Monday, 19 November 2012

Remember... Britain has the unhappiest children in the developed world!

As we look forward to what family law may become, it's worth looking back on some of the research that informed us on this journey. We have also linked a large number of respected studies which support the benefits of shared parenting, to introduce some research based 'balance' to the current debate.

January 2007 saw the publication of the UNICEF Report into Child Wellbeing in the Developed World. As you’re undoubtedly aware, their findings about childhood experiences in the UK were damning.
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Some of our academics and those with vested interests in current social and legal policy continue to defend a failed system. For anyone else, it makes more sense to look at the countries that came top of the child wellbeing poll and consider what they do differently from us. Perhaps it would be more productive to compare those better performing countries and their legal systems with our own. When you compare the United Kingdom to the top 4 countries in the UNICEF Report you see a stark contrast between their family law systems and our own.
The Netherlands, Sweden, and Finland allow divorce by consent with no waiting period while Denmark requires couples to only wait for 6 months. In the UK, to achieve a no fault divorce by consent, a couple must wait for 24 months. If one party to the divorce refuses to agree to divorce, Sweden and Finland require the couple to wait for 6 months, in Denmark it’s 12, and in the Netherlands 36 months. Here, you must wait for 5 years unless you accuse your partner of wrong doing.
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In the UK, a faster divorce is only achieved by accusing your partner of adultery, unreasonable behaviour or desertion. On average, approximately 66% of divorces are based on allegations of adultery or unreasonable behaviour. Sweden and Finland have only no fault divorces.
I have little doubt that if we introduced similar measures and moved away from a blame culture it would be far more beneficial to the 80-90,000 children each year who are currently caught up in parental disputes and allegations. Divorce would be quicker, less expensive, and there would be less acrimony between the parties. Our system of divorce encourages disputes and allegations, and next year things will become worse when legal aid is only available to those who make allegations of domestic violence.
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Three of the four top countries have a more enlightened approach to decisions regarding child residence following separation. In the Netherlands, Sweden and Finland, shared residence is automatic. Yes… there is a presumption… and no… children haven’t fallen apart. The UN found them to be happier! There are no battles to be fought over matters such as whether each parent has the right to take the children abroad on holiday, and it gives a clear message that both parents have an equal responsibility in their children’s upbringing, prompting greater engagement. There’s an expectation.
Another interesting feature of Swedish family law is that there is no legal aid for contested divorce or residence cases. Instead, the sensible Swedes fund mediation for both parties. This explains why 90% of separating Swedish parents manage to agree matters themselves about child residence and issues such as the amount of time that the children are to spend living in each household. Ahha… you may say… 90% of separating parents resolve matters without going to court. Surely you’ve heard this oft quoted, or should I say, misquoted statistic. It is true that only 10% of separating parents end up in court, but research also shows a further third fail to make any agreement on contact. Our system of dispute resolution is a failure, and too inaccessible.
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So why haven’t we copied these countries? It may surprise you, but in all bar the matter of making shared residence the starting position in child custody cases, we did! In 1996, a Conservative Government passed a law allowing (amongst other things) no-fault divorces with only a 9 month waiting period for reflection (13 months if there are children involved). The objective was to make divorce less acrimonious, however the law wasn’t enacted. In 2001, Labour asked that the law be revoked since they couldn’t agree on the best way to make part of it work (which concerned information sessions for separating couples). Their view was that these sessions didn’t save enough marriages and the process was too complex.
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A decade later, a small handful of academics, some members of the Law Society, and those with a vested interest in parental dispute continue to defend a legal system that has continually failed children, and contributed to Broken Britain.

Should it be a surprise that the academics who have supported a broken system continue to defend their position? 

If you still wish to read the opponents' somewhat conflicting findings, you'll find them here.