children, while the money it saves is “marginal at best”.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Children Poverty Action Group, said “We hope the Government will listen to the Court and comply with international law on the protection of children”.

Read the full judgement, or the press summary.

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Simon Hughes discusses the promotion of mediation in family law cases

Simon Hughes discusses the promotion of mediation in family law cases

Posted by on Mar 19, 2015 in News

Secretary of State for Justice, Simon Hughes, answered a written question this week, discussing the promotion of mediation in family law cases.

Mr Hughes was asked “what steps he is taking to promote mediation is the resolution of family and other legal disputes” and provided a written answer on 5th March 2015.

Mr Hughes began by explaining that as of 22nd April 2014 it is required for anyone applying to court in relation to a financial or children matter to first attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM). Since then attendance at MIAMs increased 20% from July-September 2012 to July-September 2014, and attendance at mediation has also increased, from 1.783 in April-June 2014 to 1,890 in the period July-September 2014.

The Secretary of State also stressed that legal aid is still available for family mediation and for legal advice to support mediation. Furthermore, as of 3 November 2014, the first single session of mediation is publically funded in all cases where one of the parties is eligible for legal aid. This means that both the MIAM and the first mediation session will be publically funded.

Mr Hughes drew attention to a new campaign, which went live on 2nd January 2015, entitled ‘First Stop: Family Mediation’. This campaign aims to promote mediation as well as advise on how to access it and any legal aid which may be available.

It was also noted in the written answer that on 1st January 2015 the Family Mediation Council introduced a new Professional Standards Framework, which regulates the operation of family mediators. This gives the public confidence in the service provided by mediators.

Finally, Mr Hughes pointed out that the Government encourages mediation through literature available in the Courts, provisions in the CPR, and pre-action protocols.

Questions about mediation? Find out more in our Family Mediation page.

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Committee calls for UK to ratify Convention, as promised

Committee calls for UK to ratify Convention, as promised

Posted by on Mar 18, 2015 in News

In June 2012 the UK signed the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention which aims to protect women from violence.

The government undertook to ratify the Convention as soon as forced marriage was criminalised. This happened in June 2014.

However, the UK is still to ratify the Convention.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights have investigated the UK’s progression towards ratification and found that our government consistently fails to implement practical action pursuant to the aims of the Convention.

For example, the committee believes that violence against women should be included in the national curricula, and the Department of Education should provide more resources and guidance to schools on how to teach and deal with it.77% of parents agreed, saying not enough was being done to educate children about the issue.

Furthermore, although the government appointment Nicky Morgan MP as the Minister for Women, it is argued that a government official should be given responsibility to coordinate all government measures relating to the issue to ensure that these are as efficient as possible.

If you are a victim of domestic abuse, please contact RISE, a local charity who help victims of violence.

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Court of appeal tells ex-wife to “get a job”

Court of appeal tells ex-wife to “get a job”

Posted by on Mar 17, 2015 in News

A recent case in the Court of Appeal varying spousal maintenance some years after the original divorce settlement in 2008 appears to have set a precedent for lower family courts. It now seems that a former spouse may not be able to rely on continuing to receive spousal maintenance indefinitely, and in the words of the judge will need to “get a job”.

Tracey Wright was entitled to £75,000 spousal maintenance annually under the original terms of the settlement. However, her horse surgeon ex-husband applied to end this as he approached retirement age.

Both the family judge, and Pitchford LJ in the Court of Appeal agreed that it was unreasonable for Mrs Wright to continue to receive these payments.

The general principle is that a spouse whose earning capacity is reduced following divorce, for example a wife who gives up her job to care for the couple’s young children, should receive financial support. The court will consider the division of other assets in calculating a reasonable amount.

Although it has always been the case that the disadvantaged spouse has to mitigate their position- in other words, try to find a way to pay for their needs themselves- and that spousal maintenance would only last for a certain period of time to allow the disadvantaged spouse to progressively become independent, this case appears to formalise this. It remains to be seen how the lower courts will apply this, however it seems that the days of receiving lifelong spousal maintenance are well and truly over.

Read more about the case on The Telegraph.

Contemplating divorce? Contact one of our solicitors for help and advice.

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Couple challenge ban on heterosexual civil partnerships

Couple challenge ban on heterosexual civil partnerships

Posted by on Mar 10, 2015 in News

A couple have been granted permission by the High Court to pursue an application for judicial review of the ban on heterosexual couples forming a civil partnership.

The couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, wish to register as civil partners, on the grounds that traditional marriage is sexist, have started judicial review proceedings.

Ms Steinfield said that this was “a significant milestone in our effort to open civil partnerships to all, regardless of sex or sexual orientation.”

The judge also granted the couple a Protective Costs Order which will limit their liability to pay the government’s legal costs in the event that their case is unsuccessful.

Despite this, the couple could still be liable for up to £70,000 of legal costs, and so have launched a GoFundMe appeal for contributions.

For more information about forming a civil partnership, and alternatives to marriage, contact one of our solicitors.

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New Data shows worrying increase of children in need

New Data shows worrying increase of children in need

Posted by on Mar 9, 2015 in News

Data collected by the Department of Education has shown a 5% increase of children in need.

On 31 March 2013 378,000 were classified as being in need, and by 31 March 2014 this had increased to 397,000. This equates to 346.4 children in need per 10,000 in the population.

Furthermore, since 2010 referrals to Children’s Services rose by 10.8%, with 657,800 referrals in England during 2013/14, and the number of re-referrals also rose from 147,700 to 154,000.

The most common referral source is the police with 23,9% of referrals being from the police, 14% from health services, and 13.1% from schools.

See the full statistical release.

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Give grandparents more advice as to how to see their grandchildren

Give grandparents more advice as to how to see their grandchildren

Posted by on Mar 6, 2015 in News

The Justice Minister, Simon Hughes, has answered a written parliamentary question which shows that every day 7 grandparents in the UK seek a court order allowing them to see their grandchildren.

In 2013/14 there were 2,517 applications for Child Arrangement Orders (previously known as Contact Orders) by Grandparents.

These orders will most often follow separation of the children’s parents, which often leads to complications with care arrangements for the children.

National Family Mediation (NFM) responded to these figures, saying that the government needs to provide more information about alternatives to such orders, including mediation. This is particularly important in light of the changes to legal aid, under which grandparents cannot qualify when seeking a Child Arrangement Order, but may qualify for mediation costs.

Jane Robey, CEO of NFM said “The Government says it wants to keep family disputes out or court wherever possible. It can certainly talk the talk, but it needs to do more to walk the walk.”

Read the written parliamentary answer.

If you wish to discuss either mediation or the possibility of obtaining a Child Arrangement Order, call us to set up a free 30 minute consultation.

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Children’s Society calls for changes to protect 16 and 17 year old victims

Children’s Society calls for changes to protect 16 and 17 year old victims

Posted by on Mar 5, 2015 in News

New analysis from The Children’s Society has shown that teenagers aged 16 and 17 are more likely to be abuse or neglected than any other age group, yet lack any adequate legal protection.

Figures show that 1 in 50 16 to 17 year olds are at risk of physical or sexual abuse, as well as negligent care which leaves them without adequate clothing and food.

Despite these figures, the current law does not protect this age group in the same way that it does younger children. Currently, prosecutions can only be brought for neglect, ill treatment or abandonment while the child is under 16.

In light of this, the Children’s Society is urging the Government to amend the Serious Crime Bill.7

Lily Caprani, Strategy and Policy Director of the Children’s Society, said:

‘It is nonsensical that children aged 16 and 17 are at most risk of abuse and neglect, and yet aren’t given the same legal protection as younger children…We are urgently calling on the Government make it a criminal offence for a parent or guardian to abuse or neglect any 16 or 17 year old who lives with them.”

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Getting married? Have you thought about drawing up a ‘pet-nup’?

Getting married? Have you thought about drawing up a ‘pet-nup’?

Posted by on Mar 4, 2015 in News

Figures show that 1 in 4 divorces involve a dispute about what is to be done with the beloved family pet. With this in mind, the Law Society has suggested that couples draw up a ‘pet-nup’: a pre-nuptial agreement which details custody and costs of the pet following the breakdown of the marriage.

Pet charity Blue Cross found that while cats and dogs are the pets the most commonly fought over, horses, rabbits, and guinea pigs also cause heated arguments.

President of the Law Society said “pets are part of the family so it makes sense to think about their welfare.”

It remains to be seen how common such agreements will be, but their existence gives any animal loving couples paws for thought.

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Family Drug and Alcohol Court extended nationwide

Family Drug and Alcohol Court extended nationwide

Posted by on Mar 3, 2015 in News

It was announced this week that The Department for Education has provided £2.5m to extend The Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) for one year.

The FDAC helps families who are affected by alcohol and drug misuse by working with parents, social workers, and substance misuse professionals to keep families together using innovative problem-solving methods. The court seeks to establish a relationship with parents, and tackle dependence, as well as housing issues, domestic violence and financial hardship.

The FDAC currently operates across London, Gloucestershire, Milton Keynes and Buckinghamshire, and will now be extended to cover areas including East Sussex.

District Judge Nick Crichton, who set up the FDAC model, said “we have seen some parents demonstrate a remarkable capacity to change in response to our more constructive, empathetic approach” and hopes that the new courts should be running in 12 to 18 months.

A study by Brunel University found that the court cut the number of children taken into care, with excellent results.

40% of FDAC mothers stopped substance abuse, as opposed to 25% in ordinary care proceedings, and 35% of FDAC mothers were reunited with their children, as opposed to only 19% in ordinary cases.

Furthermore, the court saves thousands of pounds per case, with the process costing £8,740 per family, whilst the cost of taking one child into care is £4,000.

Read an article about how the FDACs work in practice and their benefits.

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DNA testing: resolving Children’s cases more easily

DNA testing: resolving Children’s cases more easily

Posted by on Mar 2, 2015 in News

Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced that later in the year family law court judges will have the power to order DNA tests to determine a child’s parentage in any private family law proceedings.

The scheme was tested in Taunton and Bristol, and it was found that allowing tests to be ordered meant not only that judges felt more confident in making decisions about a child’s future, but also that parents were more likely to follow the court’s orders.

Simon Hughes stated that “Unambiguous and conclusive DNA tests will prove parentage and help to end acrimonious and embarrassing court battles.”

Seeking advice on a matter relating to your children? Contact us and book a free 30 minute consultation with out of our experienced solicitors.

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