Why the continued rise in private law children cases?

Most months I briefly mention here the latest monthly statistics from Cafcass for care applications and private law demand. I did so last Friday. As regular readers may have noticed, the figures for private law demand have been heading inexorably upwards. I thought it might be time to have a closer look at those figures, and speculate as to what may be behind the rise.

Please note at the outset that I use the word ‘speculate’. I do so on purpose. I fully acknowledge that any thoughts I may have as to what is behind the figures are formulated on the basis of my own limited knowledge, but I simply do not have the time or resources to make a detailed investigation. Still, I have been following closely what has been happening in the family justice system for quite a few years now, and so hopefully I have something useful to add to the debate.

Before I proceed I should set out what is meant by ‘private law demand’. This is explained by Cafcass as follows:

“Private law demand is generally used to refer to applications made following a divorce or separation about the arrangements for children, such as where a child will live or with whom a child will spend time.”

Cafcass goes on to explain exactly what the figures mean:

“In private law the unit of measurement is a case (note a case can involve multiple children and multiple application types). These are counted upon receipt of the application from the court and entry into the [Cafcass] database.”

To go into just a little more detail for the benefit of those who don’t know, this does not mean that every private law (i.e. not made by a local authority) court application relating to arrangements for children (including for prohibited steps and specific issue orders) is included as soon as the application is made. Only when the court has considered the case and decided that a court welfare officer’s report is required is the application referred to Cafcass. Admittedly, this does include most applications, but some, particularly simple cases, or cases where the parents are agreed, or are close to agreement, will not be referred to Cafcass. For example, in the third quarter of 2018 (the last full quarter for which family court statistics have been published by the Ministry of Justice) the family courts received 13,444 private law children applications, whereas during that period only 11,411 applications were received by Cafcass (yes, I know that some of the applications may have been issued before that quarter, but you take my point – hopefully!). In short, a Cafcass case is likely to be a case that is contested by the parents, at least at the outset.

OK, so what do the statistics from Cafcass say? Well, I won’t go into all of the details (which you can find at the link below), but essentially private law demand has been increasing each year since 2013, the year that legal aid was abolished for most private law matters (more of which in just a moment). Thus between April 2014 and March 2015 Cafcass received a total of 34,119 new private law cases, increasing to 37,415 the next year, 40,536 the year after that and 41,844 in the year to March 2018. These figures represented year-on-year increases of 10%, 8% and 3.3%.

And the increases have continued since then. For example, the latest figure, for last month, was 20.2% higher than February 2018. Cafcass say that they consider this figure to be an ‘outlier’ compared to recent years (they don’t explain why they think this), but other recent monthly figures have also been higher, albeit not usually by quite so much.

I should say at this point that the increased demand reported by Cafcass is reflected by the Ministry of Justice’s statistics, although the latter are not as recent.

Alright, so what is behind the continued rise?

I will assume in what follows that the increase is not due to any population changes, whether in numbers or demographics. Certainly, I am not aware of any such changes, and in any event they surely wouldn’t have occurred over such a short period.

I also think we can dismiss the idea that there have been more relationship breakdowns since 2013. We don’t of course have figures for breakdowns of cohabiting relationships, but the number of couples divorcing has actually decreased over recent years. Whatever, there is nothing to suggest that relationship breakdown is in the rise.

Obviously, a big factor in the rise is what I will call the ‘bounce-back’ from the downtown following the abolition of legal aid. To explain, just before legal aid was abolished there was a surge in applications, with parents trying to get their cases in while they could still get legal aid. After legal aid was abolished, there was a corresponding drop in the number of applications. Clearly, that could not continue, hence the rise in applications since.

But the duration of the increase in private law demand seems to have been far longer than could be explained simply by ‘bounce-back’. Surely, that would have run its course after a couple of years (by, say, 2016)? There seems to be another factor, or other factors, at work.

Lack of lawyers to ‘weed out’ applications, either because they are without merit or, more commonly, because the lawyers help parents settle matters without going to court, must surely be one of those factors. We know, for example, that the number of cases being referred to mediation has dropped dramatically since the abolition of legal aid, as lawyers are no longer there to refer cases to mediation (or, more accurately, to advise parties as to the existence and benefits of mediation). Without lawyers, parents are rushing off to court when perhaps they don’t need to.

Which brings me to my last point. Are parents increasingly being encouraged to go to court by non-lawyer ‘advisers’? Without the availability of lawyers parents are often having to turn to unqualified people for assistance. Could it be that those people are advising them to argue matters when they shouldn’t (either because they don’t have a good case, or simply because the matter should be capable of being agreed), and then to go to court when either they shouldn’t, or it shouldn’t be necessary?

I’m sure there are factors that I’ve missed, and that others will disagree with some or all of my points (one matter I haven’t looked at is whether there are differences in the situation in different parts of the country, something covered by the data published by Cafcass). Still, this is clearly a discussion that we need to have, as it obviously impacts upon the ability of the court to deal with cases in a timely fashion, particularly at a time when resources are scarce.

You can see the latest statistics for private law demand here (click on ‘Monthly statistics’ and/or ‘Annual summaries’ – note that this page updates every month).

The post Why the continued rise in private law children cases? appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: John Bolch


Early morning fog over San Francisco

Don’t like the weather? Cross the street.

I have lived in many different parts of North America, but most of my time has been spent on the west coast, no more than a few miles from the ocean. There are many things to like about the west coast, but I’m especially fond of the weather. Each city has its specialty—San Diego is famous for sun, San Francisco for fog, and Vancouver for rain. But what this entire strip of land has in common is a relatively temperate climate year-round. Summers are rarely hot, and snow is almost unheard of. Some of my friends complain about the lack of seasonal variation, but not me. I figure, I can go and visit the snow or the sun for a week or two every year if I really miss it—and that’s enough for me.

Besides, we do have seasons, just not the same kinds of seasons as the rest of the continent. In San Francisco, for example, where I lived for quite a few years, the months of June through August are usually cool, especially near the ocean; the hottest month is October. Tourists invariably get this wrong, shivering in shorts in the summer and sweating in the fall. But the city’s generally mild climate has another interesting twist that makes it difficult for a resident to give a meaningful answer when someone from another part of the world asks me how the weather is.

Artificial and Natural Diversity

San Francisco is not a large city. Located on the tip of a peninsula with the Pacific Ocean on the west and the San Francisco Bay on the east, the city is only about 7 miles (11.3km) square. The famously steep hills contribute to an illusion of greater size—as if what the city lacks in width, it makes up for in height. Although it is nicely compact, San Francisco is composed of numerous distinct neighborhoods that are often profoundly different from each other in terms of architecture, culture, ethnicity, and overall demographics. Chinatown, for example, is just steps away from North Beach (San Francisco’s version of Little Italy), yet the local vibes of the two areas could not be more different. But as you move around San Francisco, you may notice something even more striking than the varying neighborhoods: major shifts in weather. San Francisco is often held out as a textbook example of microclimates.

A microclimate is a weather pattern that’s localized in a small area and different in some significant way from the weather of nearby areas. The variation can be one of temperature, humidity, rainfall, wind, or any combination of these. For example, there are parts of San Francisco that barely see the sun all summer long; along the coast, especially, it’s frequently cold, foggy, and windy. In other parts of the city, though, fog is virtually unknown; it may be sunny and 10 or even 20 degrees hotter than spots just a mile or two away. In all, there are about 30 well-defined microclimate regions within the city, and even more when you travel slightly farther away. When I was living in San Francisco and commuting to work just south of the city, I often drove out of rain and into sunshine or vice versa, but nearly always found the southern parts of the peninsula much warmer than in San Francisco.

You Don’t Need a Weather Man to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

There are many reasons for microclimates, but they all boil down to three main causes: water, hills, and concrete. Large bodies of water affect the climate both by increasing the humidity and by stabilizing the temperature in the immediate area. But even small ponds or pools, in the right location, can have a noticeable effect on the climate. This is especially true if there are large hills nearby. Hills block wind and redirect air currents, holding in both moisture and pockets of cool air. (This is also why temperate rain forests are able to thrive even when the greater region in which they’re located is too dry.) The concept of “city heat,” too, is well known; large expanses of concrete and stone absorb heat in the day and release it at night, making the average temperature in a city warmer than in adjacent areas. All these factors in combination with the area’s patterns of topography and vegetation contribute to the formation of microclimates.

Although San Francisco’s microclimates are numerous and conspicuous, the phenomenon is by no means unique to that area—it occurs, to varying extents, just about everywhere there are hills, large bodies of water, or other topographical features that can influence temperature and humidity. Depending on your point of view, they can be a curiosity, an aggravation, or a blessing. Weather forecasts for San Francisco are often misleading if not meaningless, because there’s so much variation throughout the city. On the other hand, in some areas microclimates make it possible to grow certain plants that could not survive just a few blocks away. San Francisco’s microclimates don’t reach the extremes of seasonal variation in the northeast part of the country, so residents still have to drive or fly if they need a real season fix. But as long as they don’t feel the need to shovel snow or rake leaves, nearly any weather they could want is just minutes away.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on July 4, 2003, and again in a slightly revised form on June 22, 2004.

Image credit: Brocken Inaglory [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Joe Kissell

National Sloppy Joe Day

A Sloppy Joe

You might say my relationship with the Sloppy Joe is complicated. I always felt a bit uneasy having such an uncomplimentary adjective placed next to my name, for one thing. Then there was the first version of this food I was introduced to, back in my elementary school cafeteria: an unappetizing mixture of ground beef, tomato sauce, and way too many yucky chunks of vegetables slapped onto a dry hamburger bun. Gross. I can’t remember the last time I ate a Sloppy Joe, and I won’t do so today, either. I’m sure I could construct a palatable version of this sandwich for myself, but then, if I had those ingredients on hand I’d much more likely make a burger, or perhaps some delicious chili. But hey, if you’re a Sloppy Joe fan, knock yourself out today. As for me, I’ll be waiting nine days for the holiday that cleans up my name: National Joe Day (coming up on March 27).

Image credit: Buck Blues [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Author: Joe Kissell

St. Patrick

Detail of St Patrick with a shamrock in a stained glass window at the Smith Museum of Stained Glass Windows at Navy Pier in Chicago

The man and the myths

Many years ago, I read the following provocative statement in a trivia book: “St. Patrick was neither Irish nor Catholic.” Although, as in most trivia books, these claims came with no historical references to back them up, they sounded plausible. I had no particular reason not to believe the book, and I tucked these tidbits away in my brain’s “interesting facts to investigate one of these days” file. I’ve been digging into that file a lot lately, and this seemed to be an appropriate time to get to the bottom of who St. Patrick really was—and which of the numerous and contradictory stories about him have some basis in truth.

Not being Catholic myself, I never learned even the basic facts (or legends) about most of the saints—information that, I recognize, is common knowledge to a large segment of the population. On St. Patrick’s Day, all I ever managed to deduce was that we were all wearing green because that had something to do with Ireland; any information about the historical St. Patrick was not part of my secular experience of the holiday. I didn’t even know that he was supposed to have expelled all the snakes from Ireland—after all, I’d never seen a snake on a St. Patrick’s Day card. As I read up on St. Patrick, pint of Guinness in hand, I discovered that one of the most interesting things about this man is how little one can know for certain.

The Mists of History

Confusion starts at the very beginning: Patrick’s birth. We can say with confidence only that he was born in the late 4th century or early 5th century; most accounts put the date between 385 and 389 CE, though some say it was much later. At any rate, it wasn’t even “Patrick” who was born then. His given name at birth was—according to some sources, at least—Maewyn Succat, and he apparently took on the name Patrick as an adult, when he began his work for the Church. As for Patrick’s place of birth, again, this is a matter of some disagreement. In one of his writings, Patrick referred to his birthplace as “Bannavem of Taburnia,” but no one knows for certain exactly where this village may have been. Sites in Scotland, Wales, England, and even the north coast of France have been advanced as possible matches. Patrick’s parents were likely Christians of some variety, though apparently not terribly devout, and Patrick may have considered himself a pagan as a child.

We do know that when Patrick was a teenager, he was captured by pagan raiders and taken to Ireland, where he was sold as a slave to a Druid chieftain. During his captivity, his Christian faith apparently blossomed. He remained a slave until roughly age 22, when he somehow managed to escape and return to Britain. Patrick began studying for the priesthood, and in either 432 or 462, after he was ordained, he returned to Ireland—this time as a missionary. He was not, as is often assumed, the first Christian missionary to Ireland, but he was among the first—perhaps the third.

It was during this time that the most colorful of Patrick’s exploits allegedly occurred. The best-known of these, of course, was that Patrick, by the force of his prayers, banished all the snakes from the island. Ireland likely never had any snakes in the first place; the story may have evolved from a symbolic association of snakes or serpents with non-Christian religious beliefs. In any event, there is no evidence whatsoever that this actually happened, nor does the Catholic church claim that it did.

Green Without Envy

Legend also has it that Patrick taught the Irish pagans about the concept of the Trinity using a shamrock as a visual aid. This story is almost certainly apocryphal, meaning the whole association of the shamrock with St. Patrick’s Day is based on a mistake. But in fact, it gets worse: because the shamrock is green and was traditionally worn as a symbol of St. Patrick, the color green itself eventually took on the same meaning. As it turns out, though, the color blue was originally assigned to St. Patrick, and for centuries, Irish superstition held that wearing green was unlucky. Patrick is, however, credited with inventing the Celtic cross; he felt that by superimposing the pagan symbol of the sun on a cross, he could make it more appealing to the Irish people he was trying to convert.

So what about that claim that St. Patrick was not Catholic? Well, the Catholic church clearly believes he was, but some Protestant commentators claim he was not. Among the reasons for these claims are statements from Patrick’s writings that indicate he practiced, and preached, a fairly simple version of Christianity in Ireland—seemingly not a fully Romanized version. There is also some doubt about his parents’ status in the Church, and a suggestion that only centuries after his death did Rome decide to absorb his story into official Church history. On the other hand, there is substantial evidence that Patrick was indeed ordained as a priest in the Roman church before beginning his missionary work. But the bottom line is that reliable written records from that period are few and far between. The true nature of St. Patrick’s religious convictions, like so much else about his life, will probably never be known with complete certainty.

Even the date of Patrick’s death is in doubt. It has been reported variously as occurring in the years 462, 491, 492, or 493. However, tradition has it that in whichever of these years Patrick died, it was on March 17—which is why the Feast of St. Patrick, or St. Patrick’s Day, is celebrated then. On this day, as I don my green—or blue—shirt, I will think fondly about the patron saint of Ireland, who was not Irish, who may or may not have been Catholic, and who was almost definitely, at some point during the indeterminate years of his life, named Patrick.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on March 17, 2005.

Image credit: Thad Zajdowicz [Public domain], via Flickr

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Author: Joe Kissell

St. Patrick’s Day

St. Patrick's Day

I’m 25% Irish and 0% Catholic, but I’m as happy to wear green today as any other day. And yes, it’s hard to sort out the conflicting advice over whether I should drink Guinness or Bailey’s Irish Cream or Irish whiskey or Irish coffee today, so I think the safest course of action is to do all of the above. I’m sure St. Patrick would have wanted me to.

I do feel an obligation to point out that, no matter your nationality, what color you wear, or what you drink today, you must not refer to this date as “St. Patty’s Day.” It’s St. Paddy’s Day. Paddy, with d’s not t’s, because etymology. OK?

Image credit: Pixabay

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Author: Joe Kissell

Does Couples Therapy Always Work? Should It?

If I had a dollar for every problematic thing people said to me once I announced that I was getting divorced… I’d be richer than I am today. People are so full of opinions about whether or not I should get divorced, even without knowing any details about our relationship or the reasons for divorce. I’ve even had people attempt to “stage an intervention” to try to tell me that divorce is the

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Author: Penniless Parenting

3 Frugal Ways to Protect Your Family from Household Pests

Nothing quite as gross and alarming as seeing your home, your safe haven, being infested by a variety of pests. Here’s some ideas from a reader on how to prevent them.

Having a pest problem at home? Let’s face it, pests are more than a nuisance, they can also spread disease and put the health of your family at risk. The first thing that comes to mind when you encounter pests is to rush to a

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Author: Penniless Parenting

Guédelon Castle

A portion of Guédelon castle under construction in 2012

History in the making

For 13 years, from 1981 to 1994, restorers worked to remove centuries of soot and candle smoke from the famous frescoes of the Sistine Chapel, including those created in the early 16th century by Michelangelo. After layers of varnish and grime covering the frescoes disappeared, the newly vibrant ceiling and walls of the chapel showed a modern world what Michelangelo’s work might have looked like soon after it was completed in 1512. Not only were the colors of the frescoes revealed to be much brighter, but even individual brushstrokes were visible enough to be compared to the styles of other artists.

Although restoration work of this kind can stir up controversy, as some would prefer not to risk damaging delicate artworks, or may disagree about the best method for restoring them, there is something extremely compelling about seeking to return old objects to their original states. It’s not possible for us to know what it was like to stand and watch Michelangelo at his work 500 years ago, but it is fascinating to imagine it.

Of course, restoration is not limited to famous paintings; ancient buildings also often undergo painstaking restorations. One such example is the castle of Saint-Fargeau in Burgundy, France. Built in 1453 on the foundations of a fortress dating from the 10th century, the castle now draws in large numbers of visitors who view epic historical reenactments on its grounds.

The man behind its restoration, Michel Guyot, has another project currently underway: the creation of an entire castle from the ground up, using the building techniques and materials of the 13th century. In the small village of Guédelon, not far from Saint-Fargeau, visitors to the castle can watch trained artisans go about their work, much as their counterparts did 800 years ago. Although seeing a restored castle can give you historical insight, the Guédelon project goes much further; with its emphasis on recreating the methods used to build the grand castles of the past, the experience could be likened to looking over the shoulder of a Renaissance artist, watching as he mixes his paints.

I Louvre What You’ve Done to the Place

The design of the castle was inspired by the castles built by King Philippe Auguste (or Philip II Augustus) in the 13th century. Among them is the original Louvre fortress, built to protect Paris from Viking attacks on its west side. Although the fortress was later razed to make room for a new palace, parts of its foundations remained intact (modern visitors to the Louvre can view these foundations in a special exhibition beneath the museum).

Although Philippe Auguste only lived until 1223, the Guédelon project’s designers imagine its beginning construction date as being 1228, when castle designs still followed Philippe’s model. Having chosen to emulate this historical era, the specific plans for the Guédelon castle were developed by Jacques Moulin, the chief architect of historic monuments in France. Begun in 1997 with the laying of the foundations, the Guédelon project is not scheduled to be completed until 2023. When it is finished, the castle will consist of high fortress walls, with towers of varying sizes around its perimeter.

Material Whirl

Forming the backbone of the project are the 40 or so builders who quarry stone, mix mortar, and chisel rock, among other tasks, during the warmer part of the year. In spring, summer, and fall these workers put in long days of work, while the site is closed in the winter. In keeping with the spirit of the project, workers wear simple tunics that would not have looked out of place in the 13th century, although they do make use of modern safety equipment such as goggles, helmets, and harnesses.

Both the materials they use and the techniques they employ are limited to those used by builders of the 13th century. The area around the construction site provides all the necessary materials for the project, including sandstone, wood, iron, limestone, earth, and hemp. Sandstone is quarried near the site, using only hand tools (such as sledgehammers), and then carried by horse-cart or wheelbarrow to the area where masons wait to shape the rock with chisels and mauls. The nearby forests provide wood for a variety of uses including the production of beams, planks, levers, scaffolding, banisters, wheelbarrows, pails, and tool handles, as well as fuel for all the site’s heating needs.

One of those heating needs is the kiln in which sandstone is fired for two days, before producing a lump of iron ore. Blacksmiths reheat the iron in a furnace before shaping it on their anvils into nails, tools, chains, weapons, or hinges. Likewise, blocks of limestone are heated to obtain quicklime, which is mixed with sand to produce mortar. Earth is used to produce bricks, pottery and tiles, and to weatherproof walls. Lastly, the project’s rope makers rely on hemp to create lifting ropes, belts, and harnesses.

Build It, and They Will Come

The Guédelon building site was first opened to the public in 1998, and by 2000, it was producing enough income to be self-sustaining. In recent years, as many as 300,000 people visit the site annually, and it is especially popular for groups of schoolchildren.

Although the workers at Guédelon are involved in actual construction, and are not just doing demonstrations of building techniques, visitors are welcome to not only observe, but to ask questions about what they’re seeing. Education is a big part of the project, and indeed, those involved in the process are also learning as they go, testing hypotheses about how medieval castles were built. The project has recently produced its own web series, “The Fires of Guédelon,” with the first season showing all the ways fire is used in the construction, and the second season dealing with how wood is used.

On a cold October day in 2012, my family and I visited Guédelon ourselves and saw first-hand the detail and craftsmanship that goes into the construction. It was amazing to see walls being built before our eyes, and to experience the site not only as a beautiful structure, but as a work in progress.

To me, the most remarkable thing about Guédelon is that people are not only studying history, but are themselves experiencing what life was like so long ago. The Guédelon workers and their guests have the opportunity to feel what artisans of the 13th century might have felt, watching a medieval castle take shape beneath their hands.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on October 25, 2006.

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Author: Morgen Jahnke

Are you married to an emotional bully?

Emotional bullies are not happy people. Motivated by fear, their insecurities plague them creating a need to command and dominate others to make up for how vulnerable they feel. Controlling others inflates the bully’s ego, masking their self-confidence issues.

Emotional bullies, instead of fists, bully with words (sometimes loudly). They steal the trust, kindness and respect from a relationship through coercion, manipulation and intimidation. Too often, I see clients who are married to a bully and struggling to break free.

Tell-tale signs you are married to an emotional bully

Bullying comes in many forms, here are the four key behaviours to look out for:

Aggression (verbal & physical)

Name calling, critical comments, slamming doors, blaming, accusations, undermining your decisions, arguments from nowhere… the bully has many verbal and physical options to control and dominate. Once they have established the pattern of using anger as a first response, the bully can rule on the fear of anger alone.


A bully will use control to limit your freedom. Isolating you slowly from friends and family, they will manage your time and decide how you spend it and who with; then make you feel guilty when you leave them to spend time with them. They will also text, stalk social media and call continuously to check where you are and what you are up to.

Passive aggressive

The silent treatment, coming home late, not helping in the house, withholding sex, controlling finances, undermining your decisions in small, all subtle ways that a bully will use to keep in control of you and the relationship.


When a bully gets scared of losing you, out comes the threat card. Divorce, moving out, cheating or even harming themselves are just some of the tactics a bully will roll out when desperate.

Living with a bully

Sadly you can spot bullies everywhere: the playground, the classroom, at work and in the home. But what is it like to live with one?

In a functional relationship, both people are equals. In a bullying relationship, there is an imbalance and an uneven distribution of power.

Typically people in a bullying relationship tend to have lowered self-esteem, suffer from depression and/or anxiety, are fearful and feel powerless and trapped. These emotional feelings often manifest physically in addiction, insomnia, changes to appetite and illness.

Leaving a bully

Being married to a bully can be emotionally distressing and the road to separation very stressful but one of the hardest parts is recognising that you are. Long relationships have behaviour patterns within them that are difficult to break.

Start by keeping a written record of your partners bullying for a month. Note down dates, times, situations and how they made you feel. Sometimes when you are living in a situation it is hard to see the bigger picture. Writing it down will show you the extent of your partner’s behaviour.

If you decide to divorce a bully, you will need a strong support team in place. Seek out professional and emotional support from lawyers, counsellors, consultants as well as friends and family on the side.

Sources of support

If you or someone you know is suffering in a abusive relationship, please do get support. The organisations below have advice and details of who to contact. If you feel scared for your safety, please do contact the police, 


Women’s Aid


Men’s Advice Line 

Broken Rainbow (for LGBT people affected by relationship violence)

The post Are you married to an emotional bully? appeared first on Stowe Family Law.

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Author: Julian Hawkhead