Report highlights importance of family support during separation

Report highlights importance of family support during separation

Family Solutions Group published their report “What about me? Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation” outlining ways in which the current situation could be altered to achieve better outcomes for all of those involved.

In the foreword of the report, Mr Justice Cobb, Chair of the Private Law Working Group, who Family Solutions Group (FSG) fall under, outlined:

“The title emphasises the strong central theme of the report – encouraging all of us who work in the field of family justice to place the child’s long-term welfare, and the child’s rights, ever more firmly at the centre of our work. The report rightly observes that the current processes for issue resolution (in or out of court) tend to operate largely for parents. The FSG proposes the creation of a framework of directly accessible community-based services for children and young people whose parents separate, offering them information, consultation, support and representation; the FSG urges the abandonment of the ingrained culture of traditional welfare protectionism, replacing it with a presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above be heard in all issue-resolution processes outside of the courtroom. 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.

“All of us who work in the family courts, and indeed in connected spheres, will benefit from learning the new language adopted in this report. This is but one step in the direction of a much-needed societal shift, through public education and government support, away from what many parents still see as ‘custody battles’, to the long-term goal of cooperative parenting. The FSG is clear in its objective to reach separating families before they turn to the law. This is all the more important, as the report makes clear, given the extraordinary and ever increasing pressures on the court system at present. In this regard, the report makes a range of clear and practical recommendations for change.”

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, said:

“This report brings together the various lines of thinking of recent years aimed at finding a better way to achieve good co-parenting between separated parents. It is an important and impressive document.

“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.

“For as long as I can recall, going back to Sir Nicholas Wall’s work on ‘Making Contact Work’ and indeed before that to the philosophy behind the Children Act 1989, 30 years ago, concerted efforts have been made to achieve a major societal shift away from seeing issues about ordinary child care arrangements as involving ‘rights’ or requiring legal redress. The Family Solutions Group are to be commended for mounting a strong case for major change; the courts can only do so much, any major change requires widespread engagement and support. The themes of this report should therefore be of interest to all.”

The report is available to read here.

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