We wrote here back in September 2022 about the scourge of delay in court proceedings concerning children, with particular reference to private law proceedings between parents regarding arrangements for their children.

Sadly, the latest statistics show that the scourge of delay in child proceedings, (and in private law children proceedings and public law children proceedings) (i.e. proceedings involving the local authority)) has not gone away.

In fact, the problem in relation to private law proceedings has hardly improved at all.

Crisis in the family justice system

In December the Ministry of Justice published its latest quarterly statistics for the Family Court, for the period July to September 2023. The statistics showed that in that period it took on average 45 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order, i.e. case closure.

In September 2022 we reported that such cases were taking an average of 46 weeks to reach a final order. That was the highest value since 2014, when the quarterly Family Court statistics were first published.

The Law Society, the representative body for solicitors, warned that the statistics “show a growing crisis in the family justice system”.

Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: “There were more than 80,000 children caught up in the family backlogs last year. We are seeing similar numbers this year. It is unacceptable that thousands of children are waiting almost a year to find out who they will be living with long-term because of delays in the family court system.

“Delayed justice can cause significant harm to the wellbeing of both children and parents by preventing them from having the stability they need to thrive. Research shows that children involved in private law proceedings are more likely to experience depression and anxiety.”

Negative impact on children

The latest Family Court statistics did not include data for the timeliness of public law cases.

However, such data was included in the annual report and accounts of the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’, which looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings), which were published in December.

The report covers the year to March 2023, and shows that in the final quarter of that year (January to March 2023) the average length of public law care and supervision proceedings was 46 weeks, which was 10 weeks longer than reported for the same period in 2020.

It should of course be noted that the Children and Families Act 2014 introduced a requirement that public law proceedings should be completed within 26 weeks, a target that is clearly not being met in very many cases.

Cafcass says that delays “continue to have a negative impact on children”, and that: “Delay for children as a result of longer case durations is now the single most pressing issue for the family justice system.”

Cafcass reports that it has prioritised reducing delay, although an Ofsted inspection of Cafcass in January 2023 concluded that delayed proceedings in most instances are outside of Cafcass’ control, citing a range of reasons, including a lack of court time, constrained court administrative capacity and local authority delays.

What can be done to reduce delay?

Sadly, there is little that families involved in public law proceedings can do to reduce delay in their cases. As Ofsted indicated, the answer primarily lies with providing greater resources for courts and local authorities.

But whilst similar considerations apply regarding court resources in private law proceedings, parents involved in such proceedings are able to take steps to reduce delays.

For one thing they can ensure that they comply with the timetable set by the court, in particular for filing evidence.

But they can also avoid court proceedings entirely, by seeking an out of court solution, for example via family mediation, collaborative family law or arbitration. Resolving matters out of court will not only be quicker for them, but will also of course reduce the pressure on the court system for others.

How can we help?

For further information on how we can help, please see our Expertise pages.

Walker Family Law is an award-winning family law practice, recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law mediationdivorce lawchild-law and arbitration.

Please contact us if you require any further information.

Modern families, as we all know, come in all shapes and sizes. And the different types of family makeup can raise issues that can be of considerable importance in a family law context.

One such family type is what is commonly referred to as the ‘blended family’.

What is a blended family

But what exactly is a blended family, and what issues can it raise?

What makes a ‘blended family’?

A blended family is, as the name suggests, a blend of two families, a sort of mix of two other common family types: the traditional family (two parents and the child or children they have had together) and a single-parent family, which consists of one parent and their child or children.

Obviously, a single parent may enter a new relationship, and form a mixed family with their new partner. We then have what is commonly known as a stepfamily, with the new partner being a stepparent to the child or children.

But what if the parties then have children of their own? Then we have a blended family: a combination of a traditional family and a stepfamily.

To use the Cambridge Dictionary definition, a blended family is “a family that consists of two adults, the child or children that they have had together, and one or more children that they have had with previous partners”.

Note that the definition does not require that the two adults be married to one another – they just have to be partners.

So what are the issues that can be raised by blended families?

Family blending issues

The issues of course arise from the fact that the step-children have ‘another parent’, with whom they don’t live (at least not all of the time): their natural mother or father.

Obviously, those children should normally spend time with both of their natural parents.

But then that means that they will not be spending that time with their half-brothers or sisters.

And this can be where the issues can arise: they may become conflicted between spending time with their blended family and spending time with their other (natural) parent.

This can be particularly hard for them if they are especially close to their step-siblings, or if the step-siblings are doing something of particular interest, that they don’t want to miss out on.

And remember, the ascertainable wishes of the children should be considered when sorting out arrangements for children – this can be especially relevant with older children.

Ideally, such issues should be dealt with by the natural parents with care and sympathy, and resolved by agreement if possible. Only after every reasonable effort has been made to resolve such issues by agreement (including the possible use of mediation, if appropriate) should the family court be asked to decide the matter.

Cutting out the ‘other’ parent

If a blended family considers itself to be a unit then the parents may feel it appropriate to take steps to fully assimilate the step-children into the family.

This raises at least two possibilities: changing the step-children’s surname to match any new family name (where they still have the surname of the absent parent), and the more radical possibility of the step-parent adopting the step-children, thereby cutting the other natural parent out of their lives.

Either course of action will involve court proceedings (save in the unlikely event that the absent parent agrees to a change of name), and the court will, as always, be guided by whatever it considers to be best for the welfare of the children.

Generally speaking, however, the courts nowadays do not consider it as important as it once was that all children in a family share the same surname, and the increase in blended families is part of the reason for that (in 2016 the Court of Appeal commented that “the increase in blended families means that it is … no longer the universal norm for a family living together all to share the same surname”).

As to adoption, that is obviously a very serious step, and is only likely to be considered to be in the child’s best interests if their relationship with the absent parent has completely broken down.

How We Can Help

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice, please contact the team.

We are thrilled to have won two awards at the Devon and Somerset Law Society Legal Awards this month.

The DASLS Awards aims to celebrate and raise the profile of the solicitor’s profession.

Kim Stradling, leading child law expert at Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors won the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Award, and our founder, Mediator and Solicitor Ian Walker, won the Leader of the Year Award.

Ian commented “I am overjoyed that we have been recognised in two categories at the DASLS Awards, this is an incredible achievement for the team and celebrates the amazing work we have been doing. In the last 18 months our practice has grown significantly, despite the challenges of the pandemic. We have expanded by building a team of outstanding lawyers and by being progressive and forward thinking in how we practice. We have a fantastic team and I am very proud of everyone”.

With an influx of new enquiries during the pandemic we moved our head office to Pynes Hill in Exeter in 2020. We have offices across the South West and specialise in all areas of family law including divorce, separation, finance and children law.

Ian Walker Family Law and Mediation Solicitors have also been shortlisted in two categories at the Law Society Legal Awards which aims to celebrate solicitors for the outstanding work they accomplished over the challenges of the past year. We are finalists in the Excellence in Practice Management and Sole Practitioner of the Year categories.

We are also finalists in the Family Law Firm of the Year category at the Family Law Awards which recognises the firm that has demonstrated providing outstanding quality of legal service for its clients and has displayed high levels of teamwork within it’s firm.

The Law Society Awards are being held virtually with an online ceremony on the 7th October and the Family Law Awards will be holding a glittering event at the Bloomsbury Big Top in London on the 24th November.