The Ministry of Justice has announced a wide-ranging review of family court proceedings and the current family justice system in England and Wales. Justice Secretary Jack Straw wants an expert panel to examine reform proposals that better support children and parents through the divorce process.
“We know that for many families the current family justice system is proving far too complicated, and its adversarial nature can lead to bitter, lengthy court hearings,” said Mr. Straw. “This only serves to prolong what is already a stressful and emotionally draining experience.”
While the vast majority of separating parents settle their disputes privately, many do not. “For those who do need access to the justice system, we need to find a better, fairer way to forge lasting agreements for the care of children,” said Mr. Straw. “Research shows that children adjust to family breakdown better when a couple manages to maintain working relations following a separation – this review is about making sure the justice system helps parents to achieve this.”
The review follows hot on the heels of the Families and Relationships Green Paper, published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families earlier this month.
The green paper contains several proposals to reform the family justice system, including mandatory mediation for couples before they can move to full family court proceedings – which would bring the rules for couples who pay for solicitors privately in line with the rules for those eligible for legal aid.
Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, explained why the Government is putting so much time and energy into reforming family law:
“Children are often caught up in the middle when parents decide to separate and this can have a devastating impact on their lives and their future relationships. Whilst family relationships are very private matters, there is a role for government to help families find ways to resolve conflict faster in order to limit the negative impact on children’s wellbeing.
“The majority of parents have their children’s best interests at heart and are committed to making the separation process as easy as possible for their family.
However, this is a difficult time and that many separating parents struggle to establish contact agreements, to communicate effectively with one another and to continue to parent cooperatively.
“That is why we are giving parents better information about mediation earlier on in the separation process so that we can help families, especially children, through this difficult time.’
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