Finding solutions for children should be the new focus says Sir Andrew McFarlane
by Hazel Wright
The Family Court judges will have a new leader on 18th July 2018. Sir Andrew McFarlane is to be the new President, ie the leading judge for all family courts. When Sir Andrew was a barrister, his specialism was the law relating to children.
For more than 7 years, he has stressed the responsibility of parents to do their best to meet their child's need to have contact with the other parent. He has repeatedly said it is very rarely good enough for a parent to say "no".
In his keynote address to the Families Need Fathers Conference 2018, Sir Andrew drew particular attention to three areas:
- Domestic abuse
- Possible future developments.
He urges a proactive and safety based approach for families where domestic abuse is alleged and/or proved. His speech went on to look at alienation as a form of domestic abusive behaviour. His view is clear. Where a child holds a negative view of one parent which cannot be justified by reason of past behaviour or any aspect of the parent-child relationship, it is likely to be "emotionally harmful" for a child to grow up with such beliefs unchallenged and addressed by the adults who are responsible for him/her.
Finally, looking forwards, Sir Andrew confirmed his interest in establishing an outline of what should be normal for parents making post-separation arrangements for their child, from the earliest point. He stressed the need for the early establishment of arrangements for the care of the child by parents, with help from skilled professionals, not necessarily or usually lawyers. The aim is to try to improve parents' ability to communicate with each other and to put their child's interests before the stresses and strains in their relationship as a former couple.
This renewed focus by the judiciary on finding solutions to family disputes regarding children is very welcome.
Tavistock Relationships has an innovative set of interventions to help parents at these times of change. These include "Parents as Partners" and the "Divorce and Separation Service". In addition a recent project called Harrow "Safer Families" (funded by the DfE) has been successful. Using mentalisation-based therapy with parental couples where there has been domestic violence, the project has been successful in helping these parental couples by taking a relationship–focussed approach.