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Children's experience of private law proceedings

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In October 2021, the Nuffield FJO published the six key messages from research about children’s experience of private law proceedings.

These findings may be useful to read by parents thinking about either court or child inclusive mediation. Our family law legal advisors are experienced in dealing with separations where children are involved, talk to one of our trusted team for advice.

The study reviewed UK and international research studies between 2000 and 2020 that directly obtained children’s and young people’s thoughts on parental separation and/or their experience of court proceedings. 

Despite limitations the research shows that children are actively involved in their parents’ separation and court proceedings.

In summary the six core messages are:

  • Parental separation can be highly stressful for children and can have a big impact on their lives. For some, this impact can last into adulthood. The court system should be set up to try to minimise stress and harm rather than add to it.
  • Children often feel left in the dark about what is happening throughout their parents’ separation and the court process. In some cases, children know more about what is going on than adults realise but are not always given the accurate and timely information they want. Attempts by adults to hide what is going on can cause significant stress for children. Professionals should take an active role in ensuring children have access to adequate information presented in child- focused ways.
  • Children overwhelmingly feel unheard in court proceedings. This causes them significant distress. When children did report positive experiences of participation, this was linked to them experiencing the decisions made more positively. Some studies highlighted that simple changes—such as communicating the final decision in a child-friendly way and ensuring children were aware proceedings had started and what that meant—could make children feel more listened to.
  • Many children want to be more involved in decision making. There are different ways children can be supported to share their views and different children may want different things. There is an important distinction to be drawn between children wanting their views to be listened to and taken seriously and children wanting responsibility for the final decision.
  • Children may have to engage with a lot of professionals while their parents are going through separation. Professionals need to ensure these interactions are sensitive and supportive, and that they demonstrate an understanding of how serious these issues are for the children involved. Support can make a difference for children, and we need to think about how to improve support in the community, including from schools, for children.
  • Generally, children will have views about contact with some serious thought behind them. But they also need time and support to be able to consider their views, especially where domestic abuse is a factor.

The full report is available at:

https://www.nuffieldfjo.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Childrens-experience-of-private-law-proceedings.pdf

(Source: Nuffield FJO, October 2021)