The language we use around family law shapes how we think about it. This is the very simple rationale behind “custody” changing to “child arrangements” for example is to encourage parents to think of routines and not ownership. In contrast, the entirely justified move to prevent alleged victims of domestic violence being cross examined by former partners becomes rather sinister when we drop “alleged” and just refer to those former partners as “perpetrators” of domestic abuse because it means all accused of domestic violence are automatically guilty of it (which is a dangerous preconception to have).
As a family law solicitor, I welcome transparency around the law, including the reporting of family law cases. But I also think journalists have a responsibility to understand the real issues, not just go for the attention-grabbing headlines. Several high-profile cases recently have brought this to the fore.
With a flurry of divorce and family law cases recently leaving social media agog, none seems to have caught the attention of lawyers and the general public like the appeal made by a 66-year-old woman against the decision to refuse her a divorce from her husband of nearly 40 years. The judge in this case felt that the allegations she had set out in her divorce petition were “of the kind to be expected in a marriage” and he was not satisfied that she was entitled to the divorce she sought.
A shocking report in 2014 revealed that a teenager sitting their GCSEs is more likely to own a smartphone than live with their father. The Fractured Families report, from the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), also showed that a million children have no significant contact with their dads.
Cafcass stands for Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service and its role in children proceedings is both to make sure children's voices are heard and that decisions are taken in their best interests (which is not always the same thing – what a child says he or she wants and what he or she may need can be quite different).