For parents separating deciding the living arrangements for the children is just one of the many things that need to be agreed. Whilst some parents are able to come to an agreement in respect of what is in the best interests of the children, there are others that are unable to do so and sadly require the intervention of the Court.
Having parents’ divorce, is a major change in any child’s life. Research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, shows that emotional and behavioural problems in children are more common when their parents are fighting or separating and children can become very insecure as a result. They are clear that children need certainty in what is going to happen, a schedule that is reliable for them and the number of changes to their day to day life kept as minimal as possible. Yet, in circumstances, where the children require certainty as quickly as possible, they are being let down by significant delays in the family Court, as reported most recently in The Guardian.
In the latest quarterly statistics produced by the Government, it is truly alarming to discover that it is taking, on average, 47 weeks for private children law cases to reach case closure – this is an increase of 4 weeks for the same period in 2022. However, the reality is that it is often much longer. During that time, there are countless parents that would not have seen their child for a period of time and the effect on the children caught up in the Court system is worrying.
As a family law solicitor, I currently have a number of private children law cases before the Court, including one case where proceedings were issued in July 2020 and progress has repeatedly stalled due to the delays in obtaining Court hearings. The last time the matter was before the Court was in January 2023 with the directions hearing being adjourned twice since due to judicial unavailability. It is currently not known when the next hearing in the matter may be. The Court system is currently broken after years and years of underfunding by the state. The Court staff and Judges are doing what they can however the system is often leaving the parents and children in significant uncertainty and coping with years of litigation.
At Rayden Solicitors we always try to encourage parents to consider alternative means to resolve any disputes regarding children: For example:
- Engaging in mediation;
- Reaching agreement through solicitor correspondence; or
- Children’s arbitration.
At Rayden Solicitors we also have trained mediators and Children Arbitrators that can assist other parents that require those services.
However, unfortunately not all cases are suitable for mediation or arbitration. Where there are safeguarding concerns alleged from one or both parents (such as domestic abuse/violence, child abduction, child abuse, substance abuse or other safety concerns), mediation and / or arbitration are not suitable. Therefore, if agreement cannot be reached through solicitors, then the only avenue available to those parents is issuing Court proceedings.
The Ministry of Justice has commented in response to the growing delays that they have invested funds into the family mediation voucher scheme, providing eligible families with a one off contribution of £500 towards mediation costs, to try and steer many cases away from the Court arena. This is a welcome investment in mediation services. However, it does not assist those where mediation is not suitable or is unsuccessful and further funding in the Court system is required to provide those families with proper access to justice and a timely resolution for the sake of the children.