Yesterday dispatches aired on Channel 4 covering the family court system and whilst I personally do not agree with all of the criticism levied at the family court, the program does highlight some important issues that practitioners, the judiciary and the court need to reflect upon.
In particular, the program reports that:
- Over 2,000 parents said they felt the Judge was actively hostile towards them;
- Over 70% of parents were unhappy with the outcome;
- 67% agreed that their children's mental health had been affected by participation in the proceedings;
- Court proceedings were reported to have taken an average of 18 months to complete;
- The average cost of proceedings was said to be around £13,000.
Whilst these statistics do not surprise me, they do make it all the more prominent that modernisation is required within the family courts to better serve children and parents.
My view is that a renewed focus on alternative dispute resolution is key to this but also that the eligibility requirements for legal aid should also be reviewed, at least for early intervention and negotiation. Currently, both legal help (non-litigation work) and legal aid (litigation work) are both means and merits tested. Meaning that it is only accessible to those people who are under the capital and income threshold and also are either the survivor of domestic abuse or there is a child protection issue (both need to be evidenced independently). Perhaps if the rules changed to allow legal help to be available to more people (means-tested only), this would allow early intervention, support and advice to be given to a wider range of clients and would reduce the number of cases that ultimately result in proceedings being issued.
Affordable alternative dispute resolution such as mediation is also key, allowing parents to speak directly and discuss matters with the help of a trained mediator with the hopes of reaching an agreement both parties are at least somewhat happy with. My team and I are proud to support alternative dispute resolution as a means to resolving parental disputes, with three of our seven qualified solicitors also being trained mediators. We are therefore able to offer an exceptional family mediation service to the Midlands and beyond, thanks to virtual working being embraced.
Court proceedings were reported to have taken on average 18 months to complete, with 1 in 10 cases lasting more than 5 years. The average cost of proceedings was said to be around £13,000, though 1 in 20 claimed they had spent over £100,000.