The President speaks

Sir Nicholas Wall is back in the news. In a speech to Families Need Fathers, the President attacked parents who use their children as 'ammunition' in separations, gave an indication of possible reform to private children law and issued a warning about the future of legal aid.

I've not read the speech (I have not been able to find it online), but the reports I have read mention the following points that he made regarding battling parents:
  • That mothers and fathers should accept separation was “itself a serious failure of parenting” and work out how to minimise the damage. Harsh, but probably true.

  • That separating parents "rarely behave reasonably". I'm not sure about that. This quotation may have been taken out of context, but most separating parents do behave reasonably, and are able to agree arrangements for their children, usually without going to court. It is only when there are contested court proceedings that they 'rarely behave reasonably'.

  • That separating parents always believe that they are behaving reasonably, and that the other party is behaving unreasonably. Yes, that is certainly true, subject to my proviso above.

  • That in his experience "the more intelligent the parent, the more intractable the dispute". Yes, my experience indicated that there may be some truth in that.

  • That disputes between the parties were rarely about the children concerned but rather parents "fighting over the battles of the relationship, and the children are both the battlefield, [and] the ammunition". Yep, been there, seen that.

  • That: "Often the mother, who finds herself caring for the children, is able to use her power over them to deny the father contact." Check.

  • That: "parents who spoke badly of their ex-partners in front of their children were only creating problems for themselves further down the line when they would eventually realise 'he or she is not the ogre which has been described'." I'm sure this is true too.
Referring to the Family Justice Review, Sir Nicholas said that 'more rights for fathers are under serious consideration' (I'm not sure how you can do this whilst keeping the law 'gender-neutral'), and that one of the changes that may emerge from the Review is a presumption of shared residence for the children when a couple separate. However, he said that family court judges are divided on this issue, with some thinking that it recognises the increasingly important role of fathers, while others believe that it is too disruptive for children.

With regard to legal aid, Sir Nicholas warned that, as part of the Review, "legal aid for private law proceedings is likely to be further diminished if not abolished". If it is abolished entirely, then I can foresee serious problems down the line. He points out that in future "out of court mediation and conciliation will be encouraged", with mediation assessment possibly becoming a precondition for instituting proceedings, but what happens if one parent refuses to submit to mediation? If that parent is the one 'in control' of the children (like the mother referred to above) and the other parent doesn't have the means to take the matter to court without legal aid, then what is the other parent to do?

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UPDATE: The speech is now available online (or perhaps it already was, and I missed it!), on the Family Law website, here. My thanks to Marilyn Stowe for pointing this out.


  1. The Judges do tend to blame the parents without accepting any responsability themselves. They are at least partially responsible for the lack of confidence in the family court by non resident parents, probably failure of these courts.

    The ideas he proposes might be a start. As would keeping the same Judge through proceedings. I cannot understand why this is not done. The Judge at the final hearing will usually not have a scooby what is going on and make a dodgy order on the back of a whim and may be entirely based upon nothing more than which way he got out of bed. This is a disgrace to the children (like mine) who have been and continue to be let down by such hollow words. 'Making the best of it' they are not leading by example.

  2. And Cafcass are even worse, they don't have a clue about shared parenting and their default of every other weekend is basically wrong and very bad.

  3. A response as to why the same Judge cannot be kept throughout proceedings would be appreciated as surely they would understand the issues more if forced to make a decision if they did that.

  4. See paragraphs 22-27 of the speech.

  5. I have done so, thank you. Unfortunately there were no real answers but not very good excuses given for this problem. The Judges do seem to blame everyone but themselves.

  6. Still, moving to an assumption of shared parenting 50:50 as this does suggest would be a good step and go a way to readdressing the many problems that the Judge mentions.


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