New Research on Parents’ Experiences in Child Court Proceedings

New research has shed light upon the experiences of parents and other adults who go to court to sort out arrangements for their children.

The research, carried out by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (‘NFJO’), focused on the adults involved in these cases, how their characteristics may affect their needs when they go through court, and the type of information and support that could improve their experiences.

The research came up with seven key findings:

1. That court is a last resort for separating families. The research found that only a small percentage of separating parents go to court to sort out arrangements for their children, most families preferring to avoid court due to costs, stress and concern for their children’s well-being. This is important. Court proceedings should always be seen as a last resort, with the parents making every effort to resolve their differences by agreement, whether directly, through lawyers, or via mediation.

2. That families in these cases are often facing deprivation. Research shows that the majority of families involved are from the most deprived areas, with limited access to resources affecting the level of support available to adults and their court experience.

3. That while most people in these proceedings are white, there is an over-representation of people from some other ethnicities. The NFJO says that evidence suggests that women from ethnic minorities often have worse experiences in court due to the impact of cultural stereotypes.

4. That not all people involved in these proceedings are parents. Ten per cent of applications are made by grandparents and other non-parents. We have previously discussed this, here.

5. That many families going through court have experienced health issues. The NFJO say that adults involved in these cases have a higher likelihood of experiencing mental health issues before they go to court, including depression, anxiety and self-harm. They are also more likely to have substance misuse problems.

6. That a growing number of adults in these proceedings are representing themselves in court. This is due to legal aid being removed back in 2013. Unsurprisingly, the research found that the court experience of these people is often negative, although it can be improved if legal professionals take time to support them, and if they have an understanding about court processes.

7. Lastly, that domestic abuse is an issue for many families involved in these cases. Sadly, not an unexpected finding. The NFJO says that victims of domestic abuse often have negative experiences in court, including concerns about being believed, as well as worries for their physical safety and mental well-being. However, research shows that legal professionals can improve victims’ experiences through actions such as understanding domestic abuse, actively listening to victims, and involving court independent domestic violence advisors, who provide support for abuse victims. Legal aid is available to victims of abuse, who can therefore seek expert legal advice.

It is hoped that these findings will be used to help improve the experiences of parents involved in these proceedings.

The research paper can be found here.

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