I am sure that if this year's Family Law Awards were an in-person event as usual, rather than this year’s virtual occasion, much of the chatter among family law professionals would be around the newly-published Family Solutions Group report.
What about me? Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation, was unveiled on 12 November. The Family Solutions Group is made up of professionals from a range of sectors and disciplines. It was established in January 2020 with the specific purpose of making recommendations to the Private Law Working Group about immediate or short-term improvements to the ‘pre-court’ arena.
Introducing the new report, President of The Family Division, Sir Andrew MacFarlane, spoke of co-ordinating various strands of thinking “aimed at finding a better way to achieve good co-parenting between separated parents.”
He notes it’s thought that “about 40% of all separating parents bring issues about their children’s care to the Family Court for determination, rather than exercising parental responsibility and sorting problems out themselves. This figure is both startling and worrying.”
Sir Andrew quite rightly continued: “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.”
It feels like in the post-LASPO era we have been presented with a clutch of reports and recommendations, yet sadly little of this has turned in to tangible action for change.
It is to be hoped that THIS report will be a landmark in the acceleration of culture change that is needed around the behaviour and attitudes of separating parents.
The culture change focuses around the need for parents put gripes about each other to one side, and work like grown-ups to minimise the trauma for themselves, and especially for their children.
There are some very positive themes which permeate the report: giving children a greater voice in their own futures when their parents separate, for example. And educating parents to put their children’s interests first rather than attempting a ‘victory’ over their ex when issues of childcare are at stake.
Strengthening the opportunity for children to be included more routinely in family mediation makes a clear statement to parents that their children have rights too. It can also help parents maintain focus on their children’s needs instead of their feuds and battles at this pivotal time.
Maintaining the compulsory Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, and ensuring better processes for checking that both parents have attended will send a very clear message about expectation of behaviour before going to court. It cannot come too soon.
Of course, this report comes shortly before the implementation of new legislation governing the divorce process. And I hope the much-needed culture change can be wind-assisted by The Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act, resulting in parents being freer to focus on the futures of all family members, rather than on the blame game.
Importantly, this new report acknowledges that courts are ideally placed to drive the culture change. The recommendations are clear, and can easily be implemented at no additional taxpayer cost. So now it’s over to decision-makers. Time will tell what tangible action this important report prompts.
As CEO of National Family Mediation, the official charity partner for the Family Law Awards, I look forward to conversations with other family-focused professionals about how we can bring many of the important ideas outlined in this report to life.
That way we can have a lasting beneficial impact on the lives of families up and down the country.