This week, traditionally the busiest time for family lawyers dealing with post-Christmas-stress divorce enquiries, here are Colin Mitchell's reflections on the implications of December's Family Justice Review.
So, the long-awaited Family Justice Review, by the former senior civil servant David Norgrove, has now been released. One particular issue which made the headlines is that children should not automatically have the legal right to split their time equally between the mother and the father after their parents have separated (as Norgrove had suggested in his interim report might be one of his recommendations). Some fathers’ action groups have been disappointed with this, as they had hoped to be granted the legal guarantee that their children would have to spend an equal amount of time with them, rather than the children possibly spending the majority of time with their mother.
However, although the fathers’ action groups are disappointed by this part of the Review, the underlying principle of Children Law remains the same; the welfare of a child remains the paramount consideration.
Therefore, what the Family Justice Review has done is recognised that every case is different and that a “one rule fits all” approach is not appropriate in family cases. Current Family Law must still be considered in light of a family’s unique circumstances. When a judge has to make a decision, the law still allows him or her to tailor that decision to fit the unique needs of the children concerned. In some cases, this may result in children spending more time with their mother, but in other cases the time the children spend with their parents can be split more equally. Sometimes, the children spend the majority of time with their father.
However, it’s almost always better that a family problem is resolved outside of court, perhaps using Mediation or the Collaborative Family Law process. These processes not only provide a tailored solution but also provide the opportunity for non-legal professionals to become involved to help the parents focus on the children, not just themselves.
What any decent family law specialist needs to provide is bespoke advice on how exactly the law can apply to particular circumstances, by recognising that every case is
different, whilst also working with experienced and skilled non-legal partners.