Family law shake-up puts emphasis on out-of-court parent mediation

Some of the nation’s most needy children are set to benefit from
proposals to shake up the family justice system in England and

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service will
move away from private family law cases involving the writing of
30,000 dispute reports a year to reduce the backlog of public law
cases which deal with care proceedings and adoption.

The organisation’s budget was boosted by £12m to £107m
for 2004-5 in the recent spending review to meet the changes.

Cafcass practitioners in both public and private cases will be
expected to take on a mediation role in an attempt to steer parents
in dispute over contact away from the courts. Only those with
allegations of abuse will be dealt with in court.

However, voluntary organisations have warned that the government’s
quest to speed up court cases could put children at risk.

Children’s charity NCH said the proposals would be “disastrous”
without sufficient funding and an emphasis on specialist services
to allow children to build trusting relationships in order to
disclose abuse.

Children’s policy officer for Women’s Aid Hilary Saunders said the
charity’s 2003 research revealed that only 6 per cent of children
who said they did not want contact with a violent parent were being
listened to in courts.

“There is no clear guidance on how judges should deal with domestic
violence,” she said. “This means cases where children have been put
at risk because they are forced to have contact with a violent
parent will continue to happen.”

The green paper acknowledges that implementation of guidelines for
courts on dealing with domestic violence and child contact drawn up
by the Children Act sub-committee has been patchy to date. Legal
changes will be introduced from January 2005.

Funding for contact centres is also of prime importance and is due
to be announced by the Department for Education and Skills

Fathers’ charity Fathers Direct described the green paper as a
historic moment “marking a shift to a legal system that can deliver
co-parenting after separation and protect children from

However, Fathers4Justice said it was disappointed that the
government had failed to adopt 50-50 parenting and promised more

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