- 48,244 private family law applications were made – up by 11 per cent on 2015.
- 165,000 children were involved in private law orders.
- £112 million was still being spent on legal aid in private law.
- One million children have no real contact with their fathers.
- 37 per cent of women claim they’ve been assaulted in the Family Court.
- In 33 per cent of private law cases neither side had a lawyer.
But there is a better way. A new family law manifesto from the charities Families Need Fathers and FNF Both Parents Matter Cymru opens its discussion of family law issues with this seemingly bold claim. It seeks to reach candidates in all constituencies as they glad hand their way around the country seeking votes on 8 June.
There are four key themes in this short three page document:
- The reduction and resolution of conflict.
- The promotion of responsible shared parenting.
- The encouragement of best outcomes for children and families.
- Reducing the financial burden on both the taxpayer and the families themselves.
I doubt there are many who would disagree with those aspirations. But how can they be achieved in a private law system that is becoming ‘a lawyer free zone’, to quote the President of the Family Division when he spoke at the FNF Annual Conference in March?
The centre piece of our proposals is the concept of standing temporary orders.
This simple idea borrowed from some states in the USA. It would fit right in with the introduction of the new online family court.
Individuals would seek an order – granted on application – to establish a ‘status quo’ of shared parenting for children when they divorce or separate. The standing temporary order should be sufficiently flexible to provide a schedule of care across a spectrum, from the familiar ‘every other weekend and half the holidays’ to a full 50/50 division. In addition neither parent would be allowed to ‘relocate’ further than a distance of around ten miles from the existing home area for the child. This would prevent the frequently seen ‘pre-emptive strike’ when one parent moves across the country to thwart the child’s right to an ongoing relationship with the other parent. That prohibition would be variable by subsequent court Order or the written agreement of the parties.
The system would need to be sufficiently flexible to allow for challenge to the standing temporary order if the parent who did not apply for it was unhappy with the terms. The first step would need to be mediation – much favoured by the government – in an attempt to find a resolution to any conflict over arrangements for the children. Allegations of domestic violence are always possible from one side or the other, or indeed both! In those cases a court hearing would need to be factored in and findings of fact made in relation to any specific allegations relevant to arrangements for the care of the children. However, the standing temporary order would unambiguously ‘stand’ unless or until varied (changed) by a court.
The manifesto also calls for improved, readily understood education aimed at both parents and children on the the thorny topics of parental responsibility and the ‘paramountcy principle’ (i.e. the principle that the best interests of the child rather than the parents will take precedence in the family court). Such education could help discourage separated couples from making unnecessary applications.
Other proposals include compulsory joint birth registration – i.e. the automatic inclusion of the biological father. Legislation to do this actually passed in 2009 but has never been enacted. In addition we call for the incorporation into UK law of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child To a limited extent the latter has already happened in Wales.
Read the manifesto here.