There is no doubt in my mind that children are the ones who need most help when it comes to divorce – and parents need to act like grown ups and play a mature role in this.
Relationship break-up is traumatic for all concerned, don’t get me wrong, and my role as a responsible family lawyer is to help guide people not just through the legal issues related to formalising a divorce, but also offer support in other ways, especially as someone to recommend other professional services. Children often get no such help, or tailored support, but are caught in the middle as their world falls apart.
The Family Justice Review interim report clearly identified this as a failing of the current system. It suggests, rightly in my opinion, that children often do not understand what is happening, the way the process works or what the possible outcomes are.
We can address this though and should do everything possible to offer support at a difficult time. Among the suggestions currently being considered is getting rid of the whole concept of residence and contact, to be replaced simply by specific orders. Isn’t this just semantics though? Contact or residence agreements already need orders to be properly in place. Previous terms of access and custody were replaced with contact and residence because they were deemed friendlier. Seems to me like little will be achieved by another name change.
What I do find more useful is it has recognised that young people need to have a say in what happens and any changes that ultimately come into being. To this end, a special online guide has been set up for young people, talking about the Family Justice Review, family law in general, proposed changes and how to give feedback on what they would like to see. The comments will then be fed into the review before the final report is completed.
It has been compiled by Roger Morgan, children's rights director for England, who according to the BBC said it was essential children were told about proposals that will directly affect them "and that they are given a voice in the decisions which are made about their future". Hear hear! I think this is a fantastic step forward and truly puts the children at the heart of the process, as they should be. All too often they are either left on the margins watching what is going on or are used as pawns by malicious parents wanting to score points off each other and whose primary concern is certainly not for their offspring at that time.
Of course, having a say won’t guarantee an easier ride for children involved. That depends on a variety of other things, including parents. If only they could act like grown ups in divorce proceedings then their children will be able to navigate a divorce more smoothly, no matter what else happens.