Early Intervention in Post-Separation Arrangements for Children

Soon to be President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has recently voiced his support for the Early Intervention Project (EI) promoted by Dr Hamish Cameron.

The EI, amongst other things, focuses on how to manage parents’ expectations at an early stage in respect of the arrangements they put in place for their children.

Focus on reaching an early agreement

If parents are aware of the likely/possible outcome(s) of Children Act proceedings, then it may help them focus on reaching an early agreement which benefits everyone, most importantly the children.

Key to this approach is the idea that the judiciary issues guidance on what range of arrangements are considered the norm, (in respect of cases where neither party have raised any concerns in respect of safeguarding risks).

The judiciary has previously avoided publishing such guidance, as it is accepted that no two families are the same and thus the children’s needs and the final child arrangements order made is likely to be different for every case.

More focus on both parents having contact

However, over the last few years there has been more of a focus to promote both mothers and fathers having contact with their child, as it is assumed this is beneficial for the child unless the child would be at risk of harm.

This notion was further advanced when the Children and Families Act amended the introductory welfare of the child definition in October 2014, to include a presumption that it is beneficial for children to have both parents involved in their lives. All of which is great news for parents who are not having contact and feel they have a mountain to climb in order to do so.

Standing temporary order

During Sir Andrew’s key note speech to Families Need Fathers Conference he referred to other jurisdictions linking this approach with other steps. For example, the possible imposition of a ‘standing temporary order’ based on the norms for the age of the child in order to maintain some contact in the interim.

Currently the court can be reluctant to impose an interim child arrangement order where the parties are not in agreement, albeit such cases tend to be when safeguarding concerns have been raised by one of the parents.

Sir Andrew has said that he plans on discussing the above with a number of full time family judges in the coming future. He asserts that if there is significant support for the above proposal then he intends to take it forward. If implemented this could be a significant shift in the court’s approach and expectations of parties within court proceedings.