Thursday, November 03, 2011

Family Justice Review Published

The final report of the Family Justice Review has been published, at least on Family Law. As I write this, there is no trace of it yet on the Ministry of Justice's website. Funny how these things are released to the media before Joe Public gets to see them. Anyhow, here are some of the main recommendations:

The Family Justice System
  • A Family Justice Service should be established, sponsored by the Ministry of Justice.

  • The Family Justice Service should be responsible for the budgets for court social work services in England, mediation, out of court resolution services and, potentially over time, experts and solicitors for children.

  • Charges to local authorities for public law applications and to local authorities and Cafcass for police checks in public and private law cases should be removed.

  • An integrated IT system should be developed for use in the Family Justice Service and wider family justice agencies.

  • A Vice President of the Family Division should support the President of the Family Division in his leadership role, monitoring performance across the family judiciary.

  • The judiciary should aim to ensure judicial continuity in all family cases.

  • Judges and magistrates should be enabled and encouraged to specialise in family matters.

  • A single family court, with a single point of entry, should replace the current three tiers of court. All levels of family judiciary (including magistrates) should sit in the family court and work should be allocated according to case complexity.

  • The Family Division of the High Court should remain, with exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving the inherent jurisdiction and international work that has been prescribed by the President of the Family Division as being reserved to it.

  • All other matters should be heard in the single family court, with High Court judges sitting in that court to hear the most complex cases and issues.

  • HMCTS and the judiciary should ensure routine hearings use telephone or video technology wherever appropriate.

  • The Family Justice Service should develop an agreed set of core skills and knowledge for family justice.

  • There should be a system of case reviews of process to help establish reflective practice in the family justice system.

Public Law
  • Courts should refocus on the core issues of whether the child is to live with parents, other family or friends, or be removed to the care of the local authority.

  • When determining whether a care order is in a child’s best interests the court will not normally need to scrutinise the full detail of a local authority care plan for a child.

  • A time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings should be set at six months.

  • Primary legislation should reinforce that in commissioning an expert’s report regard must be had to the impact of delay on the welfare of the child. It should also assert that expert testimony should be commissioned only where necessary to resolve the case.

  • A pilot on the use of formal mediation approaches in public law proceedings should be established.

Private Law
  • No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents.

  • The need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain.

  • Parents should be encouraged to develop a Parenting Agreement to set out arrangements for the care of their children post separation.

  • Government should develop a child arrangements order, which would set out arrangements for the upbringing of a child when court determination of disputes related to the care of children is required.

  • Government should repeal the provision for residence and contact orders in the Children Act 1989.

  • The new child arrangements order should be available to fathers without parental responsibility, as well as those who already hold parental responsibility, and to wider family members with the permission of the court.

  • Government should establish an online information hub and helpline to give information and support for couples to help them resolve issues following divorce or separation outside court.

  • ‘Alternative dispute resolution’ should be rebranded as ‘Dispute Resolution Services’, in order to minimise a deterrent to its use.

  • Where intervention is necessary, separating parents should be expected to attend a session with a mediator.

  • Those parents who were still unable to agree should next attend a Separated Parents Information Programme and thereafter if necessary mediation or other dispute resolution service.

  • Attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting and Separated Parent Information Programme should be required of anyone wishing to make a court application.

  • HMCTS and the judiciary should establish a track system according to the complexity of the case.

  • Children and young people should be given the opportunity to have their voices heard in cases that are about them, where they wish it.

  • Where an order is breached within the first year, the case should go straight back to court to the same judge to resolve the matter swiftly.

  • There should be no link of any kind between contact and maintenance.

  • The process for initiating divorce should begin with the online hub and should be dealt with administratively by the courts, unless the divorce is disputed.

  • People in dispute about money or property should be expected to access the information hub and should be required to be assessed for mediation.

  • Where possible all issues in dispute following separation should be considered together whether in all issues mediation or consolidated court hearings.

  • Government should establish a separate review of financial orders to include examination of the law.

  • The Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission should carefully monitor the impact of legal aid reforms.


  1. 'There should be no link of any kind between contact and maintenance.'

    I listened to David Norgrave on the Radio 4 today programme this morning.

    He had no credability whatsoever. He seemed to be saying that the family law courts are fine places of objectivity. He certainly hasn't seen them as I have, or have consulted with the nrps involved very much at all.

  2. So, I suppose he is saying you pay even if you don't see your children.

    This is a direct contradiction to the human embroyology and fertility Act of Government which states that the child has no right to a father.

    My point is, of course there is a link between contact and maintenance, unless he is saying that maintenance should not be paid. Which I don't think he is.

    It's like saying that from now on, black will be white and white will be black.

    Absolutely outrageous.

  3. To clarify my point for a third time.

    The logical extention of this premice of no linkage is the abolition of the CSA and CMEC and no maintenance payable. Also, their formula with reductions for overnight staying contact will also be turned to zero.

    It is unreasonable to expect father's to pay for children they do not get to see, for example if they are in Australia, or if the courts wont enforce contact. As the divorce of America went, no taxation without representation.

    If we do not get to see our children - the courts don't regard the father's as worthwhile - then don't expect us to pay for it.

    Family justice, don't think so, avoid these places and sort things out yourselves seems the only reasonable way to deal with these matters. Indeed is what is written between his lines from what I can see.

  4. For a fourth time, this should now mean the abolishion of cmec and csa and their now completely undermined formula. At least that is something to be grateful for I suppose. No (child maintenance) taxation without representation.

  5. OK, I think you've made your point.

    I do agree with the Review that there should be no link between contact and maintenance, but you are of course right that there is a link.

  6. As a father who has had to work hard for over three years to maintain a ‘meaningful relationship’ with my now four-year old boy, both through the Courts and a multiplicity of venues, until some normality of parenting has been achieved, in sense regretfully, I have to say that there are some positive parts in this report.

    While David Norgrove appears to have ignored the body of evidence linking problems in later life - particularly of boys – with living apart from a father (“which increased the risk of difficulties by over 40%” Layard, R & Dunn, J. A Good Childhood. The Children’s Society. London: Penguin, 2009), there are positive aspects including badly needed reorganisation of the dysfunctional Family Courts, a “single family court, with a single point of entry”, an emphasis on mediation, continuity, a ‘track system’ through the Courts and, critically where there are obstructive mothers, a rapid return to Court within the first year if an order is broken. There is however, no perfect solution to the terrible predicament that children and their fathers find themselves, and this report is far from perfect. MS.

  7. Now I remember what lawyers are like ;-), trying to make sense out of nonsense, or something like that. Thanks for the reminder.

  8. Anonymous (MS?): You are absolutely correct - there is no perfect solution.

    Graham P: I wouldn't say that your comments were completely nonsense! ;-)

  9. They should level the playing field 50/50% shared residency by default. The parents should then discuss with each other the best arrangement for both themselves and their children.

    One size obviously will not fit all, but with a level playing field there is the assurance of equality for discussions begin.

  10. sorry - I should have said before discussions begin

  11. Thanks stepper, but it looks like that ain't going to happen, at least not any time soon.

  12. Iain Duncan Smith to the rescue maybe? Or maybe not!

  13. John (Vulcan) Redwood to the rescue instead perhaps.

  14. The problem with automatically assigning joint custody following divorce or separation is that it’s unlikely to be in the best interest of the child in the majority of circumstances.

    In my opinion, the individuals that were preparing the report simply realised that a 50/50 custody split wouldn’t be practicable in the majority of circumstances as; generally speaking, a child’s routine is subject to significant disruption when their time is split equally between two homes. I have seen many couples agree to such arrangements informally only to later agree to more practical arrangements.

    Irrespective of the sensationalist and irresponsible reports that have surfaced over the last few days, though, all fathers will still have a legal right to see their children following a divorce or separation and whilst the importance of a child enjoying a robust relationship with both parents has not been emphasised, I’m pretty sure that judges are aware of its importance.

  15. If 50/50 shared residency is practical and can be shown to work well, especially if the children are a little older and their schooling is not distrupted, then the law should support both parents.

    With regards to Divorce Bloggers comments that some parents have initially agreed to a 50/50 shared care agreement informally, and then later agree to more practical arrangements, surely that it what it is all about? From a default stance, the parents have to work out between themselves what is the best arrangement to suit both the children and themselves. Surely then, no need for lengthy Court appearances and hopefully no conflict.

  16. Certainly, the primary aim is for parents to resolve matters between themselves, but there will be no presumption of shared care, as that is seen as putting the rights of the parent before those of the child.

  17. That's dedication, John, you must of been up all night reading.

    Surely it is Parental Responsibility that gives both parent equal rights and responsibilities including having the children live with them and contact?

    The recommendation to use specific issue orders rather then residence and contact orders to resolve disputes about parenting time puts both parents on an equal footing, I think.

  18. You obviously didn't hear Marilyn Stowe on Radio London this morning John. She put forward the very valid point of view that all parties affected by divorce should be given respect by the Courts, father, mother and grandparents. I hope I am right in what I am saying here, but my understanding was that she felt that too much emphasis was placed soley on the right of the child when perhaps other voices should also be heard and respected.

    She also said that she felt that an opportunity had been lost by David Norgrove to put right some of the things that needed changing in the Family Justice System.

    I was heartened by her contribution to the discussion.

  19. *parents* (must proof read before sending!)

  20. Sorry I missed that stepper, I wanted to say hear hear to that POV. I find the courts adherance to children's welfare and discernable best wishes a COP OUT! The resident parent tells them what to say to the CAFCASS officer (who is useless) and the nrp get's shafted. That's what happens (speaking from experience), these places - courts and cafcass - are evil and I don't think paying for the dubious honour of being involved with them at all is fair at all!!!

  21. The report's an absolute disgrace!

  22. Fiona: Good to hear from you again! I trust you are well. Yes, I was up rather early!

    Parental responsibility does not include any right of residence or contact.

    I'm not sure whether the proposed new 'child arrangements order' will have any practical effect upon parenting time. We shall have to wait and see.

    stepper: I know Marilyn's views. My last comment did not necessarily represent my views, rather those of the Review panel.

  23. A lame review in response to a lame campaign for improvement in family law.
    The problems have never been solely about equality and the over simplification of the issues by the likes of F4J has done more harm than good, but hey u get you five mins of fame on TV and avoid addressing your own personal culpability in the messy divorce you found yourself in

  24. In my opinion, equality by law on the breakdown of marriage would go a long way to addressing some of the problems experienced by fathers who have to go through the Family Courts, often for years, to gain even minimal contact with their children.

    I am puzzled as to why the State thinks it has the right to deny children the legal right to see their fathers? It is about time that loving and committed fathers were given the respect that they deserve.

    Fathers for Justice did a great job yesterday with their radio interviews in bringing the plight of many of these unfortunate fathers into the public domain. Of particular interest was the Nicky Campbell phone in when he struggled to receive any phone calls against fathers having the right by law to see their children.

  25. That's simply because aggrieved fathers shout the loudest, as we all know (witness the comments to this post). The state does not have any policy to deny children the 'right' to see their fathers - you need to get away from the victim mentality, and look at the real reasons why courts make their decisions.

  26. The real reasons the court make such decisions is to stop the fighting and arguing. Thus all a PWC has to do to stop the kids seeing the other parent is shout and argue and be intransigent and they will succeed in that.

    It is to the courts' dishonour that they are impotent when faced with this hostility and go along with whatever minimal and intermittent and subject to cancellation contact the pwc then offers - usually every other weekend, Sat am til Sun pm. Plus some holidays.

    The problem is they then don't stick to it - children have colds, activities etc. passports never appear for holidays, cancellations happen and you drift apart never to see the kids. That is the disgrace, not the fathers, you are blaming the fathers for complaining and shooting the messenger.

    The problem is these courts do nothing against manipuilative pwcs easily, thus many nrps (myself included) give up on them rather than try to get them to work which although perhaps I agree is possible takes too much time and money and emotion as to be not worthwhile anyway.

    The report said nothing of interest, apart from that fathers should not have to pay for their children that they don't live with, and that the CSA / CMEC should be scrapped.

  27. Graham P:

    What about all the mothers (and I know a few) whose children have contact with their fathers (when the father can be bothered) yet they choose to not pay any maintenance.

    It works both ways..

  28. Well, it aint no substitute for the Walton's is it? (Rhetorical question).

    My point being, perhaps being a nrp is a contradiction in terms, in that if you are not resident, you are not really a parent.

    Thus agreeing with David Norgrove with his saying that there should be zero maintenance obligation.

    A sincere attempt to answer your question.

    To support my answer, the biggest predictor on if a nrp father will pay maintenance for his children is if they share the same surname as him.

    Personally, I pay (a lot) through the CSA, but don't get to see mine as last time I went to court the judge lost his temper and issued a costs order against me to pay for her barrister to make up lies and insult me and inflame the situation, where I had none and kept quite, that's what happens behind the closed doors of the family law courts, but hey, according to you that is my fault right? No it wasn't strewth, what a load of rubbish. I aint going back there again.

    Objectively I don't see how they can be defended when they are so secretive and that is the only area of common ground I have with the 'professionals' such as Haqrriet Harmon on.

  29. Graham

    I am not sure that is really an answer..

    I was married when I had our children, he had an affair and left us. He has been given unlimited contact but this is never taken up (or rarely)and in terms of surnames, yes they also have his surname.

    I am not alone in this believe me.

    You all stamp your feet about rights to see the children whereas it is the chid's right to have contact with both parents. When contact is not taken up it is not possible to force it with the uninterested parent.

    Why shouldn't my ex husband be held to be financially responsible for children that were planned together and which he chose to voluntarily walk out on?

    This is not an unusual scenario, yet single mothers are constantly villified when they are the ones holding it together and doing their best to bring up well rounded people against all odds.

    We just get on with it as there is no choice, rather than poncing about dressing up as Wonder Woman

  30. Graham, your description of your last court hearing is classic!

  31. Anonymous, I am agreeing with you and David Norgrove. There is common ground here, as I have said before we all agree that the best thing that can happen after separation for the children is for the NRP to F off and die.

    That way the kids can get money, contact and finance issues are also resolved.

    Second best scenario also agreed, NRP goes away, doesnt get to see his kids and doesn't pay maintenance. But he does pay for any new families (see below).

    Otherwise we just go round and round and round arguing, and I for one, have had enough, don't think I am alone in that either. I have a girl friend and am bringing up her son as my own currently, like Paul Gascoigne, at least I get to play the role of a proper father even if it isn't to my own children. I have 3.

    Thanks John. I could go into the details a bit further but as was a closed court they may be true or not, only me knows.

    I couldn't make the final hearing (about the 50th appearance) as had been booked for when I was away on business (booked when I was away on emergency holiday with the children aften I won in court the right for a holiday). The FH went ahead, with me getting every other weekend and a load of caveats (which prevent it from actually happening). I tried to have it re-heard and got costs against me for the hearing to try and get a proper hearing.

    These places are completely mad. I too have a black sense of humour but this is a bit too close to the bone.

  32. Expecting me to pay for children I don't get to see is the sickest joke I've ever heard. It's a disgrace and why I can't vote Tory or Labour, with them backing this approach as detailed above. I'll do what I can to undermine it, I am honest about that.

  33. Graham,

    I don't think we are agreed on anything and you clearly have a poor understanding of my post.

    I am sorry that you have had your problems, but you cannot generalize as you have. I know single fathers with residence and parents with joint residence.

    It is not my experience that the courts are biased in any way. Each case is viewed on its own merits and as imperfect as it is, I believe that the majority of people who work within the system do their best for the children involved.

    I do however accept that it is very difficult to rationalize with the irrational

  34. Well, fact is my ex (or rather her father) could afford legal representation whereas I could not. Thus I don't get to see my children, so much for the professionals, in my case the only one who did their job was her barrister who made me look a fool. Your turn for the cheap jibe.

  35. I'm off now to go and dress up as wonder woman.


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