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The Family Solutions Group (FSG), a subgroup of the Private Law Working Group led by Mr Justice Cobb, recently published a detailed and comprehensive report, titled What about me? Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation, investigating the solutions for separating parents to resolve disagreement. What is clear from the report is that the need to place children at the centre of all decisions requires constant focus and a renewed energy to ensure success. The stark options of court or limited non-court dispute resolution remain perhaps the clear obstacles to an effectively child-focused solution for cases that do not need judicial involvement. The FSG report proposes (at page 4):
‘…the creation of a framework of directly accessible community-based services for children and young people whose parents separate, offering them information, consultation, support and representation; the FSG urges the abandonment of the ingrained culture of traditional welfare protectionism, replacing it with a presumption that all children and young people aged ten and above be heard in all issue-resolution processes outside of the courtroom.’
One of the key tenets of the report is that issues that are not legal should not find themselves being addressed in the legal forum. It will inevitably risk a worsening of the issue to the specific detriment of the children.
The main purpose of the report therefore is to establish what is needed in the vacuum for separating parents between resolving issues themselves or through the courts. It is accepted that mediation is wholly underused and generally unknown by the general population.
Since the Children Act 1989 (ChA 1989), the legal approach to children cases and dispute resolution has changed dramatically. We are no more likely to find the word ‘custody’ normal than we would call a radio the ‘wireless’. However, it is apparent that the report has identified the very real need for language and focus to evolve much further, tearing us away from our comfortable adversarial system in which children suffer indirectly and directly much more than perhaps we imagine. An overhaul of the system is needed
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Sebastian Burrows is a managing partner at Stowe Family Law
0330 161 1234