In a week where Deputy Jeremy Maçon has been named Jersey’s new Minister for Children and Housing, the Children’s Commissioner, Deborah McMillan, has said that she was a little disappointed to not have a discussion about splitting the dual role. This coincides with the publication of a Family Solutions Group report in the UK calling for the government to establish a family minister to co-ordinate policy and provision for separating families.
Large numbers of parents in Jersey turn to the family division of the Royal Court with disagreements about their children, this puts significant strain on the system, particularly as we approach Christmas where disputes regarding contact with children are commonplace. Commencing legal proceedings regarding children matters in our adversarial legal system is often divisive and potentially damaging.
The Family Solutions Group report calls for a rethink. It was set up in January by Mr Justice Cobb with a remit to consider the needs of separating families before they turn to court. It argues that family law issues, particularly those involving children, should be approached differently from other legal disputes. The report highlights the importance of parents considering the needs of the children first in their post-separation arrangements. The report highlights how vital that focus is for a child’s long-term welfare, mental health and even future life prospects.
Advocate Nicholas Le Quesne of specialist family law firm, Corbett Le Quesne, stated: “In the UK it is thought that about 40% of all separating parents bring issues about their children’s care to the Family Court for determination rather than attempting to agree matters between themselves. Parents will often make applications to Court on the basis of asserting their ‘rights’ as opposed to working together to fulfil their shared ‘responsibilities’ with regard to a child. As a firm our general advice is to engage in mediation or to appoint collaboratively trained family lawyers with a view to agreeing matters outside of the Court process. Not only is this normally cheaper than going to Court, it will also assist with the parents maintaining a relationship for the sake of the child.
The Children’s Commissioner has requested that the government give real thought to having a dedicated Children’s Minister after the next election in 2022. It is hoped that the Minister will also co-ordinate policy and provision for separating families.”