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Reframing Support for Separated Families

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By Sarah Houston

The ongoing theme of bringing about reform to the legislation in the world of family law resumed last week, following the publication of a new, pioneering report. The Family Solutions Group, led by Mr Justice Cobb, published its report entitled “What about me? – Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation”.

The key objective of this report was to focus on improving the experiences of and opportunities for separating families away from the Family Court.

Two years ago, Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Law Division) invited Mr Justice Cobb to set up a Private Law Working Group, tasked with a review and assessment of the approach taken to private disputes between parents with respect to their children, following a separation. There have already been two reports published by this group and now this is the third report to be published by a subgroup of that Group.

So what are the recommendations?

The latest report offers numerous recommendations and here are some highlights of the most noteworthy points:

  • Language and Process – The current system is deemed too adversarial, which can often exacerbate conflict between parents. The report recommends moving away from adversarial language, to a vernacular which is more geared towards providing a more supportive approach for separating parents.

  • Public Education – An education programme campaign is proposed to assist family breakdown away from judicial language in favour of developing a more in-depth understanding of child welfare. An emphasis on the promotion of the rights of children to take pleasure in the relationship with both parents, where there are no safety or wellbeing concerns.

  • An influential website with a suite of information for parents, children and those who work with families.

  • Comprehensive, all-inclusive information and training available for those working with families such as GPs, education providers, CABs, and many others so that they can signpost correctly.

  • An online framework of support services for both children and young people. It is understood that the current framework is perhaps too focused on the needs and predispositions of the parents. A trustworthy online platform of information services, assigned for young people with separated parents.

  • The report also recommends that children are afforded an opinion in all processes for resolving issues between parents and that their voices are heard and listened to, in relation to all processes for resolving disputes between separating parents, such as solicitor-led processes and mediation.

  • Two separate pathways being formed:

    1. A safety pathway for those needing safety in cases such as domestic abuse and

    2. The cooperative parenting pathway for parents to be supported in understanding the long term needs of the child and provided with options for resolving disputes with the other parent.

  • Parenting programmes, to become customary following separation to assist - for example, with co-parenting.

  • Contemplation of a costs order against a parent who refuses to engage in an “out of court” process, such as mediation, for example.

  • The report also proposes making parenting agreements determined at mediation ‘open’, so that where one parent defaults on the terms reached, those terms could be enforced by the Court.

The report is exceptionally comprehensive and, aside from many other recommendations, it is very much hoped that these recommendations will be given genuine and weighty consideration by both the government, family practitioners and the judiciary alike, resulting in a positive shift towards supporting and enabling separated families to enjoy a less contentious and confrontational future.

Sir Andrew McFarlane commented that “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.” He further opined that “Parents who are separating should turn to lawyers and the courts only as a last resort”.

The recommendations highlighted in the report are certainly reflective of the way in which the TWM Family Law team approaches and supports its clients. We offer wide-ranging experience and expertise across a full spectrum of options, including mediation, arbitration, solicitor-led negotiations to collaborative practice and private FDRs.

If you are a separated family and would like some legal assistance and guidance on how you could avoid litigation, then please get in touch for a confidential discussion with Sarah Houston, Associate Solicitor, in Wimbledon.

For further information, please contact sarah.houston@twmsolicitors.com

For further details about our expertise in this area, please Click Here

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