Group says children’s rights should be put first first in parental disputes

A multi-disciplinary group of family law experts has recommended that in any dispute between parents over arrangements for children the rights of the children be put first, and that the court should be the last resort in resolving the dispute.

The Family Solutions Group was formed earlier this year, with a brief to give fresh and focused attention to improving the experiences of, and opportunities for, separating families away from the Family Court. The Group’s report What about me?: Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation, has just been published.

The report observes that the current processes for resolving disputes over arrangements for children (in or out of court) tend to operate largely for parents. The group proposes the creation of a framework of directly accessible community-based services for children and young people whose parents separate, offering them information, consultation, support and representation.

The group also recommends that there be a presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above be heard in all issue-resolution processes outside of the courtroom.

As to court proceedings, whilst the group acknowledges that the need for swift and unimpeded access to the Family Court is rightly recognised as vital for some families, particularly where there are safety concerns, the group nonetheless reframes how we should consider the arrangements for issue resolution in and out of the court system. Significantly, it encourages all involved in such disputes to recognise the fact that many parental disagreements about children following separation are not legal disputes, and that a legal response may indeed be unhelpful for many families.

Commenting on the report the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane said:

“It is thought that about 40% of all separating parents bring issues about their children’s care to the Family Court for determination, rather than exercising parental responsibility and sorting problems out themselves. This figure is both startling and worrying. Where there are no issues of domestic abuse or child protection, parents ought to be able, or encouraged, to make arrangements for their own child, rather than come to a court of law and a judge to resolve the issues.

“The number of these private law applications continues to increase, and the trend is that more and more parents see lawyers and the court as the first port of call in dispute resolution, rather than as the facility of last resort as it should be in all cases where domestic abuse or child protection are not an issue.”

You can read the full report here.

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