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Family courts in crisis due to a rise in disputes over child access by fathers

Today, The Times reports a significant increase in the number of applications made to the Family Courts as a result of fathers wanting to resolve the arrangements for their children following separation and divorce.

The article also records the pressure this is placing on the Family Justice system. The leading family judge in the Country, Sir Andrew MacFarlane, shortly taking over as President of the Family Division of the High Court, accepts that the family courts are in crisis.

Everyone familiar with the workings of the Family Courts up and down the country knows that the system is simply not working; it is close to breaking down. There are too many cases for too few Judges and Lay Magistrates to deal with.

The problem is exacerbated by the absence of what we used to know as “legal aid”. The consequence is that many parents who would once have had access to legal advice no longer do so. They are having to represent themselves without legal advice or representation and as a direct result more and more cases are not being resolved by agreement and cases are taking much longer.

In any event, the Court system is far too lengthy, often involving three or four separate hearings, and as a result expensive, often prohibitively so.
This will not change. The government has expressed no real desire to promote improvement.

In many cases, Mediation is a genuine and viable alternative.

There are few cases which are not suitable to be mediated by impartial, trained and qualified family mediators.

Mediation is far quicker, significantly less expensive and concentrates on the needs of the children and what is best for them. Too often the Court system encourages parents to focus on their differences rather than what their children need.

Mediation is a flexible and informal process and research has shown that agreements reached in mediation are far more likely to stand the test of time than orders imposed by the Courts.

Mediation allows the children to express their views, concerns and wishes. Specially trained mediators are able to see the children on their own and provided they agree the mediators can feed back what they say to their parents.

Graham was based at the firm's London family law office. His career as a family law specialist has spanned three decades. He is an experienced advocate, mediator and arbitrator who has worked in all areas of family law.

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  1. Helen Dudden says:

    Mediation works, it resolves problems. Often, more court action just keeps the pot boiling.

    • Paul Massey says:

      mediation simply does not work in intractable hostility-type cases. Maybe it works for some others…how about arbitration, though?

      • Dr. Manhattan. says:

        Yes hostility is a big problem and not easily solved. the wishes of the child/ren are crucial but unfortunately nobody other than the Local authority gets to speak to the children and again thats a big problem when corruption is at play.

  2. Paul says:

    “This will not change. The government has expressed no real desire to promote improvement.”

    There is no equality in the system and no political will by any party in the UK.

    In a decade’s time, the family system in the UK will be non existent unlike the Europeans who promote family values and encourage the family unit. Brexit will just make it worse

  3. Dr Manhattan says:

    Many parents can not afford a Mediation Service so what is the alternative for them ?

  4. Helen Dudden says:

    If it can be resolved out of court, it’s cheaper and tends to work better.
    No matter how many court orders you have, it’s still has to be enforced.

    • Dr Manhattan says:

      it makes a Mockery of the courts when a order is given but then nobody abides by it. then its back to court again to repeat the process.
      what a system of Nonsense.

      • Stitchedup says:

        The courts are only too keen to enforce dodgy non mole for the most petty reasons yet turn a blind eye to the abuse children suffer at the hands of resident parents, usually the mother, by denying contact with the nrp and parental alienation. I think it’s a good thing that father’s are fighting back against a system that abuses them and their children.

        • lars says:

          mothers and children’s are seen as a business by Solace Aid, CAFCASS,Courts, legal Aid ,to destroy fathers by loosing the house ,jobs and children even the mothers are coming with nothing in their life.

  5. S says:

    It’s the same story. It’s the most biased system and promotes inequality. No one seems to want to change that. An absolute shame especially for the children. The family courts have a lot to answer to and the first question is why contact does not start at 50-50? It’s heavily biased against the father from the start. Why is that?

    • Dr Manhattan says:

      Because they view Men as aggressive control freaks and women need to be protected from them.
      how Ludicrous.

  6. spinner says:

    Enforce child contact orders against women in the same way financial orders are enforced against men. Many cases will then just disappear as women will get the message that if they mess around with contact order they will actually be punished.

    • Dr Manhattan says:

      Sounds perfectly fine to do that.
      Men and Women are all human beings and are supposed to be equal.

  7. Mr T says:

    This is nothing to do with Legal aid which usually benefits the mother and penalises fathers who usually work and cannot claim it.

    Want a fair system? Give both parties representation.

    This isn’t to mention Women’s Aid adding false claims of domestic abuse and non-molestation orders \ restraining orders into the already messy mix.

    Then there is CAFCASS who are simply not fit for purpose and again add to the mess that is already there.

    By the time it gets to lay panel or a judge they have a lack of knowledge of non-violent domestic abuse and are extremely biased towards women.

    The whole thing is badly broken and its failing kids and dads daily. Allowing and enabling women to abuse their ex-partners via the biased system and the police and severing dads from families year on year.

    It is the crime of our lifetime.

    It needs to end. People need to stop being part of this system of child abuse.

    • Dr Manhattan says:

      Well said.
      the system doesnt work and needs a total reboot.
      Cafcass seem to cause just as many problems as Social workers and thats because most Child guardians used to be child protection social workers. bit like putting a cat in charge of a pigeon Cree to make shure they are kept safe.

    • Mr T says:

      I forgot to mention:

      Ditch or unlink the financially incentivising CMS for (mostly) mothers from alienating their children from dads.

      Stop giving out non-molestation orders (which now have criminal consequences) like smarties.

      • Dr Manhattan says:

        None Molestation orders.
        another tool in the armory of Social workers and the Family courts along with so many other ways they hit parents from all sides. all masterminded by in house Local authority Solicitors. they are literally paid to outsmart and do as much damage to parents as possible so that it makes the Social workers job easier to carry out their dirty deeds.

  8. Andrew says:

    Failing to honer an order for contact should be treated like the breach of a non-mol. Suspended sentence the first time, activated the next.

    • Dr Manhattan says:

      its so hard to determine what is Lies and what isnt. of course the key witness to whats true or false is the child but as we know they are never questioned by an independent source. its always Social workers or Guardians claiming the child said XYZ with no way to verify it.
      they are holding all Aces. more needs to be done to obtain the true wishes and feelings of the child on Video. then you might get somewhere.

    • Stitchedup says:

      I have to disagree with you there Andrew, minor breaches of dodgy non mols shouldn’t get anywhere near the criminal courts. No proof of domestic violence is required to secure a non mol in the civil courts, they don’t even have to pass the civil burden of proof i.e. On the balance of probability. All that’s needed is a claim to be in fear of possible domestic abuse or a claim to be in fear of or intimidated by a current or ex partner. Securing a non mol is a very low hurdle for a woman to get over, so minor breaches should be dealt with under civil law in the courts that issued the order. Liberty opposed criminalising breaches of non mols on the basis that a person could be convicted having done absolutely nothing that in normal circumstances would constitute criminal behaviour. The courts are pushing people’s faith in the justice system to the limit, and I firmly believe they often violate people’s basic human rights including a right to a,fair trial, rights to freedom of expression and a right to a private family life.

      • Dr Manhattan says:

        Evident by what happened to Tommy Robinson, Paul Golding and Jayda Fransen.

      • Mr T says:

        I totally agree with this. Justice, law and the police are becoming the enemy as in the US. It is fast going that way and it needs to be saved. I for one have lost all faith in the criminal justice system and the police.

        MP’s need to step up and stop linking civil and criminal laws it’s destroying society.

    • Stitchedup says:

      Please also keep in mind Andrew that divorce and separation are one life’s most stressful events. It’s hard to see why it makes sense to criminalise a person, usually the man, for expressing an opinion or demonstrating some emotion. How does it help any children involved if the father looses his Job as a result? how does it help the man move on in a new relationship if he’s now labelled a violent domestic abuser and becomes the subject of Claire’s law when he’s actually done nothing that would normally be considered genuine violence or a criminal act?

  9. Andrew says:

    Oh dear. I can spell honest but I have fat fingers!

  10. David evans says:

    Any one caught up in family court knows the system is not fit for purpose. CAFCASS are not fit for purpose.
    It has nothing to do with LIPS or legal aid.
    False allegations of domestic abuse to gain NMOs and ROs which are then used to manipupdate the system further and worn as badges of honour.
    Everything within the system is a gimmick encouraged to attract cases for more revenue to be made by those involved.
    Unless there is a specific danger or safeguarding issue with police evidence and criminal records all cases should be granted 50 / 50 shared custody at the outset because without any genuine safeguarding issues with the above mentioned evidence it’s just Pparental alienation which is encouraged and rewarded

  11. CR says:

    I had a perfectly loving relationship with my daughter until my ex started making false allegations and using the local authority to aid her terrorism against me including a false rape allegation and non molestation order. The family court judge destroyed my life abd my rights to a family life and Queens peace. Terrible injustice, left me with ptsd and reactive depression

    • Mr T says:

      Men and dads like you are the real victims of crime. This happens day-in-day-out it’s an absolute disgrace to those poor children being abused by their mothers via exploitation of the system.

      I hope you’ve got support network around you to assist you with your trauma?

    • Dr Manhattan says:

      They have done this to thousands all over the country.
      people who once had a happy stable balanced life now have nothing, just memories of what they once had. every day seems to be consumed by making complaints and contacting various agencies who have you going round in circles with their “Not in our remit nonsense” but they wait the 21 days before they tell you that.
      its Criminal and it causes untold psychological damage to good people.
      if i were the Trump of the UK people would be going to Jail for this.

  12. Colin rivers says:

    No i received zip support, in fact my non molestation order against me for nothing other than sharing my traumatic experience prevents me from even posting a picture on social media of my daughter. If i do im arrested and sent to jail. How on earth is that justified or in the best interests of my daughter. Its beyond me, but thats exactly whats happening to fathers across the country, enforced by judges.

  13. Frank Blitcher says:

    It’s all very well promoting your in house mediator but Mediation rarely works either.. It’s about time lawyers worked together to eradicate the corrupt child maintenance system that promotes this sort of behaviour by mothers using it to continue their coercive and controlling behaviour and in the process be financially rewarded for doing so regardless to how little that reward is.., Although lawyers no longer make as much money from this because fathers are getting wise and going litigant in person as there’s no legal aid to fund this corrupt system.. so it’s of no benefit to lawyers or mediators.. but plenty beneficial to the governments pocket having to pay a court fee to access such tool to fight on behalf of the child for their right to a substantial relationship with both parents.

  14. Helen Dudden says:

    I believe divorce is personal. We all react differently to a situation. For some, Mediation will work and work quickly. Some women, have difficult situations too. You can’t label everyone the same. I know of one ex husband, who did all he could to blacken
    his ex wife’s character, he happened to be a doctor in the EU. The case was heard in an EU Court.
    There are separate issue’s. One the child access, another property, and maintenance.
    If anyone wishes to move on with their lives, agreement of some sort, has to happen.
    Divorce is stressful, it’s at the top of the list. I believe in blame free divorce, if it’s over, then it’s over.
    Emotional pain, is something you can’t get over in a short time. That’s another subject.

  15. Joseph ALLA says:

    good enough for them to talk a good talk and give they impression they might do something about it. How long has this been going on? longer than I can remember. while they are tinkering, many fathers just like myself are missing out on the childhood of their children. They will tell you that need more money to fix things… everything needs money…they talk about children, human beings lives as if they were manufactured goods or furniture. Give me a break; i wouldn’t hold my breath for what will happen next after this speech.

  16. Helen Dudden says:

    I think it should state, only some mothers or some fathers, not a good practice to state generally.
    I’m a grandmother, and I continue with other grandparents to make the system fairer. Unless a legal reason to non access our grandchildren then, let it happen. It benefits the children concerned that’s been written and commented on many times.
    I have heard comments, the same as the mother/father negative comments. But to bring change you have to listen, and be willing to put positive ideas forward.
    I believe the first year, is the most important to resolve disagreement before it becomes the norm.

  17. S says:

    How do you force the alienating parent to mediate? They would rather waste money than be logical. It should be made compulsory unless their partner has a proper conviction ir history of abuse. Too often malicious and false claims are being made which means they don’t need to mediate.

  18. Cs says:

    What can be done to change the way family courts are done? Like a comment above said it should immediately start with joint access. Cafcass are useless, the court system is useless, the way the professionals within this industry think are immediately, dads abusive, everything mum says is a “fact” apparently and completely disregard any comments dads make. Ps, I’m a mum and have gone through this redicilous system with a family member and even I am shocked and disgusted at how the mums have full control. It takes two to create a child, including the father!!!!

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