It is well documented that long-term conflict between separating parents can have a devasting impact on children and their development and well-being. The Government published its response to the Private Family Law Early Resolution Consultation on 26 January 2024. The aim is to try and address the effects of conflict within separation not only on children but also on the parents and to put in place a revolutionary initiative aimed at reshaping the way we approach family cases by placing a strong emphasis on compassion, collaboration and holistic solutions.
This is proposed as a groundbreaking approach to the current legal system that seeks to go beyond the traditional courtroom model in a bid to find new and more compassionate ways to navigate the complexities of legal disputes involving families and to put children and their welfare at the heart of the decisions being made.
The new approach will see families who are separating offered early legal advice in the hope that giving them information about the options available to them will allow disputes to be settled amicably away from court using the resources available. This includes solicitors, mediators and other professionals, a greater use of non-court dispute resolution and particularly mediation (through a Government mediation voucher scheme nearly 25,000 families have benefited) and a new court process (currently being piloted in certain areas of the country) aimed at reducing conflict and protecting victims of domestic abuse by the early sharing of information where court is still required.
The idea is to steer as many cases away from the court arena as possible, but where the court is still required to make the court process as streamlined, innovative and child-focussed as possible.
- Efficiency – With a greater emphasis on mediation (and other non-court dispute resolution) and guiding families away from court, the family courts can focus on prioritising the most serious cases where court intervention is required due to safeguarding issues and domestic abuse and ensure those cases are dealt with quickly and efficiently for the sake of the families, and children, involved. This is also aimed at significantly reducing the current backlog of cases within the court system and the timeframes for cases going through the court process.
- Reduction in conflict and increase in resolution – The provision of early legal advice and access to mediation not only makes the process more efficient but also helps to promote a more amicable atmosphere and increases the chances of separating parents finding common ground and reaching a lasting resolution rather than having a solution imposed on them by a judge. This collaborative approach also helps to build a stronger foundation for family resilience. This is unlike the more traditional court model which can often exacerbate and inflame tensions between parents and also exposes children to lengthy courtroom battles and conflict between their parents and the harm this can cause.
- Holistic approach to family law – Family law cases involve intricate dynamics that extend beyond legal disputes. This new emphasis on a more holistic approach aligns far more with the nature of these cases and aims to recognise the interconnected legal, emotional and social factors. By understanding these complexities and taking them into account, there is an increased likelihood of positive outcome in cases, which is crucial in family cases and especially when children are involved. This allows the children to be placed at the forefront of the process with a focus on fostering stable and supportive environments for children affected by the separation of their parents.
- Improved court approach – Although the main focus is to move cases away from the more traditional court route, some cases will require the intervention of the courts due to child safety issues and domestic abuse. The successful court pilot in North Wales and Dorset (to be expanded to South East Wales and Birmingham) is aimed at reducing conflict within the court system so that families who do need the assistance of the court have a less confrontational and more empathetic and collaborative experience. The idea behind the pilot is for the early sharing of information between agencies like the police and local authorities so victims can avoid the retelling of traumatic experiences, provision for judges to review more documents before a case gets to court, and more opportunities for children to have a voice within the process to explain how they feel about decisions that will affect them. This is all designed to ensure that where cases do go to court they are managed in a more efficient way and the conflict is significantly reduced within the court process.
For individuals navigating family cases, this hopefully signifies a positive shift in the legal landscape. It aims to provide a more compassionate and understanding approach and recognises that there is no “one size fits all” approach to family cases. With the new focus as set out above, it aims to make the legal process more accessible, efficient and supportive for families. It seeks to offer realistic alternatives to traditional court processes and aims to create a legal system that truly meets the diverse needs of individuals and families in a more positive way and better serves these families and communities as a whole.
If you have questions about resolving a family matter, please contact Laura Brown.
This article is for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. It should not be used as a substitute for legal advice relating to your particular circumstances. Please note that the law may have changed since the date of this article.