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The rights of children in the family court

A report recommends greater recognition of children's rights in court.

Beverley Morris, Family Law, in Birmingham

Beverley Morris, collaborative lawyer and head of Lodders’ Family Law team, highlights a recent report that calls for greater recognition of the rights of children in the family court.

In the wake of continuing criticism that the family courts are operating ‘in secret’ and there being a push for greater transparency, there is also a call for greater recognition of the rights of children.

Article 12 of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child set out, amongst other things, the following:-

‘States shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child’.

Plainly put. Easy to understand, and yet not translating into the practice of the family court.

Far too often, decisions are made about the future of a child/children in a setting in which their parents are separating, and where the voice of the child is simply not heard.

There is still too little that is understood and/or promoted in ‘child-inclusive mediation’.

Far too often the family court will determine a case without any reference to the wishes and feelings of the child.

A subgroup of the Private Law Working Group has published a report which squarely puts the question ‘what about me?’.

The report recognises that the Children Act 1989 was to be a charter for children yet, three decades on, their voices, rights, and interests are still marginalised in decision-making when parents separate.

The court system continues to be focused upon the needs, wishes, and feelings of the parent.

The report makes several recommendations including:

  • Establishing a framework of direct support services for information, consultation, support, and representation of children and young people whose parents separate.
  • A presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard in all processes for resolving issues between parents including mediation and solicitor-led processes.
  • A dedicated section for children on the ‘Separated Families Hub’ giving them information.

It remains to be seen whether these recommendations are followed through, and it is with some concern that, as a family law practitioner, I look back over the last 30 plus years since the enactment of the Children Act 1989 and still progress must be made to recognise a child’s fundamental right.

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Beverley Morris