Sir Andrew McFarlane, who will soon replace Sir James Munby as President of the Family Division, has said that he is ‘supportive’ of the idea of early intervention in post-separation arrangements for children.
The Early Intervention Project
The ‘Early Intervention Project’ (‘EI’) which has been promoted by Dr Hamish Cameron, is a project that offers guidance to judges and other members of the judiciary when they are deciding how much time a child should spend with each parent after a family separation.
In the past, judges have avoided publishing any real guidance on the range of outcomes that are regularly considered normal (in most cases). Sir Andrew quoted from his NAGALRO (The Professional Association for Children’s Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers) address, saying that for a long time, he had been interested in and supportive of the EI project. He said,
“At the core of the EI approach is the need to manage the expectations of parents as to the post-separation arrangements for their child from the earliest point. Key to this approach is the issuing of general guidance on what a court would regard a reasonable amount or pattern of contact to be (in cases where there is no safeguarding risk to the child); to be of weight, such guidance can only come from the judiciary.”
Other suggestions included:
- A ‘standing temporary order’ based on what would be normal for the age of the children concerned, made early in proceedings so that contact is maintained in the interim stages;
- Parenting education classes.
- A parenting conciliation session.
- The making of a consent order.
Sir Andrew said that it would be up to the judiciary whether they took the ideas from the early intervention project forward, and that for it to work and have any real authority, it would have to be taken on and developed at ALL levels. This includes the lay justices and district judges who hear most of the cases.
He added, “The process of development would take time, but it is, in my view, a proposal that should now be given serious consideration by family judges.”
Sir Andrew plans to meet with every full-time family judge at each of the 40 or so designated Family Court centres this autumn and ask them about ways that the courts can help families to achieve a reasonable and child-focussed solution to private law disputes.
If he receives enough support for this type of guidance then he intends to take the issue forward, although he acknowledged that it would need support from the people involved in hearing family law cases for it to work, saying, “Whilst I am firmly in favour of looking at this option, it will be for the family bench to decide whether to develop and deliver it.”
For the full speech, click here.