Divorce judges must use imagination in a different way, says family charity

Family court judges need to extend their imaginations beyond writing verdicts in the form of ‘personable’ letters to family members, says a leading family charity.

Mr Peter Justice Jackson made headlines in late July when he sent a 14 year-old boy a personalised letter, outlining his reasons for denying the teenager the outcome he sought – to be allowed to move abroad with his dad.

But National Family Mediation says we should not be deceived by the novel approach.

“Make no mistake, it’s going to be very hard for Sam to digest the way the court saw his father,” says Jane Robey, the charity’s CEO.

“The language and delivery of the verdict may be worlds away from what we expect. Yet the basic fact that again here is a judge handing down a life-changing verdict to a young person based on evidence he accrued during a long and expensive court case.”

She added that it “doesn’t alter the fact that as ever in divorce and separation cases that go to a court, parents’ and children’s futures get determined by a judge: the one person on the scene who knows least about the family.

“I say it’s high time for the judiciary to become more creative and vocal in its efforts to avoid court battles that expose the dirty laundry of a separating family, often in the full glare of the people most affected: the children.

“Judges already have powers to direct people who come before them towards alternatives.”

In an article for Huffington Post, Jane Robey explains there is capacity within the Children and Families Act to order couples to attend a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting, and explains how the charity was awarded a grant by the Department for Work and Pensions to develop an in-court mediation pilot programme.

“Our dispute resolution experts, based on hand in a sample of family courts, managed to settle cases just like this one in a much more constructive and amicable way.

“Crucially they avoided families involved having all their lives laid bare before a court. Many had already suffered years of court room squabbles but mediation helped them reach dignified agreements: settlements that were fully supported by the judges concerned.”
“We still await word from the DWP about a national roll-out of that in-court mediation programme that could transform the lives of thousands of separated families. And think of the money it could save the taxpayer.

“Transformative change could be a few heartbeats away, as long as the will exists. Judges and courts could manage their parenting, property and money dispute cases in a fresh way, using their existing powers to better effect, whilst seriously protecting the families’ right to a private life.

“A novel approach to writing a verdict is one thing: but it’s time for judges to use their imaginations in a completely different way.”

The article can be read in full here.