Support for Separating Families is a campaign led by the Ministry of Justice, in partnership with Cafcass and other partner agencies, to help parents reduce the need to go to court to resolve a dispute.
It signposts services and resources, such as the Parenting Plan, mediation and the Separated Parents Information Programme, to support families to settle differences out of court through a stronger focus on the impact of the dispute on the child.
The social media campaign started on so-called ‘divorce day’ – 4th January, dubbed that because enquiries about divorce are at their highest on the first Monday in January. Two linked programmes Cafcass is running show the high potential success rate of preventative services, whether provided before court or during the court process.
In Teeside, we have been holding family meetings within proceedings to resolve or minimise issues and work towards agreements. In 12 of the 13 family meetings held so far, the family made an agreement, and in 11 cases the court orders were based on the plans agreed at the family meeting. In one case, an agreement was reached by parents who had not spoken for two years.
In Greater Manchester, 36 out of 50 parents offered a dispute resolution service within their case reached an agreement – a success rate of 72%. This service was based on Parenting Plan meetings. An owned plan which parents are supported to draw up is bound to be more sustainable than a court order which is rarely fully owned by both parents.
To build on this and in line with the Support for Separating Families campaign, both programmes are now being trialled as free pre-court consultation services to help parents in Teeside and Greater Manchester consider and agree arrangements for their children.
We are also continuing to run the pilot out of court helpline, in five areas across England. So far we have received 2962 calls, of which 840 were eligible for brief casework. An evaluation of this pilot will be carried out in March.
It may well be that our core offer to courts, children and families in divorce and separation cases is a four service offer: the current safeguarding assessment process, to identify risk; the Parenting Plan just working with parents; the Parenting Plan working with parents and their child or children; and a child impact analysis as our standard report to court where that is needed.
These are very exciting times as there is a real prospect that a mainstream dispute resolution service with several service offers within it, can successfully and safely divert a large percentage of current applicants from court into more sustainable out of court settlements.
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