Tuesday, 10 November 2009
In commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of the Children Act 1989, Divorce Manual and
Mishcon de Reya hosted a debate in the Houses of Parliament last night on the welfare of thechild and the significance of that welfare in private family law.
At the heart of this debate was the notion that although the Children Act 1989 specificallyinsists that the welfare of the child be of paramount consideration in every family law case,the reality is such that this is just not happening. As a result the debate was a discussion of two parts: targeting the problems and from there, considering solutions.Acting as Chair for the evening, Divorce Manual was privileged to sit among the panelmembers: Lord Justice Munby, Lord Justice Wall, Lord Listowel, Tim Loughton MP, Bob
Reitemeier and Sandra Davis.
The audience, which was made up of politicians, senior academics, psychiatrists, therapists,heads of family organisations and government departments as well as interested individualsoffered up some highly insightful questions which made for a lively and interesting debate.Lord Justice Munby expressed the view that the system was in need of financial support andthat organisations offering mediation needed to be encouraged. Lord Justice Wall held similarviews but went on to express his concern about intractable disputes and the stark realities that
colour the system’s ability to resolve such conflict and h
ow this conflict ultimately impactsupon children.Lord Listowel reminded us that both the public and private sector are not mutually exclusiveand went on to explain that many of the solutions offered that evening for the dilemmas facedin private family law could impact directly on public family law and to that end solutionsneeded to be carefully considered as other children going through other sectors may suffer.Tim Loughton also expressed enthusiasm for making mediation more widely available andshared his concerns about the current system. Tim was particularly concerned about the needto support the concept of marriage and to try to help families to stay together as much as wasreasonably possible. Bob Reitemeier spoke of the nature of parenting and the current culturein place in the West, which sometimes overlooks the autonomy of the child, which had longterm implications not just on parenting skills but on how the family justice system copes withfamilies struggling with unresolved conflicts and how children feel about their place in thefamily unit and themselves. Sandra Davis began the debate with a video clip of a little girl
expressing her personal hurt and frustration at her parent’s struggle to cope with their divorce
and she then went on to describe the traumatic effects of the current legal process on childrenand why the system needed to change.It was fabulous to hear the panel share their extensive insight with the audience and once theyhad offered their perspectives on the various problems they observed from lack of funding, tothe adversarial nature of court culture and beyond, discussing these thoughts with theaudience, they moved on to considering solutions.Although the panel members viewed the problems from different angles, it was clear that