The time following a relationship breakdown is one of great vulnerability for many families. Those to whom the separating parents turn have a vital role to play in understanding the family needs and ensuring they access the right support.
The separating family needs multi-disciplinary support, which is unlikely to be found in one person. The Family Solutions Group would welcome a move towards an overarching ‘family profession’ with differing specialisms within it, but with shared standards and a common goal to meet the wider needs of the separating family.
Legal services are an important part of support for many families.
Some families need legal intervention, mainly those who require safety in situations where one or more family members may be vulnerable to abuse. The family court is there for those who need protection. Others may need the court if, despite best endeavours to resolve finance or children matters with family professionals to help them, they are unable to reach agreement.
Most families do not need the family court. These families need a different approach by their legal advisors to support them to resolve all issues.
The Family Solutions Group promotes the following approach by legal advisors:
- Awareness at all times of the broader psychological issues at play, being mindful to the long-term goal of a cooperative parenting and the risk to children of parental conflict
- Encouragement to parents to adopt a ‘working together to resolve issues’ approach, rather than behaving in ways which drives them apart;
- Familiarity with and use of (wherever funds permit) the wide range of court and non-court processes to arrive at solutions, rather than an automatic application to court
- Use of appropriate language at all times to diffuse conflict
- Recognition that the family has multiple needs and offering multi-disciplinary support, working alongside other family professional specialists
- Promoting widespread use of child consultants so that children of an appropriate age can be consulted and their views taken into account, as per Art 12 UNCRC
Resolution is an association of family solicitors who commit to a Code of Practice which promotes a constructive approach to family issues, one that considers the needs of the whole family. This is endorsed and referred to within the Law Society’s Family Law Protocol.
In practice, the Family Law Protocol is not enforced and is rarely referred to within the profession or by judiciary. This vital safety net to families provided by the Protocol is overlooked.
The Family Solutions Group believe any practice, legal or other, which has the potential to harm children should be regulated, with practitioners held to account for their conduct.
Karen Barham, a member of the Family Solutions Group, is promoting the ‘Family Solutions Initiative’. This would introduce accountability, with costs consequences, by solicitors to consider out of court solutions at all stages of family proceedings.
Claire Molyneux at Mills & Reeve has created a Family Lawyers’ Charter, whose aim is to help family lawyers support their parent clients through the process of separation in a mutually respectful way.
The Family Solutions Group supports both these initiatives.