Any change to the law and procedure which encourages parents to focus on their children’s needs is a positive step and will be welcomed by all family lawyers. The current system of inviting courts to make 'residence' and 'contact' orders in respect of children encourages parents’ feelings of ownership - and promotes the ideaof winners and losers. The bill proposes the introduction of a 'Child Arrangements Order', which is child focused and moves away from the idea of parents’ 'rights'. The bill aims to promote the principle that both parents should be involved in their children’s lives where it is consistent with the child’s welfare.

The need for such an approach has been evident to us for some time. It is still the case that many clients come to us asking for 'custody' of their children. This phraseology has long gone as a legal concept and yet continues to be used by the general public. This demonstrates that whilethere may be changes in the law, it takes longer to change the mindset of families and parents.

The legal profession must do all it can to win hearts and minds to this new approach, and there are many to win - approximately 40% of marriages end in divorce, and though not all marriages include children, ending a relationship amicably reduces financial pressure and stress on both parties. Figures for divorce are also only the tip of the iceberg, given many separating couples with children are unmarried and cohabiting.

There must be a concerted effort by the legal profession to ensure parents focus on their children when their relationship breaks down and this is something that we have always emphasised. We focus on the children's needs, making clients aware that the children’sneeds are a priority and that they benefit from both parents remaining involvedin their lives. Parents working well together following their break up iskey to their children’s future welfare.

To reinforce this child focused less contentious approach, the bill promotes the use of mediation to resolve family issues as an alternative to the often costly and time consuming court process. Its provisions embed the requirement that before any court application can proceed, an applicant must attend a meeting to find out about and consider mediation as an alternative method of resolving their dispute.

Mediation is a voluntary impartial and confidential process, which helps couples to reach their own solutions to their problems whilst remaining child focused. Choosing a trained mediator who is alsoa qualified solicitor with extensive knowledge of family law will ensure that all matters are explored and any areas where additional advice is needed - such as on financial or asset sharing - are highlighted.

For more information

For further information, contact Elisabeth Howe on or 0121 212 7413.