Family Law Reform Now: A collaborative push for change

This article was written by Dr. Charlotte Bendall (University of Birmingham) and Dr. Samantha Davey (University of Essex), on behalf of the Family Law Reform Now network.

The Family Law Reform Now Network currently seeks practitioner engagement with one or more of our projects.

Who are we?

The Family Law Reform Now network was set up by Dr. Charlotte Bendall, Lecturer, and Dr. Rehana Parveen, Senior Lecturer, both from Birmingham Law School.

Dr. Charlotte L. Bendall

It now includes various colleagues, including Dr. Sharon Thompson (Reader, Cardiff University), Dr. Samantha Davey (Lecturer, University of Essex), and Joe Ailion (Solicitor, Brabners).

The network brings together academics, practising lawyers, and policymakers, aiming to bring about “real world” change in the context of family law. The initial phase of the project entailed hosting a conference in the summer of 2021, showcasing 10 proposals from fellow family lawyers that spoke to the question: “if you could change one aspect of family law, what would it be?” Recordings of our speakers discussing their various proposals are available here. The proposals were also collated in written form and forwarded to the Law Commission, with the intention of influencing their 14th Programme of Family Law Reform.

For the next phrase of the project, we have selected three areas of the law in which we hope to make impact. In these areas, we are seeking to work collaboratively, and to think strategically about how best to achieve reform of the law. Our three areas of focus relate to: cohabitation, for which we hosted a conference at the Inner Temple with Dr. Andy Hayward of Durham University in January; the “voice of the child” (as below); and supporting parents in the context of the public law justice system (also as below).

How can you get involved?

We are soon to host two events, which are as follows:

  1. A conference on the “voice of the child”, to take place on a hybrid basis on 4th July at the Exchange, Birmingham, entitled “Children’s Voices and Family Justice – Time for Change”.  This workshop will be led by Prof. Helen Stalford (University of Liverpool), Prof. Anne Barlow and Dr. Jan Ewing (University of Exeter), and Dr. Georgina Dimopoulos (Southern Cross University). It aims to promote discussion and consider the further research needed to achieve meaningful change – whether through improved practice, processes, or legislative reform – to make hearing and listening to children’s voices a reality when parents separate.

    Dr. Samantha Davey

Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to express their views, feelings, and wishes freely in matters affecting their lives and for those views to be taken seriously. Yet, research in England and Wales and Australia has revealed that this is not a reality for children in private family law proceedings in court, with even greater concerns being expressed about whether their voices are heard in out-of-court family justice processes.

By bringing together academics, policymakers, family practitioners, and judges, as well as children and young people themselves, the workshop will consider the current situation in England and Wales, the position in Australia, and what each jurisdiction can learn from the other to pave the road to reform.

If you are interested in attending the event, and would like to come along “in-person”, please register using the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/641200858027. Should you instead wish to attend online, please use this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/641213164837.

  1. A conference on supporting parents within the public law justice system, to take place on 1st September also on a hybrid basis at the Exchange, Birmingham.

Every year, thousands of children enter the care system which means, in turn, that thousands of families experience care proceedings. The process can be costly for the taxpayer. It can also be lengthy and challenging for parents and child welfare practitioners alike. Our project on supporting parents seeks to explore the ways in which legal and practical reforms could better support families through the court process and beyond.

This conference, exploring the challenges that parents and children face in care and adoption proceedings, will be led by Dr. Samantha Davey, Celeste Greenwood (Barrister, Exchange Chambers), and Omolade Adedapo from PAUSE (who work with women who have experienced, or are at risk of, repeated pregnancies that result in women needing to be removed from their care). The event is timely, considering the recent attention to matters such as whether the limit of 26 weeks in care proceedings works in practice, and the restrictions on providing expert witness testimony.

We would like to hear from you if you feel that you might be interested in speaking at this event. Should this be the case, please email Samantha at smdave@essex.ac.uk by 3rd July to discuss. If, alternatively, you would be interested in attending, or otherwise getting involved, or you have further questions about the project, then do also contact Samantha.

Should you be unable to attend either of these events, but nevertheless be interested in updates on the Family Law Reform Now network, please sign up to our mailing list.

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