It will now be easier for children to have a say during family disputes, the Government has announced.
Children involved in any type of family case – whether to remove them into care or disputes about child arrangements following divorce or separation – will be able to have their views heard when decisions are made that will affect them.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes set out options to make this easier. These include meetings, letters or pictures or by way of a third person in addition to their Children and Families Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) officer or social worker.
But family law organisation Resolution says this needs to be part of a wider move to put children’s needs first during divorce and separation.
The organisation, which represents family practitioners who work to reduce conflict during divorce, has developed a Parenting Charter.
This sets out what children should expect from their parents during and after their divorce and will be formally launched on Monday, 23 February.
A recent Resolution survey of young people whose parents have gone through divorce showed many teens and young adults felt their parents placed additional stresses on them during the process of break up.
Almost a third (32 per cent) said one parent tried to turn them against the other during divorce, while over a quarter (27 per cent) said that ‘my parents tried to involve me in their dispute’.
Resolution chair Jo Edwards said: “We hope this will be the start of a broader conversation about how this can be delivered, as we do have some concerns.
“For example, how do we ensure that the child isn’t being put under pressure by one parent, when asked to voice their views? How do we ensure that the child is heard without them feeling responsible for adult decisions? How will court time be managed to enable the child to be heard? And what training will there be for judges?”
Simon Hughes also announced the government’s support for out-of-court dispute resolution services, such as family mediation, to be more child-inclusive.
He said: “For too long, children and young people have struggled to have their voices heard during the family court process. Although they are often at the centre of proceedings, the views of children and how they feel are often not heard, with other people making vital decisions for them.”
Last year there were 90,000 children involved in new cases in the family courts.