Simon Hughes, the Justice Minister has recently indicated that any child over the age of ten, in respect of whose family Judges are making decisions, will have the opportunity to speak to the Judge to make their views and feelings known.
Many people will think that this is a change to the law and separated parents who are unable to decide the arrangements to be put in place in respect of their children will perhaps think this is good news, in the hope that their children will be able to say what they want to happen.
The question though is, ‘Is this right?’. Should children be given such responsibility and have such pressure placed on their shoulders?
As the law stands, the court considers the children’s wishes and feelings and the children’s views are usually ascertained by an experienced CAFCASS officer. Not all Judges will have the necessary skills to ascertain the true wishes and feelings of a child. Will they be able to tell if the children have been coached or coerced into saying what one parent wants them to say?
Another concern is that the family justice system is overwhelmed at the moment with the number of litigants in person. Setting precious judicial time aside for Judges to listen to children is surely going to create even longer waiting lists.
It is said that the age of ten has been chosen as that is the age of criminal responsibility in this country. As anyone who has children will know though, maturity can vary from child to child and a seven or eight year old may be able to clearly articulate their wishes and feelings whereas some ten year olds may struggle.
It is my view that this commitment by the Government to allow children over ten to express their views is merely reinforcing what is the current position anyhow. My greatest concern is that parents will see this as a way of putting more pressure on their children for them to say what they want them to say.
Court proceedings are the last resort for any separating couple. Hopefully warring parents will listen to their children and make decisions themselves as to what is in their children’s best interests, rather than dragging their children through the family courts.
Should you require any information regarding issues in respect of your children as a result of your separation, please contact our Family Law team on 0161 475 7676.