Study casts doubt on parental child contact arrangements in court

In-court conciliations in child contact cases fail to improve children’s well-being or co-parental relationships, a study has revealed.

In-court conciliation involves a meeting at court between estranged parents supervised by a Cafcass officer, who helps the parents agree on contact arrangements.

The study, which looked at the long-term outcomes of in-court conciliations, highlighted that 40% of agreements needed further litigation and that in 60% of cases arrangements had changed or broken down over a two-year period.

The authors of the report, Liz Trinder and Joanne Kellett at the University of East Anglia, found that the conciliation process in court provided a framework for contact but did not help separated parents to work together.

At the end of two years, the study, The Longer Term Outcomes on Court Conciliation , found that 79% of cases had an agreement and were closed but only half were settled continuously throughout that period.

Only a quarter of those cases were categorised as ‘settled and moving on’ and half were ‘settled but conflicted’. The authors noted that the financial and emotional pressures of going to court prevented many parents from continuing with the litigation process.

Trinder and Kellett said: “For many parents, the high agreement rates reached in conciliation proved a false dawn.”

Despite parents noting that their well-being had improved two years after the initial baseline conciliation intervention, the well-being of children showed no improvement.

The study, published on Wednesday, revealed that although the conciliation process established contact between a child and separated parents it did not improve the co-parental relationship which had a negative effect upon the child’s wellbeing.

The authors found that for most cases, the relationships between parents were “competitive or non-existent, trust was low and conflict was high”.

In response to the study, commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, the authors recommended that relationship-based and therapeutically oriented interventions should be introduced alongside in-court conciliation to improve co-parental attitudes and alliance. 

In-court conciliations offer parents the opportunity to meet in court to agree on contact arrangements for their child with the support of Cafcass, the Children and Family Court Advisory Support Service, professionals.

It is currently on offer in county courts and a number of family proceeding courts in England and Wales. The Ministry of Justice aims to offer in-court conciliation to all suitable cases by the end of 2008.
More information

Report: The Longer Term Outcomes on Court Conciliation

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Resolution pilots lacked leadership

Scheme to resolve contact disputes between parents scuppered


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