Family law review wants 6-month deadline for children cases


An official review into family law has called for childcare decisions in family courts to be made within 6 months.

The report, by the former senior civil servant David Norgrove, said parents should be encouraged to make their own care arrangements if they separate.

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"Every year 500,000 children and adults are involved in the family justice system," Mr Norgrove said. "It must deliver the best possible outcomes for all the children and families who use it, because its decisions directly affect the lives and futures of all those involved, and have repercussions for society as a whole."

With some 20,000 children currently awaiting decisions, Mr Norgrove's report added that family law faced huge strains, with care cases often taking over a year to resolve.

The report ruled out family law entitling both parents equal access to their children after separation. "Fundamentally, this is not about the rights of parents, it's about the welfare of children," said Mr Norgrove.

"The evidence from other countries is that if you put that requirement into legislation, it leads to damage to children because you put them right in the middle of those last few per cent of parents who are separating who get into really violent dispute."

Among the report's other proposals were the creation of a single family law system and focusing courts on where a child finally resides, instead of expending time with detailed care arrangements.

The review said parents should use mediation and other routes to make arrangements for caring for their children and only turn to family law as a last resort.

Pledging a 6-month deadline for childcare decisions, the government said that radical reform of the family law system was crucial to tackling delays and improving the service to children.

A spokesman said, "This government is committed to encouraging shared parenting and is firmly of the view that children should have meaningful relationships with both parents after separation."

However, Emma Pearmaine of Simpson Millar LLP doubted the ability of the government to deliver on its promise, noting that the rights of any child to remain on constructive terms with both parents is enshrined within the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"The present family law system falls some way short of this requirement," Emma said. "As it stands, the report does not deal with this crucial issue and denies children and carers any recourse to family law in pursuit of just outcomes."

This echoes the view of Ken Sanderson of campaign group Families Need Fathers. "The core failing of the current family justice system is that the rights of children to maintain meaningful relationships with both parents are not adequately supported or enforced," he said.

"By choosing not to address this, any other proposals will be merely superficial adjustments to a fundamentally broken system."

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