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The Government recognises that, in most cases, children benefit from a continuing relationship with both parents following family separation.
While the majority of separated parents are able to make arrangements about the care of their children between themselves, some parents are unable to reach agreement and look to the courts to resolve their disputes.
Court cases are emotionally and financially draining for those involved, and may be particularly damaging for the children at the heart of the dispute. In response to the recent Family Justice Review, the Government has announced proposals for improving the information, advice and support available to help parents resolve their disputes without the need for court intervention.
The Government recognises that children may also benefit from an ongoing relationship with members of the wider family, such as grandparents, following family separation. The targeted support which will be available to parents will help parents to consider the benefit to children from a maintained relationship with other family members and agree on appropriate care arrangements for their child.
Although the family justice system is complex and may seem daunting, help and advice is available to support parents in navigating their way through the system. Community Legal Advice (CLA) offers confidential and independent legal advice, including advice on eligibility for public funding (legal aid). More information is available by visiting the CLA website.
Even where a case reaches court, the judge may consider that the parents involved in the dispute would benefit from attending a specific programme to help them cooperate with each other, in the interests of the child concerned. In cases about child contact issues, the judge can direct parents to attend a contact activity, which include Parenting Information Programmes (PIPs), Domestic Violence Perpetrator Programmes (DVPPs), and mediation.
The aim of these programmes is to help parents improve the relationship they have with their former partner and communicate more effectively so that they can both focus on the needs of their child. Contact activities support parents to resolve disputes without the need for significant further court intervention. This often improves the situation for children, and the family as a whole. More information about SPIPs is available from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) website.
In the light of the recommendations made by the Family Justice Review, the Government has announced that a similar bespoke parenting programme will be available to all separated parents, not just those who come before the courts. This will be developed alongside other measures set out in the Government’s response to the Family Justice Review.
DVPPs are a more specialised and intensive intervention for perpetrators of domestic violence, intended to support and encourage perpetrators to engage in respectful relationships. Attendance on a DVPP helps the judge to make a decision as to whether it is possible for the child to have safe and beneficial contact with the perpetrator. Providers of DVPPs also offer support to the victims of domestic violence. More information about DVPPs is available from Cafcass’s website.
Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process enabling parents to explain their concerns and needs to each other. A qualified mediator will facilitate this. People applying to the courts in family proceedings will be asked to attend a meeting to learn about mediation before they take their case to court. More information about mediation can be found on the Government website.
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Information about the Family Justice Review's conclusions and recommendations for the family justice system.
Information about how mediation works, how it can help separated parents, and where to find mediation services.