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Family Law President: One-Fifth of Family Cases Do Not Need Court Intervention
The vast majority of the family law cases being heard in the Family Courts by judges in the jurisdiction of England and Wales involve the provision of care and financial resources for children in the event of a separation or divorce. However, in late July 2022 the holder of the esteemed office of President of the Family Law courts in the jurisdiction of England and Wales, Sir Andrew McFarlane provided an interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation. This event was highly unusual as holders of the Office tend to shy away from such interviews. During the interview with the global media giant, he first pointed to how effectively the Family Court works in practice, and at its heart, it is designed to cater to the most serious family cases involving parents and their children where there are worries surrounding child safety.
What Did The Judge Say?
However, the President of the Family Court did not stop there. He sought to remind couples who have children that the court system is not the most ideal venue for disagreements of this nature to be adjudicated. He estimated that in his personal experience and on the statistics that around one-fifth of families did not require the England and Wales court system to resolve their disputes. Affected families will seemingly agree with his comments.
He elaborated on the duration of time matters which involve children take to proceed through the family court system. He described as ‘unhealthy’ the couples who have children getting into conflict with each other regardless of whether they are to proceed to formal court proceedings. He described the effect such behavior was having on him as ‘doing his head in’ and communicated his personal belief that if parents continue to act like this, they are likely to be misreading the situation if they think the children will come through unscathed.
Finally, he appeared to identify several potential areas which he perceived could be reformed in this area. One matter he pinpointed was the use of language which can be described as confrontational, unfriendly, and antagonistic. The President of the Family Court provided listeners to his speech to the British Broadcasting Corporation with a few examples of the unhelpful language he has observed being used by lawyers working in the family law courts. He cited lawyers using phrases such as ‘my opponent’ or words like ‘applicant’ and ‘respondent’. He pointed to a culture whereby it is currently aimed at resolving the conflict in an adversarial hearing.
The learned senior President expanded further on his argument by suggesting that these tactics serve to aggravate a situation and in his view, the situation needs to change. He recommended that couples who have children should do all they can reasonably do to reduce the risk of finding themselves in the family courts.
So what should lawyers be advising affected families who happen to find themselves falling into the twenty percent criteria? They should be following the advice of the President of the Family Court when he suggested:
- attempting other ways to settle the family conflict involving children
- seeking Alternative Dispute Resolution as a first option before pursuing litigious options in the Family Court
- not using antagonistic and confrontational language during proceedings and
- changing the culture of the legal profession whereby the approach would move from dispute resolution towards a collaborative one whereby problems over the future of the respective children are tackled.
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THE ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN USING THE FOLLOWING SOURCES
[SOURCE 1] Mullane, Joseph – 20% of family disputes don’t belong in court - McFarlane – Today’s Family Lawyer – 4 August 2022 - Court isn’t the right place to resolve most parenting disputes (todaysfamilylawyer.co.uk)
[SOURCE 2] Family courts: One fifth of divorces wrongly ending up in court – BBC News - 24 July 2022
[SOURCE 3] Family and Parenting Institute – Is It legal? A parents’ guide to the law – 3rd edition - FPI is it legal Feb_08.pdf (rbkc.gov.uk)