The Family Justice Review (“FJR”) was the long awaited report into the running of the family courts. It came out at the end of November (2012) and in February the Government proposed changes to contact arrangements and this caught the headlines. It is perhaps unfortunate that some of the other less provocative, but very sensible, proposals contained in the report were lost in the discussion about whether or not fathers would have more contact with their children.
One proposal was that separating couples would automatically have an on-line information helpline to give them access to all sorts of information when they are separating, not just legal. I generally suggest that parents take advantage of other non-legal assistance, such as guidance and support in helping their children deal with their separation, or help to deal with their own emotional issues. It is important that all parties in a divorce can move on from what can be a very difficult emotional situation to a place where there is acceptance and, if necessary, forgiveness. We all know of people who are trapped in the bitterness of an acrimonious relationship. Even after many years they can still bemoan their former partner, which actually does more damage to themselves. It is also of course vitally important that children are helped through what can be a difficult situation.
The court encourages parents who are arguing about the children to seek alternative means of resolving these difficulties. Anyone wishing to apply to the court is required to attend a meeting with a mediator and parents are then referred to a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP). Many lawyers feel that it is unfortunate that the parents attend these separately, as although they are separating, they are actually going to remain co-parents of that child or children so need to work together to help the children deal with their separation and ensure that the family survives well post-separation
There are various proposals envisaged to change the way parents take matters through the court. One is to change the terms “contact” and “residence” order to something called a “child arrangement order”, which is said to “encompass all arrangements for children’s care in private law”. What this will actually mean in practise is of course unknown, but most lawyers feel that it is a good idea to move away from the label of contact and residence which suggest that there is one parent who has care of the children, whereas the other “only” has contact. Arrangements should be joint, even if in practise the children spend more time with one parent or the other.
The overall message is of course that there has to be a better way for families to deal with the issues of separation, whether it be money or children, than arguing through the courts as they still have to exist together as a family, even when the parents are living separately. In some way or another parents need to be encouraged to address the needs of their children at that time of separation more constructively than many do at the moment. A court process which polarises parents to take particular positions and a process which can take many weeks to complete, just allows conflict to become further entrenched and any temporary arrangement for the care of the children to become the actual arrangement without any proper consideration of whether this is in fact in the best interests of all parties.
The courts have, as their overriding principle, the welfare of the children, but it tends to get lost in the mire of legal argument and positioning from the parents. What we need to do is stop that positioning from the outset persuading parents to consider the impact on the children and how that can be avoided.
For more information and advice on any of these points please contact Cotswold Family Law at email@example.com or telephone 01608 686590.