Greater say for children when their parents separate under the spotlight says Moore Blatch

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Children may soon be given a greater say in decisions that will directly impact their lives following a divorce or separation, if proposed changes to the legal system are given the go ahead.

Jan Galloway

Research has shown that in the UK children want to have a more active involvement, such as in decisions over when and how they see each parent after a separation.

Children may soon be given a greater say in decisions that will directly impact their lives following a divorce or separation, if proposed changes to the legal system are given the go ahead.

As the Children and Families bill is passing through Parliament, which incorporates the much publicised issue of ‘shared parenting’ thoughts turn to the role children should have in such matters.

Jan Galloway, partner and expert in family law at Moore Blatch, explains: “Traditionally the courts have taken a paternalistic approach and looked to avoid involving the children directly in the potential dispute about their future care. However, as children are directly affected by the outcome there are many who believe that should change.

“Research has shown that in the UK children want to have a more active involvement, such as in decisions over when and how they see each parent after a separation.”

In many European countries children are actively encouraged to participate in the process, taking into account their age, maturity and ability to convey their feelings and views.

However in the UK children have historically been required to make their feelings known through an intermediary, such as an independent Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Services officer (CAFCASS) or guardian.

A number of options are currently available for children facing this situation. They include:

  •     A child can speak to the judge directly, not usually in court but in more informal surroundings so they can meet the person involved in that decision making process and make their own views known to them. A child could opt for writing to the judge instead
  •     A number of mediators are now trained to speak to children directly and to then convey their feelings to both parents in a less formal environment
  •     Many schools offer pastoral care for pupils. Having already established a relationship with their teachers and school staff, children can choose to speak to such people to make their own views known
  •     Some solicitors are also trained specifically to be able to act for children in such situations

Jan added: “As a nation we actively encourage our children to have opinions, make decisions and be aware of their rights. It is therefore no surprise that when faced with the prospect of separating parents, children want to be heard.”

For more details visit http://www.mooreblatch.com or call the Moore Blatch Family team 023 8071 8000.

Notes to editors
The Children and Families Bill takes forward the Coalition Government’s commitments to improve services for vulnerable children and support strong families. It underpins wider reforms to ensure that all children and young people can succeed, no matter what their background. The Bill will reform the systems for adoption, looked after children, family justice and special educational needs. It will encourage growth in the childcare sector, introduce a new system of shared parental leave and ensure children in England have a strong advocate for their rights.

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Alyson Marlow
Leepeck Group
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