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“What about me?” Reframing support for families following Parental Separation

Following the publishing of the report from the Family Solutions Group (Subgroup of The Private Law Working Group) on 12th November, Crown Chambers Neelam Mall has responded with our views and the key outcomes.

The report offers a valuable read for family law practitioners in private law proceedings commenting upon ways to improve the experiences of, and opportunities for, separating families away from the Family Court. It further draws upon the paramount consideration of the Courts, the long-term welfare of a child, whilst also stressing the importance of the need for processes outside of the Court system which allows the child’s voice to be heard.

As many of us know, the Court process is only the beginning, parents must come together to find a long-term goal of cooperative parenting outside of the Court arena, and to do so, there needs to be a further focus and emphasis on that support.

Where there are no issues of domestic abuse or child protection concerns, there must be a shift from a Court being responsible for resolving issues in relation to arrangements for children, to the parents being responsible. To do so, parents need to be encouraged to work together to achieve such outcomes.

The report outlines that families where there are no safeguarding concerns, require the following support:

  1. A framework and language which promotes child welfare and a cooperative parenting approach.
  2. Access to information and direct services for children.
  3. Mechanisms for the child’s voice to be heard at the time when decisions are being made which affect them.
  4. Access to information and direct services for parents about how to parent following separation.
  5. A consideration of the emotional state of the parents and the impact this has on their parenting decisions.
  6. A multi-disciplinary response, involving therapists, parenting specialists, mediators and legal services.

At the moment, there is no framework for this which worryingly leaves families unsupported outside of Court and children being harmed by parental conflict. It is emphasised within the report that the focus should be on out-of-court family resolution services which would better serve separated families.

It is recognised that the Family Justice System is in crisis and it is no surprise when matters which parents could themselves resolve are being brought into the justice system.

In a nutshell, there are the following recommendations regarding the improvements required:

  1. A shift away from notions of ‘fault’ and ‘blame’.
  2. The need for safe screening methods to identify cases appropriately bases on the ‘safety pathway’ and the ‘cooperative parenting pathway’.
  3. Establishing a framework of direct support services for children and young people whose parents separate, including allowing the children the opportunity to be heard in processes to resolve issues.
  4. A presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard directly in all processes for resolving issues.
  5. A dedicated section of information and resources for parents and the children – ‘The Separated Families Hub’. Ensuring that those resources are readily accessible in locations where parents and children use.
  6. Information and Assessment meetings after separation and prior to issues escalating and positions hardening.
  7. A separate single government department with oversight of children and parents. Including campaigns promoting awareness of the harm caused by parental conflict.
  8. Mandatory parenting programmes to be considered as part of separations/divorce.
  9. Holistic approaches – shifting language and process away from legal disputes to supporting parents.
  10. Training for family professionals including to promote an integrated approach to problem-solving issues. Including a broader understanding of the options available developing an integrated approach amongst parents, legal services, and professionals etc to problem-solving issues.
  11. Diversion of cases to be resolved outside of the Family Courts.

It is hoped that the above will transform our thinking and processes to better support separated families.

Neelam Mall

Barrister at Crown Chambers

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