It’s now just over 12 months since Covid lockdown began. This time last year most of Europe was in lockdown, if not most of the world and our cities were like ghost towns standing on the precipice looking down at the unknown. How little did we realise at that point 12 months on lockdown would still be so prevalent in our lives.
Sadly the last 12 months has taken its toll on family life. Those relationships with cracks already in existence could see no way out and our children of separated parents, not only stopped going to school, living a life online but many also didn’t see their other parent, either innocently waiting for the Government to announce if this would breach the lockdown rules or intentionally abusing Covid as a means to stop all contact.
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the introduction of social distancing measures, the family courts in England and Wales rapidly adapted to using telephone and video hearings with telephone hearings increasing by over 500%, and video hearings by 340% with feed back being both good and bad but with an overall view that our legal system may well have changed for ever.
However with court applications growing exponentially, the pressures which already existed in the family courts were just exacerbated by the global pandemic with a clear need for an overhaul of the current system being described as “ not fit for purpose”.
Over the last 12 months there have been some really interesting cases and reports concluding that courts should be a place of last resort for dealing with family disputes. The Family Solutions Group (‘FSG’) report, entitled What about me?: Reframing Support for Families following Parental Separation provides some great recommendations for the future of family dispute resolution and in particular a concerted effort to re-focus attention on current legislation, rules and professional duties with a view to encouraging parties to meaningfully engage in out of court processes with the aim of avoiding judicial determination of disputes.
It has been recognised for many years that parental conflict only serves to harm children more so than the separation itself let alone the devastating affect such conflict has upon the warring parties themselves. However over the last 12 months this is now being reinforced through cases. In case of re B ( a child) [ 2020] EWFC B44 being an application concerning children’s arrangements HHJ Wildblood QC stated “Do not bring your private Law Litigation to the Family Court here unless it is genuinely necessary for you to do so” and more significantly a recent judgement arising out of a case Re F and M and X,Y and Z  EWFC 18, hearing dates 15 – 18th February 2021, the opening lines of the judgement stating “This is the saddest of cases illustrating the desperate and lasting damage that can be done to children when their parents separate”.
The resounding conclusion to a year in lockdown when dealing with family disputes being if there is a way to resolve your family affairs away from the court arena you should take it. Sadly this will not be appropriate for everyone but for the vast majority it will.
So what should you do?
Contact one of our mediators for more information. A mediator can assess whether or not your case is suitable for resolution away from the courts and signpost you to the most appropriate arena if mediation is not for you. This approach will enable you to adopt a more tailored solution to your family dispute rather than the straight jacket approach of the courts, looking after yourself, your well being , your children and your future. You may even be eligible for one of the Mediation Vouchers just initiated by the government which will contribute up to £500 toward your mediation fees.