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“‘Urgent’ has lost its meaning and the children at the heart of the case are the first to suffer” 

Nov 2, 2021: 

With the ongoing ‘tsunami’ of post COVID cases being sent to the Family Courts resulting in an ever-increasing delay in getting court time, how do applicants with time critical applications, deal with having to wait previously unknown lengths of time before getting in front of a judge?  

 

The title of this article is a direct quote from a parent currently making their way through Family Court Proceedings.  For that parent, who has no previous experience of the family courts system, they quite understandably, simply can’t understand why their case isn’t being viewed as sufficiently ‘urgent’ to warrant getting in front of a Judge within 7 days of making an urgent application.   

 

The parent in question was absolutely devastated when told that they would have to wait over a month and a half to get an urgent application heard by their local Family Courts.  Resulting in their mental health taking a significant hit but also their belief in the judicial system set up to help them.   

This is without doubt one of the biggest challenges for Family Solicitors, managing the expectations of their clients.  Where once we could expect to get an urgent hearing for return of a child within 36hrs of application, now only the most dire cases can expect such a timely turn around.  

There is no doubt that our brilliant judiciary are working harder than ever to try to address the backlog, so what else can be done? Any family solicitor worth their salt is tearing their hair out in frustration on behalf of their clients.

 

The Family Courts are directing warring parents towards alternative dispute resolution, a route that we as a firm think is always the first to consider, seeking assistance from the Court being the last avenue explored.  But for some clients, particularly those whose cases have social services involvement, alternative means of dispute resolution are either not available because of the safeguarding issues, not practical because of the parties’ entrenched positions or simply unaffordable.

 

In the case of this parent, an urgent application was issued when the other parent refused to return the child after an overnight stay.  During the course of that overnight stay the parent had falsified where the child was to stay and then as a result exposed the child to risk of harm whilst in their care.  The relationship between the parents had irrevocably broken down and there is mistrust across the board.  Social services involvement had been patchy at best, with no cohesive child protection plan in place and failure to engage with both parents to achieve an agreed way forward for the child.  With this catalogue of difficulties, it was with absolute reluctance that the parent felt they had no alternative but to seek urgent assistance from the court to protect their child, only to be met with a response which left them all the more vulnerable and desperate.  Is it any surprise therefore that our Police force are being required to provide increasing levels of resource for private law matters such as these. 

 

Our hope is that with early intervention, use of alternative methods of dispute resolution and a practical approach to creating options for parents, that families can avoid the extreme challenges facing the family courts currently.  And for those who are currently in proceedings, we will continue to signpost our clients to counsellors and family support services, to provide as much pastoral support as possible given the delays that will undoubtedly continue for some time yet. If you would like to get in touch to discuss a parental dispute please contact one of our team who will be only too happy to assist you.

 

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