Further Changes … 30 days and counting
The Family Justice Board's Action Plan for reforming the Family Justice System states that by March 2015:
- All agencies and individuals within the Family Justice System should be working together to achieve the best possible outcomes for children;
- Separating parents are to be encouraged and supported to resolve issues concerning their children's arrangements out of Court using mediation or parenting support services, unless it is really necessary for the Courts to become involved;
- The totality of resources, both financial and otherwise, within the system are to be used effectively and efficiently.
Guidance published by the Legal Services Commission (soon to become the Legal Aid Agency) in November 2012 stated that the scope of funded Family Mediation was to assist in the resolution of family disputes about legal rights and duties. If there is no dispute about legal rights and duties then funding will not be available.
After 15 years' experience as a Family Mediator, a key underlying issue in Family breakdown is communication difficulties; learning how to communicate without argument, listening to and understanding each other is fundamental to moving forward either as a couple or separated parents.
There appears to be a contradiction in what the future Legal Aid Agency will fund and what the Family Justice Board would like to achieve. Apparently, the reason why "therapeutic" mediation is not to be funded by the LSC is because this resource should be available through the local authority. Are the local authorities using their resources to offer parents/family therapy? Or is this service only available in cases that involve the Local Authority?
Improving communication and rebuilding trust so that separated parents can still parent together but apart is a by-product of the mediation process - it appears that this service may only be available for people who can pay going forwards.
Too often, delineation limits benefit and is short sighted.
The Parenting Information Programme (PIP) is such a good idea. Most attendees believe they have gained from the opportunity to discuss and share information and experience with a cross-section of parents in the same situation - unfortunately it is only available to separated parents who have issued Court proceedings! At present, a Judge has to order referral and attendance at a PIP so parents who have chosen mediation to resolve their parenting issues/arrangements are unable to access this Programme. Having challenged why the PIP is not available for every separating parent who wishes to take advantage of the Programme, the response has been lack of funding. Again, there appears to be a contradiction between the remit of the Family Justice Board to encourage and support separating parents to resolve issues concerning their children out of Court.
Attendance at a PIP, on-going support via mediation to enable parents to move away from arguments between the adults and refocusing them on their on-going parental role will benefit their children in the long term and it should be available for everyone.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.