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Penny Booth: The power of the word

Date:4 OCT 2010

Penny BoothWhen I read (as one often does in family law generally) of the corrosive nature of family disputes I am really glad that I no longer have parental responsibility for anyone - my own children being in their twenties. Sandra Davis asks how it is that intelligent people (or, indeed anyone) can go through years of apparently intractable personal dispute, spending time and money (nay, life-blood) in argument and count-argument over their children. I surmise that the answers lie in the relationships involved - after all, when a relationship which was once intended to be ‘forever' ends, one argues over the custody of the toast rack.

In her opinion piece, Amandeep Gill makes similar points around this issue of negotiation and writes: "There is a great deal to commend the use of mediation in certain disputes, even those involving protracted litigation as evidenced by Lord Justice Thorpe's judgment in Al-Khatib v Masry [2005] 1 FLR 381. Mediation is not however a panacea as the process is unsuitable where, for a myriad of reasons, parents are unable or unwilling to communicate effectively."

That's the problem, it seems to me. Mediation needs more attention by the government and justice services, and we need to encourage a legal system that gives that approach a better opportunity to work. Many commercial disputes never get to court because they are negotiated to a conclusion that the parties can live with in a way that seems impossible for parents in family disputes, particularly those involving contact and residence of the children of the family. If this can be done for commercial life, why is it so hard to do for personal life? Well, I am aware that people are personally involved in family disputes in a manner which draws their very souls into the problems, but talking through problems (sooner rather than later) saves problems developing further - usually. If it can be done in the world of commerce, why should we apparently treat it as less important in the crucial area of family law? More attention to this, please - more money might save still more money and pain in the long run.

Amandeep continued: "....it is clear that in some cases, parents end up in court simply because they do not know what is expected of them by the family courts nor how to manage their relationship with a former spouse/partner. What would assist such couples is wider knowledge and education about how to communicate with one another effectively and more importantly to understand the damage inflicted on their children by protracted litigation and exposure to conflict..."

Should we not have another look at parenting classes, widening the curriculum to include ‘when relationships fail'? How to talk - how to listen - how useful is that, then?

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.