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"What about me?" What does the recent report from The Family Solutions group mean for the Family Justice System?

Dec 2, 2020

"What about me?" What does the recent report from The Family Solutions group mean for the Family Justice System?

Our view on the recent report from The Family Solutions group.

“What about me?” Report of The Family Solutions Group.


The report of The Family Solutions Group ‘“What about me?” Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation’ was published in mid-November 2020.  Its been out for a little while now, so the dust has settled and we have all had some time to properly consider its findings. 


The report identifies the Family Justice System as being in crisis and identifies a need to advance the needs and rights of the child to “centre stage” when their parents separate, rather than being “mere secondary subjects of dispute resolution”. It advocates giving children and young people from the age of 10 the opportunity to have their voices heard in all processes for resolving issues between their parents. It recommends an holistic approach to dispute resolution in families with a view to avoiding the damage caused to children when their parents separate and engage in acrimonious litigation.


We doubt whether any of this is at all controversial. The problem is - who is going to implement and pay for the raft of changes that the report envisages, including the allocation of responsibilities for supporting separating parents and families to a specific government department? In the midst of a global pandemic and recession with a government seemingly unable to control Covid-19 and focussed on what is increasingly looking to be a disastrous exit from the EU, this is unlikely to be a priority - and particularly not a priority for government funding in the wake of the borrowing that has taken place to keep the country afloat during lockdown.


This is not to say that the report should be kicked in to the long grass. It definitely should not. Its fundamental point is that parental separation should be reframed as being about resolving “issues” rather than “disputes” and that litigation should be a last resort rather than a first step - except when there are safeguarding issues - because this is better for children.


We as lawyers should all do what we can to strive to make these findings a reality. The report recommends making professionals accountable for adhering to the Law Society’s Family Law Protocol and pointedly, that Resolution should enforce its own Code of Practice to which all its members have signed up!!


We agree. Too often, practitioners in private law children proceedings are antagonistic, combative and unpleasant in a way, ironically, that they are not in public law children proceedings. I do not know the reason for this, but being a practitioners in both areas, it is something we have often noticed.


The legal industry could change this saddening approach by being professional and by looking for negotiated solutions with our opponents, recognising that generally speaking however acrimonious a separation is, parents generally have to work together on some level about their children for many years afterwards and that that process (and the children in the middle of it) will not be helped by us being gratuitously adversarial and punitive.


When we set up The Modern Family Law Company two things were particularly important to us in terms of service delivery. Firstly, we wanted to emphasise to clients and to the world at large that we believe in trying to resolve family problems by negotiated solutions because this is better for the whole family, particularly the children. It is for this reason that we recommend mediation and alternative dispute resolution and are able to refer clients to collaborative lawyers and therapists and counsellors to help them resolve their relationship issues.


Secondly, we knew from experience how stressful and distressing family court proceedings are and we wanted to be able to look after our clients’ mental health needs as well as their legal needs. We have “trusted partners” therapists, counsellors, psychologists and even a child psychiatrist that we can refer clients to as and when their mental health needs require. We believe that if we can help take the heat out of the stress, that will help take the heat out of the situation and make resolution more likely.


We didn’t know what “What about me?” was going to say when we set up our business, but we are very much on the same page with our business model and practices. We know we are not alone in this. We are aware of Sussex Family Solutions which is set up to do exactly what the report is suggesting and there are undoubtedly other organisations doing the same thing throughout the UK.


Pending wholesale government support for and implementation of the report’s recommendations, isn’t it the duty of each of us as family law practitioners and family members to do our very best to make parental separation better for everybody, particularly children?


We can all do something and we can start by thinking about how we behave and speak to each other, inside and outside of court, and make our communications more careful, more respectful and more conciliatory.


The full report can be found here.

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