As the family court logjam increases, a leading family charity says taxpayer fury would follow if more people knew how publicly-funded family court time is being spent on issues such as which motorway junction a child should be handed over from one parent to another for contact.
National Family Mediation (NFM) was reflecting on a judgement by His Honour Judge Wildblood QC indicating the extent to which court lists are being filled by interim private law hearings that should and could be settled out of court.
The family divorce and dispute resolution charity specialises in helping separating families resolve disagreements out of court. Its CEO, Jane Robey, said:
“Judge Wildblood has helpfully cited some examples of issues he had been called on to deal with in court. They included which parent should hold the children’s passports, how Sunday afternoon contact should be arranged, and at which motorway junction a child should be handed over for contact.
“The crisis in family courts, caused initially by overload of litigants-in-person, has been hugely compounded by pandemic-induced delays.
“Heaped on top of these two factors comes a soaring level of litigation over trivial issues that do not need to come before a court.
“These requests for micro-management are clearly on the rise, and the implications for pressures on the public purse are similarly obvious, because family courts are paid for by public funds.
“Greater awareness of this nonsensical situation would no doubt fuel taxpayer fury. Common sense must prevail.
“As Judge Wildblood’s judgement states: ‘There are many other ways to settle disagreements, such as mediation.’”
In a representation to the Commons Justice Select Committee, NFM outlines three steps it believes the government can implement to help address the increasing family court logjam and, therefore, pressure on public funds.
One of these is ensuring family courts make better use of the powers they already have. “Judges should be encouraged to make use of their existing powers under S.11a of the Children Act 1989 to adjourn cases for Mediation Information and Assessment attendance as a contact activity,” says the representation. This could either be separate to an order to attend a parenting programme or at the same time, and as routine when cases are set to face significant delay before they come to court.
“This would give mediators access to more separating couples, helping reduce the family court logjam,” it continues.
“And by applying common sense, the government can move closer to implementing the demand of Judge Wildblood’s 25 September 25 judgement: ‘Do not bring your private law litigation to the Family court here unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so.’”