Sir Andrew McFarlane in his Resolution Keynote Address 2019 said “I consider that the disputes that parents bring to court will only very seldom involve an issue of law.“
Few people would recommend separating parents seek a court order as a first option when settling straightforward difficulties regarding their children’s future care. However, when parties’ separate, quite often, common sense and the ability to put the needs of the children first, goes out of the window amongst the stress and anguish which relationship breakdown can bring. McFarlane was indicating that Parliament should legislate clear steps separating parents are bound to take if they fail to agree who and how their children should be cared for post-separation.
Mr Justice Stephen Cobb is chairing a 24 strong working group on private law children cases. Their objective? To divert more cases away from the courts. Their interim report is due to be published in May 2019. Currently, we can only speculate at any recommendations that may be made. However, it is anticipated a pre-court dispute resolution stage will be recommended for separating parents prior to being able to issue any court application.
It is likely some or all of the following, in some form or other, will be proposed:
- Both parties be required to attend mediation, currently only a voluntary step for some.
- Attend an information and advice meeting.
- To meet a CAFCASS officer during the pre-court dispute resolution stage.
Our family courts are currently saturated with cases leading to delay, additional stress and expense for court users. Children are likely to be better served if their parents are guided towards a more conciliatory way of resolving their differences and with a better chance of successful co-parenting in the future.
For the unlucky few cases that are so intractable no settlement can be found, or cases with an issue in law, the courts are likely to remain the place to find an answer. For everyone else, pre-court resolution is likely to be a far cheaper, swifter and kinder option.