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 COY, a partner at Stowe Family Law in London, has been a Family Mediator for over 20 years and has achieved Senior Mediator status. He is also qualified to have direct access to children. He can be contacted here.