Bronze Statue of the Angel of Justice beneath the gilded figure of Victory on the Queen Victoria Memorial, London, UK
Family law

Judge warns parties to resolve trivial issues out of court

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Walker Family Law
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Judge warns parties to resolve trivial issues out of court

Bronze Statue of the Angel of Justice beneath the gilded figure of Victory on the Queen Victoria Memorial, London, UK

In family law matters little issues arise all the time. This is especially so in relation to arrangements for children, as we will see in a moment, but they can also arise in relation to other matters, for example who should keep a particular item of property, such as a favourite old photograph.

Of course, these ‘little issues’ may not seem so trivial to the parties themselves. That old photograph, for example, may be of great sentimental value, and keeping it may seem very important to one or both of the parties. However, we need to keep a perspective, and look at it from the point of view of the court.

The court can be asked to adjudicate upon most of these trivial issues. But the court is very busy, and its time is valuable. Most judges will not therefore be too pleased to use up their precious time on dealing with issues that they (and, usually, anyone not involved in the case) will view as trivial.


Unnecessary applications

This was highlighted by a judge in a recent case.judges wig court room

The case was being dealt with by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, the Designated Family Judge for Bristol, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Gloucestershire.

Judge Wildblood was being asked to deal with an application that he felt was unnecessary. In the course of his judgment he warned parties to family proceedings and their lawyers against wasting court time with applications which were unnecessary.

He gave examples of the kind of issues he had been asked to deal with in children cases, in just the previous month, such as:

  • At which junction of the M4 should a child be handed over for contact?
  • Which parent should hold the children’s passports (in a case where there was no suggestion that either parent would detain the children outside the jurisdiction)?
  • How should contact be arranged to take place on a Sunday afternoon?

He said that other judges had given him many other, similar, examples.

The message in the judgment to parties and lawyers is this, he said: “Do not bring your private law litigation to the Family court here unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so. You should settle your differences (or those of your clients) away from court, except where that is not possible. If you do bring unnecessary cases to this court, you will be criticised, and sanctions may be imposed upon you. There are many other ways to settle disagreements, such as mediation.”

The sanctions he was referring to could include being ordered to pay the other party’s costs.


So how should you resolve ‘trivial issues’?Quarreling couple talking about requirement to negotiate reasonably

Most ‘trivial issues’ do need to be resolved. It is not possible to simply ignore them. So how do you resolve them out of court?

Well, there are a number of possibilities.

First of all you should make every reasonable effort to resolve the issue by agreement with the other party. This can be done either by speaking to them directly, if this is possible, or through solicitors.

And if no agreement can be reached this way then there is always mediation, as Judge Wildblood indicated. Mediation, which is voluntary, is essentially a way of trying to resolve issues by agreement, with the assistance of a trained mediator. For more information about family mediation, see here.

Another way to resolve matters by agreement is via collaborative family law, a process by which the parties agree to resolve issues, with the assistance of their own collaboratively trained lawyer. For more details, see this page.

What if agreement can’t be reached? Well, there is one other option: arbitration. This is where the parties agree to have their matter adjudicated by a trained arbitrator, and agree to be bound by the arbitrator’s decision. For more information about arbitration, see here.

Of course, there may still be times when a trivial issue just can’t be resolved by any of these methods, and there is no alternative but to go to court. But at least if you have made every reasonable effort to resolve the issue out of court then you are unlikely to attract the criticism of the judge.