UK Family Law Reform

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Family courts failing children 30th December 2003

By Frances Gibb, Legal Editor

THE head of Britain’s family lawyers has accused the Government of leaving children to be brought up by one parent because of its failure to revamp a “creaking and under funded” divorce Family courts system. David Burrows, chairman of the Solicitors Family Law Association (SFLA), says that the system for determining contact with children and custody is failing, leaving access rows between divorced or separated parents unresolved.

The attack from the leader of the 5,000-strong association is contained in the January issue of the SFLA’s news-letter. It comes at a time of increasing pressure from fathers who say that their rights of access to children are denied and that courts allow mothers to breach contact orders with impunity.

Mr Burrows says ministers were “apparently deaf” to recommendations that came after an inquiry into the system chaired by Mr Justice Nicholas Wall, almost two years ago.

“Family courts are failing the children and their parents which they are set up to serve,” he says.

“Proceedings start in an ill-co-ordinated way: there is no consistent procedure around the country. There is no clear view about the extent to which mature children should be involved in proceedings or at court.”

Mediation services are patchy, he says, while court welfare officers are under- resourced, of limited availability and slow in producing reports. “For lack of resources they often add to the delays in children proceedings, thus deepening the frustration of a parent whose contact is limited and adding further to the degradation of the welfare of children concerned.”

The Department for Constitutional Affairs said that it had taken Mr Justice Wall’s recommendations seriously and hoped to produce a set of proposals for change in the new year.

Family Law Association (SFLA), says that the system for determining contact with children and custody is failing.

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