The Conciliatory vs Court Approach: Finding the Best Solution for Resolving Child Custody Conflicts

The increasing number of applications in private Children Act proceedings is causing significant backlogs and delays within the Court system. As a result, parties involved may experience prolonged periods without regular contact with their children. With the average waiting time for a first hearing being in the region of 3-4 months from the date of the application, the Courts have recognised a need to reform the options available to individuals who require the assistance of the Court.

Since April 2014, the Children and Families Act 2014 has mandated that applicants in relevant family proceedings must undergo a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) before filing a Court application unless certain exemptions apply. The introduction of this statutory requirement aims to decrease the number of court applications by providing a collaborative process, encouraging parties to engage in mediation before resorting to Court.

The mandatory MIAM meeting has not effectively addressed the issue of parents who cannot reach an agreement on child custody after separating. The Court promotes conciliation processes to prioritise the children’s best interests and reduce the need for court involvement. In April, the Ministry of Justice replaced the Separated Parenting Programme with a Planning Together for Children course through Cafcass to help parties in Children Act Proceedings resolve their issues independently by providing resources for prioritising the children’s needs during separation.

The impact of separation on a child’s well-being and mental health is a concern, especially when there is conflict. Litigation can harm children involved in such proceedings due to delays and hostility. Planning Together for Children aims to address this by promoting communication and cooperation between parties to reach agreements and avoid Court intervention. The program highlights the impact of behaviour on the child and encourages proactive discussions.

There are three stages to the programme, which consist of:

1. An e-learning module that allows individuals to learn at their own pace and direction.
2. A collaborative workshop that builds upon the e-learning module, emphasising topics like understanding the effects of conflict on children.
3. An additional online parenting plan to assist parents in establishing agreements regarding crucial aspects of their co-parenting relationship.

The new program aims to reduce court involvement and help parents with essential co-parenting skills, leading to fewer matters returning to Court when parties agree on a resolution that benefits the child/children. This is expected to assist the Court in tackling its increasing backlog of cases and handling interventions in a more timely and appropriate manner.

The Court intends to make the new programme accessible to many families, pending risk assessments and child safety measures. Availability will be based on individual Court applications. This programme, an extension of the ICFA initiative launched on May 1st, 2021, aims to assist families in establishing secure and sustainable parenting arrangements. The Planning Together for Children program enables families without safeguarding concerns to use non-court tools for negotiation and resolution. It promotes co-parenting and collaboration to prioritise the children’s best interests, aligning with the government’s initiative to make it mandatory for parents to try out-of-court dispute resolution before going to Court.

The introduction of the program is expected to lead to fewer final hearings and have a positive effect on families who can successfully resolve their issues and co-parent effectively. If you require legal advice regarding Child Arrangements, please contact our Family Law Solicitors at 0345 207 3728 or email us at info@thursfields.co.uk.

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