By Deborah Levy, consultant in the Family Law team
As a family lawyer who has been qualified for over 25 years, it may come as a surprise to learn that I agree with the statement made by Sir Andrew McFarlane, the President of the Family Division, that 'lawyers should be the last resort for separating families'.
Whilst there is every good intention on the part of the judiciary to make sound decisions when deciding with whom a child should live with and how much time they should spend with each parent, court proceedings are costly and inevitably cause significant delay to getting the family settled. The correspondence between lawyers often adopts an adversarial role, and the children at the heart of the dispute can so easily become lost.
All those years back at school, we didn't have PSHE education lessons. Surely the time is well overdue for there to be much wider education, both in schools and as part of public health, on the potential damage caused to children and their warring parents and how constructive resolution must be at the heart of resolving differences.
Even though going to a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting is compulsory prior to any court application (save in the event of emergency), surely counselling, parenting classes and alternative support should be the primary focus before heading off to court.
While we've seen an increase in Children Act disputes during the pandemic, escalation of solutions and more considered thought needs to be given now to these conflicts.
The number of these private law applications continues to increase, and the trend is that more and more parents see lawyers and the court as the first port of call in dispute resolution, rather than as the facility of last resort as it should be in all cases where domestic abuse or child protection are not an issue. Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division.