President urges parents to stay out of court

It is rare for the President of the Family Division, the head of the family courts in England and Wales, to express their views in the mainstream media.

So when the current President Sir Andrew McFarlane spoke recently to the BBC, his words were worth noting, particularly for anyone who is, or may be, involved in proceedings in the courts.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House programme, Sir Andrew said that some of the separating couples going to court, particularly to discuss the future of their children, would be better off not going to court.

At the moment, he said, for many couples court is the first port of call, when it should be the last resort, at least where there aren’t issues of domestic abuse or child safeguarding.

Sir Andrew said that his feeling was that about 20% of families who go to court to have a dispute about their children resolved would be better served by at least first of all trying to sort out the dispute in other ways.

He agreed that many parents see such disputes as a legal issue, when it is not. It is a relationship problem that they have, and the law merely provides the structure that, if needed, will resolve the dispute, and impose a resolution upon them.

And parental battles in court inevitably have an impact upon the children involved.

Sir Andrew said that research shows consistently that if you’re the child of parents who are at odds with each other that is unhealthy, and to have a dispute that runs on in the courts is highly likely to harm the child.

And Sir Andrew said that parents are fooling themselves if they say they are not involving the children, or that the children don’t know.

So what is to be done? Sir Andrew explained that the family courts are already piloting new ways of working, and part of that is that early on a social worker will file with the court a ‘child impact assessment’, with the idea of providing a wake-up call to the parents as to the impact of what they are doing on their child.

And of course the parents themselves can do more to try to resolve their disputes out of court, whether by negotiation, through mediation, or by some other means.

Family Law Cafe will help you choose the right option to resolve your family dispute. For more information, call us on 020 3904 0506, or click here, and fill in the form.

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