Should children have more say in family law cases?

Child in divorce

No-fault divorce has monumentally come into effect in the UK last month, radically altering the course of family law. This reform was introduced with the aim of removing archaic processes surrounding divorce – that required you to place blame in order to consolidate and provide valid reasoning or grounds for divorce.

Why did it come into effect and why hasn’t it been approached sooner?

There has been ongoing debate around this reform for many years. One of the primary concerns around the traditional format – which tended to result in mudslinging from both sides – was the potential detrimental impact it could have had on vulnerable children.

Divorce can be traumatic enough for families, even without the blame game coming into effect. Talking on the topic, David Gauke, the Justice Secretary stated that the old form of divorce “leads to children being caught in the middle of a fractious and upsetting process”. Fortunately, the days of fault are behind us and parents can focus on making the environment calmer and as stress free as possible whilst transitioning.

The change in law has opened conversation to a new topic, should children have more of a say in family law in general? There is in fact talk of introducing new legislation, to allow children at the heart of family cases in England and Wales to talk in private to the judge if they so choose.

A perhaps questionable part of court proceedings is that children do not give evidence or meet with the judge as part of family law cases, despite the fact that the case directly impacts the child involved.

The potential benefits

As mentioned, if the child is involved in the proceedings, it does make sense to allow them to have an impact in the trial itself. Listening to children could overcome the noise of bickering parents or bitter family feuds and allow you to get to the source of the issue.

In addition, children can be very negatively impacted by court proceedings, sometimes affecting their long-term mental health, self-esteem or even concentration levels and behaviour at school. Allowing a child a positive and discreet outlet and also a resource who can explain what’s going on extensively could prove a source of education, understanding and relief to the involved party.

Most importantly of all perhaps, many of the decisions that are made during family law trials directly impact the child themselves. They could, for example, be discussing where the child will live, who will support them financially, how often you get to see the other parent. It’s clear that many children should not be given the power ultimately to decide these factors. However, gaining an insight into the child’s preferences could provide sway in the overall decision.

Change is coming

 In 2014, the then Justice Minister, Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes, promised to change government policy and many judges have spoken on the topic at large. Despite the reform conversation being shelved temporarily, judges are speaking loudly about the concept. Given the fact that no-fault divorce has been introduced, it’s likely this area of conversation will come back to the centre stage and will be considered for an area of legal reform in family law.

Are you in need of a family lawyer? Get in touch with our expert team at Lysander Law who can help you with your case.