It is perhaps one of the most upsetting issues to tackle when couples split, however, changes to the law have made it easier, as Anne-Marie Hamer of Mogers Drewett explains.
Disputes over contact with children are best resolved by applying the principles set out in the Children Act 1989, which was brought in to help where no agreement could be reached over contact issues. The Act was amended in 2014 by the introduction of the Child Arrangements Programme (CAP) which led to a streamlining of contact applications issued before the court and an emphasis placed on the parties and their advocates in ‘front loading’ their cases, and wherever possible to achieving a settlement by way of a Final Order.
These changes were introduced as a result of the lengthy timescales of Children Act proceedings prior to 2014. Some cases could last several years. The introduction of these changes encouraged parents and grandparents to achieve settlement in a non-acrimonious fashion and for the primary benefit of the children. Fortunately, it is now very rare to see a children act case last more than several months. However, with the ever-increasing demands on the court system, it is inevitable that further changes to contact matters will follow in the next few years.
Last year Resolution worked in partnership with York University to explore possible alternatives to resolving contact disputes. New research based on Resolution’s ground-breaking Family Matters Service focused on understanding the experience of delivering a new model of practice, aimed at working jointly with both separating parents.
The research suggested new ‘Family Matters Guides’, whereby experienced solicitors/advocates take on a new role; not acting as a lawyer or a mediator, but instead providing neutral legal information and support to enable them to help parents move towards a resolution through a non-adversarial approach. This process offers a more flexible approach to reducing the conflict between parents.
This would certainly reduce demand on the court system. It is clear that this role is aimed at replacing the gap when Legal Aid was almost abolished for Children Act matters, and with the introduction of the restrictions implemented under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).
It is clear from reading the report that families separating in the future will have plenty of options available to resolve contact disputes.