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Supporting families following parental separation

View profile for Shelley Cumbers
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On 2 April 2020, a message was issued on the importance of supporting children and families following parental separation from Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division.

His message came as a result of a second report published on 12 March 2020 by a Private Law Working Group. They were instructed by the President to review the approach taken to private disputes between parents concerning the arrangements for their children following separation. This was to draw together key themes on how the Family Court and society generally can assist separated families. The report identified a time for change, a need for change and a case for change. 

One of the key outcomes of the report is that whilst it is accepted, the Family Court can support separated families to resolve disputes concerning child arrangements. Contested court proceedings should, for many reasons, be considered an option of last resort. The report states that instead of asking a judge or magistrate to decide on what the child arrangements will be following a relationship breakdown, instead, parents should be encouraged and supported to resolve their disputes outside of the courtroom.

The report identifies that the time has now come to instigate a radical reform of the way private law family disputes are resolved in and out of the Family Court. This is supported by the need for change given the pressure of demand placed on the overstretched courts up and down the country, other factors include:

a)    The increasing number of separated parents choosing to delegate decision-making to the Family Court. This is rather than exercising their own parental responsibility to resolve matters and the delays experienced in the court process.

b)    Not enough families being diverted to non-court dispute resolution alternatives in the first instance.

c)    Greater encouragement needed for judges to consider diverting cases out of the court system into non-court dispute resolution processes.

d)    An awareness of how parental conflict causes significant harm to families.

e)    The perceived failings of the Family Court to manage domestic abuse cases appropriately.

f)    The limited number of families eligible for publicly funded legal advice or representation (otherwise known as legal aid), these enter the court system without meaningful advice or legal and practical help.

g)    An awareness of good quality services available to support separating families. This includes mediation, but little consistency to the delivery of such services or incentive to families to access such services.

The report confirms that there is support for the creation and funding of a “Supporting Separating Families Alliance” as a nationwide service for supporting families.

The report also recommends that parents should be offered “Separated Parents Information Programmes” much earlier in the process of family separation. These programmes should be free of charge or heavily subsidised and made available to many more separating parents.

In addition, the report confirms support for Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (otherwise known as MIAMs) to be retained as they allow parents an opportunity to learn about non-court dispute resolution options. There is also strong support for respondents to be compelled to attend a MIAM so that their attendance becomes obligatory rather than voluntary.

Why choose Birkett Long for your separation

The Divorce and Family Law team at Birkett Long understand the importance of helping separated families to resolve their child arrangement disputes amicably and constructively. The emotional and financial pain caused when a family separates is well known, as parents and children often find their situation extremely upsetting and stressful. That is why many couples facing separation or divorce would prefer to resolve matters amicably and in a civilised manner so that court proceedings can be avoided..

It is widely accepted that children cope better with family breakdown if they witness their parents working together to sort out the arrangements. Thankfully, there are several non-court dispute resolution alternatives available to separated families to help them achieve this, including mediation, collaborative law, solicitor negotiation, arbitration and private judging.

If you are involved in or are contemplating a divorce or separation, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We can talk to you about the different options available to resolve child arrangement matters without having to go to court. We can assist you in choosing the right option for you and your family.  

All our lawyers are members of Resolution, an organisation committed to the settlement of family disputes in a constructive and cost-effective manner.  We are the largest team of collaboratively trained lawyers in Essex. We can expertly assist you in resolving your case through the collaborative law process, if that route is chosen as a means of settling matters amicably.

We can refer you to mediation if necessary and we can negotiate matters on your behalf through solicitor negotiation, if preferred. If court proceedings become necessary, we can also assist and legally represent you in such proceedings in order to bring matters to a conclusion.

I’m working from home, but available to talk if you need me. If you have a question, I’d much rather you ask it and we spend some time having a free chat, than not. 

We can offer telephone and video call meetings and are available to deal with cases remotely.  Please call Shelley Cumbers on 01206 217378 or email for further information.