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New figures from Citizens Advice show an 11% increase in the number of clients telling bureau advisers they are suffering domestic violence, a year after the Government announced moves to criminalise stalking and help victims of domestic violence.

As the UK sees economic recovery stagnate and people feel the pressures of a double-dip recession alongside welfare and public sector reform, advisers are seeing a sharp rise in the number of domestic violence cases, which includes physical violence, emotional and sexual abuse. 

The figures for the last year show:

  • In 13,500 reported domestic violence cases, more than eight out of ten clients were women;
  • In the last quarter of 2012 there were 3,300 reported domestic violence cases, an 11% increase compared with the same period the previous year; and
  • 16% of people seeking advice about domestic abuse cases sought advice about domestic violence involving children.
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A number of recent studies have been carried out to examine the characteristics and demographics of same-sex couples, and also to determine whether these couples can be disadvantaged in some respects compared to heterosexual couples.

Demographic diversity of same-sex couples

One such study, by researchers at UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute, sought to highlight trends and changes in the demographic diversity of same-sex couples and assess the degree to which similar changes are occurring among different-sex couples.

According to the study report, there are around 650,000 same-sex couples in the United States, of which approximately 114,100 are legally married and over 108,600 are in civil partnerships or registered domestic partnerships. 

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New research has shown that married people have better mental and physical health than their unmarried peers and are less likely to develop chronic conditions than their widowed or divorced counterparts.

A University of Missouri expert says that people who have happy marriages are more likely to rate their health as better as they age; aging adults whose physical health is declining could especially benefit from improving their marriages.

Christine Proulx, an assistant professor in the MU Department of Human Development and Family Studies, examined the long-term relationship between self-rated health and marital quality.

She found that, in all stages of marriage, positive or negative relationships affect the individuals’ health. Spouses should be aware that how they treat each other and how happy they are in their marriages affect both partners’ health, and they should think more about their personal relationships when thinking holistically about their health, she said.

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Government reveals divorce hotspots

Posted by on in Mediation

The Ministry of Justice has published a list showing the divorce hot spots in England and Wales last year.

Top of the list is Birmingham Civil Justice Centre and Family Courts with just under 3,000 couples filing for divorce. Weston-super-Mare County Court is second with almost 2,500 couples, and Leicester County Court is in third place with over 1,800. These figures were the highest for any part of the country, outside of Greater London.

As well as publishing the list, the Government is urging more couples going through divorce or separation to consider using mediation.

Family Justice Minister Lord McNally said:

'All too often I hear stories of families going through expensive and traumatic court hearings but we know that when working out how to split assets and arrange time with the children, mediation is a far simpler and cheaper approach for everyone and leads to better outcomes.

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The Home Secretary has condemned violence against women and girls on a day of global action to mark the One Billion Rising campaign, an initiative devoted to tackling violence against women and girls across the globe.

The Government has also launched a new campaign, ‘This Is Abuse’, which is aimed at helping young people spot the signs of an abusive relationship.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: 'We all need to work together to end violence against women and girls. I welcome the One Billion Rising campaign in helping to raise awareness and show victims they are not alone. Today we are launching the 2013 Teenage Relationship Abuse campaign to help prevent young people from becoming victims of domestic abuse

'The needs of victims are at the heart of this government's action to tackle this terrible abuse. There is more to do but we have made real progress in the last year by introducing two new offences of stalking, launching the pilot of Clare's law and announcing our intention to criminalise forced marriage.'

The This Is Abuse campaign first launched in 2010, and a series of TV adverts since then have highlighted issues of controlling behaviour and rape in teenage relationships.

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Think-tank The Marriage Foundation has published a report which finds that the divorce rate for couples after they have been married for ten years or more is the same as it was in the 1970s, 80s, 90s and 2000s.

Harry Benson, Communications Director at The Marriage Foundation, said: “All the change in divorce rates since the 1960s have occurred during the first ten years of marriage. After ten years of marriage, there’s the same chance a couple who marry in 2013 will keep the vow ‘death do us part’ as there was forty years ago.”

Half of all divorces currently take place during the first decade of marriage. There is hope for newlyweds, however, in that the divorce rate during the first ten years of marriage has fallen in recent years from a peak in 1993, a trend Mr Benson predicts will continue.

Within the first decade of marriage, the highest number of divorces occurs between three and six years of marriage, debunking the myth of the ‘seven year itch’. After peaking between three and six years, the likelihood of a marriage ending in divorce decreases with each year thereafter.

Mr Benson concluded: “A couple who tie the knot on Valentine’s Day this year have a 39% chance of divorcing during their lifetime.

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Like many other organisations operating within the family justice system in England and Wales, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is in the process of change. It’s role looks likely to evolve and this means the way in which Cafcass is regulated now needs to be re-considered.

To this end, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted) has launched a consultation on proposed changes to the inspection of Cafcass, to drive improvement for children involved in the family courts proceedings.

What is Cafcass?

Cafcass is a non-departmental public body, and represents children in family court cases of all types, including adoption cases, care orders, emergency protection orders and in cases dealing with residency or contact, after divorce or separation.

Cafcass makes sure that the voices of children are heard and that the decisions that are made about them are in their best interests. Safeguarding is a top priority for Cafcass, as are the wishes and feelings of the children involved.

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Significant reforms to services for vulnerable children and radical proposals to allow parents to choose how they share up to a year’s leave to look after their new-born children have been announced.

The Children and Families Bill includes reforms to adoption, family justice, an overhaul of Special Educational Needs, reinforcing the role of the Children’s Commissioner and plans to introduce childminders agencies. It also includes the extension of the right to request flexible working to all employees.

The Bill will include provisions on the following reforms:

  • Adoption Reform: the Government wants to reform the system so that more children can benefit more quickly from being adopted into a loving home.
  • Children in care: educational achievement for children in care is not improving fast enough. The Bill will require every Council to have a ‘virtual school head’ to champion the education of children in the authority’s care, as if they all attended the same school.
  • Family Justice: the Government wants to remove delays and ensure that the children’s best interests are at the heart of decision making.
  • Children’s Commissioner: the Bill makes the Children’s Commissioner more effective by clarifying his or her independence from Government with a remit to ‘protect and promote children’s rights’.
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The Government has recently published its Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, which will:

  • enable same-sex couples to marry in civil ceremonies;
  • ensure those religious organisations that wish to do so can opt in to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples; and
  • protect those religious organisations that do not wish to marry same-sex couples from successful legal challenge.

The Bill protects and promotes religious freedom through a ‘quadruple lock’, which:

  • Makes clear that a religious marriage ceremony of a same-sex couple will only be possible if:
    • the governing body of the religious organisation has opted in by giving explicit consent to same-sex marriages;
    • the individual minister is willing to conduct the marriage; and
    • if it takes place in a place of worship, those premises have been registered for marriages of same-sex couples.
  • States explicitly that no religious organisation can be compelled to opt in to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises; and no religious organisation or minister can be compelled to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies.
  • Amends the Equality Act 2010 to make clear that it is not unlawful discrimination for a religious organisation or individual minister to refuse to marry a same-sex couple.
  • Ensures that the common law legal duty on the clergy of the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry parishioners will not extend to same-sex couples.  It also protects the Church of England’s Canon law which says that marriage is the union of one man with one woman, so that it does not in conflict with civil law.
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The Government of Japan has announced its intention to sign the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, reports The Japan Times.

The 1980 Hague Child Abduction Convention applies typically where one parent has moved a child abroad without the consent of the other parent and without the permission of a court.

In such a case, the “left behind” parent may apply through the Hague system for the prompt return of the child, and a “return order” will be issued unless the “taking parent” can establish that one of the exceptions found in the Convention should be applied

The development will be welcomed by many parents who have children with a Japanese partner, but have lost contact with them after the relationship broke down and their former partner took the children back with them to Japan. 

According to the Japan Times, the courts in Japan are currently very unlikely to award custody to foreign parents. Once Japan ratifies the Convention, these parents will finally have a legal route to try and gain access to their children.

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National support organisation Family Lives has published new data on the number of people contacting its service for help regarding divorce and separation.

The data analyses divorce-related calls to Family Lives’ helpline during the period of 1st April – 31st December 2012, and shows that: 

  • 3114 calls concerned access issues to children caught in the middle of separation & divorce,
  • 2884 centred on conflict around an inability between parents to reach agreement on moving forward post separation,
  • 1750 parents wanted more contact with children,
  • 1486 focused on division of parental responsibility, and
  • 749 of calls were from non-resident parents had issues relating to being resident or non-resident with their children.
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The 21st December marked the 7th anniversary of the first day that same-sex couples were able to enter into a civil partnership in England and Wales.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 enabled same-sex couples for the first time in UK history to have their relationship recognised in law. It also gives them equivalent rights and responsibilities as to marriage.

At the end of last year, the Government published the results of its equal marriage consultation, and announced that it would introduce legislation next year which allow same-sex marriage.

It will also introduce a process that will allow civil partnerships (now numbering some 50,000) to be converted into a civil marriage; and change the law so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married – putting an end to the distressing process of having to end a marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued.

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Equal marriage plans unveiled

Posted by on in Civil Partnerships

The Government has set out its plans to allow same-sex couples in England and Wales to marry.

Minister for Women and Equalities, Maria Miller, said:

“Marriage is one of the most important institutions we have in this country. It binds us together, brings long-term commitment and stability, and makes society stronger. Our proposals mean that marriage would be available to everyone. 

“I am absolutely clear that no religious organisation will ever be forced to conduct marriages for same-sex couples, and I would not bring in a bill which allowed that. European law already puts religious freedom beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional ‘quadruple legal lock’. But, it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt-in should be able to do so.”

The Government has also underlined the following additional measures:

  • introducing a process that will allow civil partnerships (now numbering some 50,000) to be converted into a civil marriage; and
  • changing the law so that individuals can legally change their gender while remaining married - putting an end to the distressing process of having to end a marriage or civil partnership before a full gender recognition certificate can be issued.
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Families face festive fallout

Posted by on in Divorce

National charity Family Lives is bracing itself for an increase in calls to its helpline over the Christmas period from families suffering from festive fall out.

Jeremy Todd, Family Lives Chief Executive said:

“Christmas can be the toughest time of all for some families. At a time when emotions run high and stresses and strains increase, many support groups close for the Christmas period, meaning cries for help are left unanswered. The fall-out from the pressures of the festive period can often culminate in couples deciding to separate

“Every year, Family Lives receives thousands of calls to its free confidential helpline, from separated parents struggling to make contact with their children or make relations with a former partner work during Yule Tide. It is important that parents are supported to find a way of communicating and working together for the sake of their children.”

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Almost one in five Women’s Aid member services has reported severe funding difficulties, leading to the closure of vital services for vulnerable women and children affected by domestic violence.

Nicki Norman, Deputy Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:

"It is devastating to see that decisions on domestic and sexual violence services have been short term financial decisions, not what is the safest option.

“Already, nearly 30,000 women were turned away from refuge services last year because there was no bed space at the service they contacted and now one in five of our members are being forced to reduce their level of provision, with some being forced to close completely.”

Further pressure will also be placed on services if the proposed benefit cap comes into force without proper consideration about how it will affect women using refuges services.

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Poll highlights importance of marriage

Posted by on in Family Law

Family breakdown and the decline in the importance of marriage are cited by the public as key causes of the serious social problems facing Britain, according to a new opinion poll.

The survey found that 55% of respondents believe at least one of their local communities is plagued by broken families, crime and poor schools.

Some 60% say that over the last few decades, marriage has become less important to society and that is having a damaging effect on the country.

And with 89% agreement, the public identifies better parenting and stronger families as the key to mending the broken society.

The YouGov survey was commissioned by the Centre for Social Justice, an independent think-tank, which is preparing to launch Breakthrough Britain II, a new forensic examination of the social fabric of the nation which will report back ahead of the next general election.

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A recent study by researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Oxford has challenged Government plans to alter the 1989 Children Act.

Recent research by domestic abuse charity CAADA has found that ‘high risk’ domestic abuse services are very effective in saving lives, and are a cost effective use of public money.

The Government has issued a call for more adopters to help find homes for more than 4200 children ready for adoption.

Women still the main drivers of divorce

Posted by on in Divorce

A recent survey by Grant Thornton has found that within married couples, women are the most likely to petition for divorce.