Number of cases reaching court
92. The number of private law cases have been rising since 2005, and the 2009 figures represented a 14% increase on the previous year. In 2009, some 137,480 children were the subject of private law family cases. Currently 90% of separating parents do not use the courts. The MoJ told us that it believed this figure had remained stable between 2002 and 2007. However, some of those 90% will be unhappy with their contact arrangements, and in up to 30% of cases one parent does not see the child but does not challenge that in court. 
93. We heard that the families that did reach court were those with multiple problems:
Many are victims of violence, or are perpetrators whose need for representation and advice is no less great. Many have lives blighted by alcoholism or drug abuse. Many of our clients do not have English as a first language; many speak no English at all—vital instructions are communicated through interpreters.
94. Research has found very high levels of domestic violence in private law cases which reach court. In a 2005 study, 53% of women reported physical or emotional abuse as a cause of the separation, with actual or fear of violence continuing post-separation for 40% of women. Actual violence or fear of violence prior to the application was reported by 24% of women who had not reported violence during the relationship. The study noted that despite the high levels of domestic violence only about 15% of cases had an injunction or protective order.
95. Research for the Ministry of Justice by Joan Hunt and Alison Macleod of the University of Oxford found high levels of safeguarding concerns, only about a third of which related to domestic violence.
In 54% of cases (167 of 308) the resident parent raised concerns over serious welfare issues: domestic violence (34%); child abuse or neglect (23%); parenting capacity affected by drug abuse (20%), alcohol abuse (21%), mental illness (13%) or learning difficulties(1%); fear of abduction (15%). The proportion rose to 82% of cases (89 of 108) where the resident parent initially opposed any direct contact.
96. The study also found that domestic violence was alleged in 50% of cases (this figure is higher because it includes historic domestic violence or where it was not raised as a welfare concern). Some cases in which there are safety concerns are not reaching court under the current arrangements. Fiona Weir, CEO, Gingerbread, told us that in cases which did not reach court: "we find even where contact is continuing, in about 10% of cases, there is an ongoing safety issue that is concerning at least one of the parents."
97. We received evidence that a large number of private law cases that currently reach court involve families with multiple problems. A high percentage of cases involve domestic violence or other child protection concerns. Care must be taken that any measures to divert cases from court only seek to do so where that is in the best interests of the child. This will be more complex than simply screening for domestic violence.
120 Blackwell, A and Dawe, F. (2003): Non-resident parent contact. London, ONS 2003; Office for National Statistics (2008) Omnibus Survey Report No. 38. Non-resident parental contact, 2007/8 A report on research using the National Statistics Omnibus Survey produced on behalf of the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families Back
121 Ev w92 Back
122 Trinder, L., Connolly, J., Kellett, J., Notley, A Profile of Applicants and Respondents in Contact Cases in Essex. (2005) Back
123 Outcomes of applications to court for contact orders after parental separation or divorce, Briefing Note, Joan Hunt and Alison Macleod. Back
124 Q 93 Back
125 Ev 129 Back
126 Ibid. Back
127 Q 94 Back
128 Department for Work and Pensions is the lead department but the proposals were developed jointly with the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Education. Back
129 Strengthening families, promoting parental responsibility: the future of child maintenance, Department for Work and Pensions, 2011 Back
130 Interim Report, p 169 Back