UK Family Law Reform

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20th July 2004

Major new proposals to create a better family justice system for separating parents and their children were unveiled today.

Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parents’ Responsibilities outlines how the Government will better support families who are going through separation.

It details a range of measures, including better information for parents, Parenting Plans to help parents make good arrangements, in-court conciliation and mediation for those parents who do go to court, active judicial management and stronger powers for judges to enforce court orders.

Constitutional Affairs Secretary Lord Falconer said:

“We have taken a thoughtful, radical look at the current system. This is a strong package of proposals which will make a significant difference. We intend to implement the necessary changes as soon as possible.

“The law states that the child’s interests are paramount. That will not change. The Government strongly believes that children need both parents - these proposals will make it more likely that children will continue to have two parents.”

The consultation paper proposes:

• Better information and advice for separating parents.
• Developing and promoting Parenting Plans to guide parents.
• Targeting legal aid to promote earlier, more consensual resolution and less litigation.
• Better processes to investigate harm issues.
• Extending in-court conciliation to all cases, before formal court hearings.
• Giving judges the power to direct parents to in-court conciliation and mediation.
• Piloting ‘Collaborative Law’.
• Piloting more intensive intervention – the Family Resolution Pilot Project for more difficult cases.
• A new role for the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) towards active problem-solving.
• Supporting strong judicial management of cases with faster hearings.
• Active monitoring of court orders to ensure they are complied with.
• Legislation to give the judiciary stronger enforcement powers.

Lord Falconer said:

“Parents will be helped and encouraged to come to their own arrangements. But, when they cannot, the courts will play a role. These family cases will be resolved in a swift and effective manner, while the courts will be more aware of domestic violence allegations.

“Already 90 per cent of separating couples come to their own arrangements for their children. But we want to help more parents to do so. That way, the process is less adversarial, faster and parents are more likely to stick to an agreement they have come to themselves than one imposed by a judge.

“But when courts do make orders we will give judges the tools they need to ensure they are respected.

“There cannot and will not be an automatic presumption of 50/50 contact. Children cannot be divided like the furniture or the CD collection. It’s more complex than that.”

Charles Clarke, Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Skills, said:

"The Green Paper paves the way for improved services for families undergoing separation and providing the necessary support to help them and their children through a very difficult time. That is why our focus is on what children need and how the Government can help parents in meeting that need.

“We know that mediation and conciliation can often make a real difference to resolving contact issues and preventing couples from going to court in the first place which is far better for both the parents and the child.

“That is why CAFCASS will play a major role in delivering these services, concentrating their resources on contact for children, both during the time of court applications and beyond, including the prompt return of cases to the courts when a ruling has not been followed.”

Patricia Hewitt, Secretary of State at the Department for Trade and Industry, said:

"We have led the way in making it easier for parents to get a better balance between work and family life, so I warmly welcome this Green Paper as another step forward in ensuring both fathers, and mothers, can play a vital role in their children's lives, even after separation.

"With fathers already doing a third of all childcare in the family it is vital that they have the opportunity to continue that role if they separate or divorce. Children do best when they have the love and practical support of both their parents, whether or not their parents are living together."

Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss DBE, President of the Family Division, has written today to all family judges to improve the resolution of private law family cases in the courts. The President, the Court Service and CAFCASS are working to implement key changes in court systems and processes as soon as practicable.

Parental Separation: Children's Needs and Parents' Responsibilities, Green Paper. Download the document:*/

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