parental alienation child with parents
Child law

Report proposes new approach to resolving children issues

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Walker Family Law
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Report proposes new approach to resolving children issues

A new report has been published that proposes a new approach be adopted towards resolving disputes between separated parents over arrangements for their children. Parents in divorce with kid in middle

The report is by the multi-disciplinary Family Solutions Group (‘FSG’), which was set up by Mr Justice Cobb earlier this year with the specific purpose of looking at the ‘pre-court’ space for families when they separate.

The report, entitled What about me?: Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation, recommends that applications to the Family Court to resolve disputes should only be used as a last resort, and that there be a greater emphasis upon the rights of the child, rather than the rights of the parents.


Keeping out of court

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

Kris Seed; Head of our Private Law Children Team

“It should be a matter of concern for society in general to achieve better co-parenting between separating couples. 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.”

And in a Foreword to the report Mr Justice Cobb states:

“While 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 FSG nonetheless reframes how we should consider the arrangements for issue resolution in and out of the court system. Significantly, it encourages us to reflect on the well-recognised 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.”

The FSG make a number of recommendations aimed at keeping parental disputes out of court where possible, including:

  • A public education campaign, to reframe family breakdown away from ‘justice’ language, and towards an understanding of child welfare, promoting the rights of children to enjoy a relationship with both parents if there are no safety concerns. This would include an authoritative website providing clear and accurate information, and dissemination of information, for example at GP surgeries, schools and Citizens Advice Bureaux.
  • The establishment in England of a self-regulated body of parenting programmes, kite marked to an agreed standard (there is already work underway on this in Wales), and attendance by parents at a registered parenting programme to become the norm following separation. Parenting programmes are a source of support for all parents and carers and offer an opportunity to share parenting experiences, develop a greater understanding of child development, build positive relationships and learn skills to deal with challenging behaviour.
  • Local networks of ‘family professionals’ to promote an integrated approach to problem-solving issues between parents, with therapists, parenting specialists, mediators and legal services.


Putting children firstparental alienation child with parents

The report states:

“The current system is entirely led by the needs and wishes of parents. Whilst good quality information is available for young people online, it is difficult to access and they struggle to know which information to trust. Young people whose parents separate need a dedicated ‘place to go’ online. Also, young people’s views are not taken into account in the majority of cases. The culture that children should have no voice while far-reaching decisions are made about their lives is changing, with increasing recognition that the right of the child to be heard is a key factor in improving outcomes and a core component of child welfare.”

The FSG specifically recommend:

1. The establishment of a framework of direct support services for information, consultation, support and representation for children and young people whose parents separate.

2. A presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard in all processes for resolving issues between parents, including mediation and solicitor-led processes.

The report concludes:legal 500 leading firm logo

“It will take time to shift societal attitudes to prioritise child welfare and parental responsibility when parents separate. The divorce reform being introduced in 2021 represents a perfect opportunity to begin this shift, and support healthier transitions for both parents and their children. The Children Act was to be a ‘charter for children’ yet three decades on their voices, rights and interests are still marginalised in decision-making when parents separate. We believe the time has now come to transform our thinking in both England and Wales towards an approach which puts safety first, and otherwise promotes a child centred, child-inclusive, holistic approach for both parents and children.”