What about me? Hearing the voice of a child when parents separate

01/12/2020

It is widely accepted that children are at risk of harm when parents separate. Unresolved conflicts between parents impacts on children of all ages affecting both their long-term mental health and future life choices.

Often, sadly a child can lose the close relationship they had with both parents after separation.

Wider costs

The current system for resolving disputes about children operates largely for the parents and the children’s voices often go unheard. The annual cost to the taxpayer in family breakdowns is now estimated at £51bn.

It is common that the disputes between the parents is due to a system of unresolved conflict and broken communication rather than strictly “legal” disputes. The Courts are not there to micromanage parents. For example, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC recently noted that in his Court he had been asked to decide such issues as:

  • What junction of the M4 should a child be handed over for contact?
  • Which parent should hold the child’s passport, despite there being no risk that either parent would remove a child from the jurisdiction.
  • How contact on a Sunday afternoon should be managed.

Latest advice

A report by the Family Solutions Group in November 2020 looked at reframing support for families following separation.

Many recommendations were made but at the heart of the report was putting children’s welfare and rights essential – listening to the child who says, “what about me?”.

The core recommendations are:

  • Move away from “justice” language and towards an understanding of child welfare.
  • An authoritative website providing clear and accurate information.
  • Widespread access to that information – rolling this out in schools, GPs etc.
  • A dedicated place for children to go online.
  • Support services for children to include information, consultation, support, and representation.
  • A presumption that young people over the age of 10 have an opportunity to have their voice heard in all processes for resolving issues between their parents.

It will inevitably take time to change the current system but with the divorce reforms being introduced in 2021, it represents a perfect opportunity to begin the much needed shift to support healthier options for parents and promotes the child centred and child inclusive holistic approach for all concerned.

We welcome such changes.

More informationTo arrange a free telephone consultation please fill in the contact form on this page or email us at mail@pinneytalfourd.co.uk or contact us on 01708 229444 (Upminster Office), 01277 211755 (Brentwood Office) or 01708 511000 (Hornchurch Office).   

This article was written by Sue Nash, Senior Associate in the Family Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of December 2020.

01/12/2020

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