When people come to see me about residence and contact disputes, I always explain to them that court proceedings should always be a matter of last resort. It is far better that parents agree something between them, even if it is not exactly what they would want, rather than have something imposed on them by the court that neither of them may like. It is also important that people remember they will have to continue to parent the child/children together for many years, long after the litigation has finished, and sometimes the damage done by court proceedings can make that even harder.
A problem that many separated parents face is that of communication. When a relationship has broken down, especially in difficult circumstances, it can be hard to have civilised discussions over the children without the emotion of background issues taking over. Whilst a court order can help in some circumstances, it does not help to improve this issue.
For that reason, parents are increasingly being encouraged to look at alternative methods of settling their dispute and ways to improve how they communicate about issues surrounding their children. One of the main ways the courts encourage this in children law disputes is through the Parenting Information Programme (known as PIPs).
A recent report published by the Department of Education called Building Bridges looks at this issue. The report concludes that parents should be encouraged to look at more creative ways of approaching their differences, rather than going to court immediately. Parents are also now required to consider attending mediation before issuing a Children Act application, unless the matter is urgent.
Certainly, obtaining legal advice from a family solicitor can be a useful first step, so that parents know where they stand, but it is important to remember that this is just one of many different options that can be used to help separated families settle issues in dispute. Any specialist children lawyers will be able to advise clients as to the range of alternative methods available, and help them consider the most child-focused way to reach a resolution.