Rarely I write two articles on a single subject in one day (and certainly not this late at night). However, I’m genuinely enthused about this latest initiative by the Family Justice Council and British Psychological Society. It’s a matter I’ve been talking and writing about for the past two years.
Last year, I worked with Families Need Fathers making proposals for improvements in family law related to contact disputes and cases involving child alienation. These were presented to the President of the Family Court at a meeting last September. My belief (then and now) was that there should be greater collaboration between the courts and organisations such as the British Psychological Society to develop and share best practice to improve outcomes. It’s a belief which is clearly shared and worked upon by others and I thank them.
In 2014, Practice Direction 25B, ‘The Duties of an Expert’ was a welcome step forward, but there needed to be more done to ensure practice directions are followed and due diligence done when practice directions are at times ignored in court proceedings. That, I believe, is a matter for Family Justice Councils to pursue.
Best practice sharing, feedback mechanisms and agreed standards are essential tools in improving outcomes and introducing consistency into court proceedings. This becomes even more important amongst the chaos caused by court closures, cutbacks and fewer parties having representation.
Expert reports are variable in quality and the joy of this new initiative and the intentions behind it are to not only set appropriate standards for psychological assessments, but to introduce feedback mechanisms to improve standards in expert reporting. The guidance goes further in giving examples of what psychological assessments should include (see the image below… the example being for contact/residence disputes). Make sure you read it!
Poor quality assessments, and the appointment of practitioners lacking the requisite skills and/or experience causes delay (often months), the need for additional assessments (costing the parties thousands), and risks poor outcomes for families. Delay in itself makes it more difficult to resolve cases. Past research showed 20% of those involved in court work as experts lacked the necessary qualifications, and a further 20% lacked the necessary experience. I doubt enough people carry out due diligence when proposing or considering an expert.
To assist with due diligence, we have updated our own guide on Psychological Assessments which can be found in the Crisis Menu of our online guides. We have included:
- A download version of the new Psychologists as Expert Witnesses in the Family Courts Guidance
- Links to registers for psychologist practitioners.
- Links to relevant registering bodies for child psychotherapy, systemic family therapy, and other therapist counsellors who may be considered for appropriate family court work as experts. Bear in mind Practice Direction 25B sets out that the term expert includes a reference to an expert team which can include ancillary workers (in addition to experts) who may be considered experts in their own field.
- Links to professional conduct hearings and findings for each of these organisations.
- A download version of Practice Direction 25B, which includes the standards to which all experts in family proceedings should adhere and all those involved with cases involving experts should be aware.
In an age when resources and support are cut as a result of austerity, we welcome work done by individuals and organisations to help share information and best practice to improve outcomes for children. An underlying goal for us has been to put family law at people’s fingertips and empower others. MAAPP, the Multidisciplinary Agency Application, built by social workers for social workers, takes this concept into the social work profession and does so well.
The MAAPP site can be found at http://www.maapp.co.uk Continue reading MAAPP – The Multidisciplinary Agency App for Social Workers
“Deborah Eaton QC and Stephen Jarmain, barrister, both of 1 King’s Bench Walk, explain the lessons to be learned from the important Court of Appeal judgment on internal relocation in which the authors represented the mother.”
A must read for anyone who becomes involved in cases involving internal relocation. Add it to your bookmarks!
Family Law Week
A few days ago I shared an update that the President of the Family Court has announced the production of draft family law orders better suited to Litigants-in-Person (parents who represent themselves in court). The intentions are positive and include better consistency across the court service and wording aimed at the non-technical.
Hopefully the new judicial templates will cut down on some of the poor practice we see, including filing dates being left off directions, and warning notices being omitted (despite their inclusion being a statutory requirement).
The President, in his announcement, seeks to address the resistance which exists to change, which included complaints that previous draft court orders issued in early 2014 were apparently too difficult for some to use. Others complained that the standard drafts were too long. As mentioned above, trusting people to include the right wording in orders is fine in theory, but in practice this resulted in mistakes being made and omissions. To help ease in the change, the President has also had prepared a tick list of potential order wording which allows a judge/court staff to quickly select the wording they wish included in the order.
The President’s announcement does miss something though. It’s not uncommon for McKenzie Friends to be asked to draft court orders. Where the judge regularly sees the McKenzie Friend in court, and is confident in their ability, this happens sometimes even when the other party is represented (yes, really!).
All well and good to make the draft order wording available within the court service, and widening publication to the Bar and Law Society, but what about McKenzie Friends?
This is where we step in. The draft order wording is now available within our Draft Court Orders section of our Family Law App. The ‘tick list’ wording can be downloaded as a PDF and is also available via the link picture below:
F (Children)  EWCA Civ 1315 is yet another case involving alienation where the handling of the case by the lower court was ‘wholly inadequate‘. Not my opinion (actually it is, and I agree…), but that of the Lords Justice who heard the appeal.
The case highlights the failings which are increasingly commonplace in the lower courts. The child has been poisoned by one parent against the other yet the court grants excessive weight to the child’s wishes and feelings at the cost of their welfare needs, and fails to address the issue of the alienating parent’s behaviour. The child is left subject to continued emotional abuse and the parent who sought the court’s help is utterly failed. Months elapse due to the court’s failure to get a grip and problems become entrenched. Continue reading Judicial Judgment ‘Wholly Lacking’ in Intractable Contact Cases
It is common in the family law arena/charity sector to get requests from the media or from students undertaking PhDs, asking for contact details for people who have been involved in family law proceedings for the purpose of news stories or research.
On the whole, we do not involve ourselves with passing on details of people who have been involved in court proceedings. Exceptions are if: Continue reading Research and Media Requests – Things to Ponder
For some parents and children this year there will be a gaping hole in their lives while others enjoy the festive season. They won’t be seeing their children. For some, they won’t have seen their children for a while. Some will have no court order or arrangements in place. For others, arrangements will break down at the last minute, or they’re desperately still trying to get their ex-partner to agree dates as the clock ticks down to Christmas morning. It’s torture.
It’s natural to feel depressed and stressed when you don’t see your children, but please take that energy, and put it towards re-establishing your relationship. You’re not forgotten. Please download our guide to Coping with Stress.
While sympathy, understanding and empathy may help, it’s not enough. Practical help to change these circumstances is what a parent in these circumstances wants and needs. Stress and depression comes from feeling helpless. You’re not.
Our guides on our family law app will help. Our family law app contains 1.5million words of content, guides, case law, forms and more… all written for parents in your circumstances… and free throughout the year.
We also have downloadable “guide packs” in our shop, but it’s Christmas and in these circumstances sometimes knowing someone will help, for no reason other than to help, makes a difference. So until 6th January 2016, all of the following downloadable guides and resources are free. Continue reading Not seeing your child this Christmas? Some presents from us, to you
Have you seen our second guide for social workers on parenthood and parental responsibility. The guide covers the status of the legal parent, the difference between this and legal parental responsibility and how the two are acquired.
More complex matters are covered concerning parenthood and the legal status of the adults involved when surrogacy and artificial insemination are involved.
The law concerning Parenthood and Parental Responsibility
Social work guides are written in support of MAAPP, the Multi-Agency Application supporting the Social Work profession.
Our first guide in support of social workers was on section 7 reporting in private family law proceedings, and includes draft templates. This guide has received very positive feedback and can be downloaded via the link below:
Section 7 Reporting
Social work guides are provided in a pdf format, meaning they can be downloaded, saved and printed.
Guides are provided free of charge.
Following approaches by members of the Social Work profession, we are in the process of developing a range of guides and tools to support social workers in their report writing and court work.
These guides are primarily intended to support social workers employed by Local Authorities, albeit may interest Independent Social Workers and others.
Section 7 Reporting
While some Local Authorities provide in-depth guidance for their staff, it became apparent others provide little or no support in the area of case analysis, report writing and court attendance and particularly in the area of Section 7 reporting in private family law proceedings. When Local Authorities have previously been involved with families who become involved in private family law proceedings, the Local Authority rather than CAFCASS or the Welsh Service may be asked to produce a Section 7 Welfare Report. Unlike public family law proceedings, the reporting officer will not be legally represented and may struggle to get advice from the council’s solicitor. Continue reading New Guides: Supporting Social Work in the Courts
We have seen a number of cases recently where the courts are failing to follow rules in relation to case allocation. Some of the worst examples include:
- leave to remove cases (where one parent seeks to remove the children abroad).
- complex cases previously heard in senior courts ending up heard by magistrates who fail to examine case history prior to varying the existing orders (which came before them for enforcement).
In short, the wrong level of judge is hearing cases in breach of court rules and guidance. If your case is allocated to the wrong level of judge, ask for it to be moved to the right level by writing into the court. We suggest writing into the court where the application was made, and addressing your letter to the Designated Family Judge (DFJ) responsible for Gatekeeping and Case Allocation. If you can, take the letter into court, hand it into the court administration department and ask for a receipt to confirm delivery. After this, if matters continue to be heard at the wrong level, write a position statement including a request for the case to be transferred and deliver this to court two days before the next hearing. Raise the matter orally at the hearing and take a copy of that position statement and the letter sent to the DFJ into court with you.
Case outcomes can be put at risk when too junior a judge hears them. This is why the rules exist to ensure more complex cases are heard by more experienced judiciary. In this article, we remind people of how cases should be allocated and the rules which govern this. Please reference the guidance we cite when asking that the court move proceedings to the correct level of judge.
Continue reading Failures in Judicial Case Allocation and Gatekeeping