Increase in parents fighting over access to children as Government mediation campaign falls short

9 November 2016

There has been a sharp rise in the number of disputes over separated parents’ access to their children, says Wilsons, the leading private client law firm.

The number of Child Arrangement Orders made in the courts rose by 17% to 36,170 in 2015 from 30,900 in 2014*. Child Arrangement Orders stipulate the legal terms under which separated parents can see and spend time with their children and also with whom the children should live.

Wilsons says the figures suggest the Government’s campaign to encourage separating couples to seek mediation – rather than take their case to court – has not initially been as successful as expected.

However, the law firm says that, given time, it expects mediation to increase in popularity amongst separating couples.

Wilsons explains that mediation is intended to help couples who no longer wish to remain together agree on issues – including, for example, children and finances – without spending lengthy periods of time and substantial sums in court.

Wilsons says that mediation has been promoted by the Government as an alternative route to separation since 2013 – when legal aid was withdrawn from private family law cases.

Wilsons adds that agreements reached through mediation are not automatically legally binding.

Sarah Wood-Heath, an Associate at Wilsons, says: “Mediation is a really good idea but it is unlikely to stop every separation case from being taken to court – as we are seeing.”

“Unfortunately, there are some issues that can be highly sensitive to separating couples – and, where applicable, children often come top of the list. This can become highly fraught, particularly where a separation is acrimonious.”

“In these cases, it can be useful to resort to the courts I order for a decision to be reached.”

“But as families become increasingly accustomed to the prospect of mediation – and as we see an increase in the number of couples choosing to go down this route – the hope is that at least some of the trauma that can sometimes be associated with separation, can be avoided by a more collaborative approach.”

*Figures apply to family courts in England and Wales.

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