UK: A Decline in Private Law Children Cases: A Sign of Change in Family Courts?
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In July 2021, new private law cases received by Cafcass (Advisory Service for Child and Family Courts) fell by more than 16%. According to the latest figures published by Cafcass this week, they received a total of 3,774 new private law cases in July 2021, i.e. 740 cases (16.4%) less than in July 2020.
Private law cases generally consist of applications made in family court by a parent or caregiver following a divorce or separation. They are usually the result of a dispute between the parties having custody of a child about the arrangements made for the child (ren), such as where the child (ren) is to live and / or with whom they are. have to spend time.
What does the drop in cases mean?
At the moment, it is impossible to say what this drop in cases means, in overall terms for the family court. Some may see this as an early indication that family court may soon be less relied on by parents / guardians to resolve family disputes. Interestingly, this is the largest drop in cases since April 2020, when Cafcass received a total of 2,550 new private law cases. This was 1,055 (29%) lower than the same period in 2019. The decrease at this precise time in 2020 was undoubtedly due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the widespread uncertainty felt by the majority of the nation at that time.
While the timing of this most recent drop in the number of cases is difficult to explain, the reason may become clear as future figures are released. At present, however, statistics for this year (as of April 2021) indicate that Cafcass and family courts are on track to see more private cases than last year, as there are currently a higher number of cases and children in the justice system. than there was at this point last year.
All of this is linked to the harsh reality that since Cafcass made this information available, there has been a continuous increase in cases of children under private law from year to year. Courts, authorities and legal professionals strive to maintain workable avenues so that people can navigate their way through the family justice system. However, the widely held opinion is that this is a system in crisis. A recent report from the Family Solutions Group said that the number of parents making claims is unmanageable and that family courts are stretched beyond the limits, the number of cases (often involving matters that should never have been reach the doors of the courthouse) is increasing exponentially.
In a court case reported earlier this year, HHJ Wildblood QC gave some insight into the current ‘crisis’ when he pointed out that in January 2021 Bristol Family Court was dealing with double the number of pending private cases they had in January 2020 The judge noted that over the past month he had been made to micro-manage questions such as: which junction of the M4 should a child be handed over for contact ? ; which parent should hold the children’s passports (when there was no suggestion that either parent would hold the children out of jurisdiction)? ; and how the contact should be organized on a Sunday afternoon.
How can we help
The Shoosmiths family team recognizes that there are some disputes regarding the children’s provisions when court applications are absolutely necessary. However, judicial requests of this nature should indeed be a last resort. At Shoosmiths, we recognize that the client in this situation is likely to experience a period of vulnerability, anxiety, fear, etc. We can help the client explore the potential options available to them to resolve the dispute in the most efficient way possible, to prevent the situation from being recorded as another family court statistic.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide on the subject. Specialist advice should be sought regarding your particular situation.
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