November 30, 2012

Are we really committed to children’s best interests?

As part of a shake-up of the family justice system, children will have legal rights to maintain contact with both parents – and rightly so.  Also, recommendations in the Family Justice Review  aim to give children a greater voice and to allow them to have their views listened to and acted upon.

However, so often in divorce cases and family disputes we talk about the importance of ‘putting the children’s best interests first’, but are we really committed to this approach or are we using the phrase as a smokescreen to protect our own best interests?

Centres of Excellence

I believe that in order to achieve solutions that genuinely are in the best interests of every child, we must be much braver. We should seriously consider setting up centres of excellence staffed by experts in family law and child psychology; processes and procedures should be tightened up and accelerated; and every element of the new regime should be properly equipped and funded.

Children are an investment

For those who complain that this would require a much greater level of financial support than the existing system, I say: children are an investment. To flourish and thrive they need our investment in terms of time, attention and care. So why don’t they deserve a corresponding financial investment in systems to protect and support them when their parents break up?

Judges to be trained in assessing children

Of course it is not just parents, but the courts that must be reminded that a child is not a chattel but a young adult. Rather than operating in a detached manner, I would urge judges to see children in their own homes in order to get an insight into their lives.  I know we have the excellent work from the experienced officers from CAFCAS but imagine how beneficial it would be for the judge who will make the life influencing decisions to spend part of the day with the children they are dealing with, listening to them and understanding how they behave the way they do. I am convinced that an experienced judge with the right training and time made available would reach conclusions that matter.  Is this a Utopia?  Yes it is but we owe it to the next generation to ensure the children’s’ best interests are served to the best standard we can deliver. The needs and expectations of society continue to grow and we must continue to develop to meet those requirements.

How do you think we can ensure we put the children’s best interests first? Comment below or e-mail us here.