What impact does divorce have on children and are court proceedings really viewed as a last resort?
Sir Andrew McFarlane, who is the President of the Family Division and a leading Judge was recently interviewed by Paddy O’Connell on BBC4’s Broadcasting House. Sir Andrew gave his view on the impact divorce can have on children, particularly where parents are unable to discuss and make arrangements for the ongoing care of the children themselves without involving the family courts.
Sir Andrew explained that there are certain cases where there are issues of domestic abuse, safeguarding and protection issues which require the Court’s guidance and in some instances intervention to ensure children are protected. In the interview earlier this month, Sir Andrew estimated that approximately 20% of parties who end up in the ambit of the Courts would be much better served trying to resolve matters between themselves.
Sir Andrew commented that the language used in family courts is still very archaic and can increase conflict between parents. We often still hear the words “custody,” “access” and “my child” being used which can increase hostility and result in parents becoming entrenched in their respective positions.
Sir Andrew explained that the courts are piloting new ways of working and they are working with social workers to prepare child impact assessments so that parents can see the impact their relationship conflict is having on their children. It is hoped that this will encourage more parents to reach an agreement as to the ongoing care of the children and to utilise alternative means of resolving any disputes, rather than the Courts, such as mediation.
What Sir Andrew did not address is those cases where one party is entirely hostile towards the other and there is no room to negotiate between the parties. What does that parent do to ensure they maintain a relationship with their child where the parent with primary care of the child is preventing the other parent from seeing the child? Whilst the Courts arguably should primarily be dealing with the most serious of cases which require their intervention, some consideration must be given to those cases where there is a serious risk of harm posed to children because one parent is preventing a child from spending time with or building a relationship with the other parent and the Courts have a duty to also protect those children.
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