Vision for Family Justice

Having been a family lawyer for over 30 years, I have experienced major changes in the way that family law has evolved, both in relation to the law itself and the options separating clients now have, to resolve issues arising from their separation.

In terms of the law, when I first qualified, the Children’s Act had just come into force, giving us terms such as contact and residence, in place of custody and access. As with many positive changes, language can create unintended difficulties and the terms contact and residence, whilst an improvement on access and custody, created for some sense of imbalance and unfairness. With further changes having taken place, now, if the court make an order in relation to children, they will use terms such as “live with” and “spend time with”. It would be right to say that historically, mothers held far more of a sway in how often and indeed whether fathers could spend time with their children. The court’s view has hugely shifted in this respect and now take the position that, where possible, children should have a relationship with both of their parents, whatever form that relationship may take.

Financial matters were usually resolved by a long winded, meander towards a final hearing, whereas now, if an application is made to the court, the court issue a very strict timetable which must be adhered to.

The biggest change however is the introduction of the no fault divorce, where clients no longer have to prove the irretrievable breakdown of their marriage, using terms such as adultery and unreasonable behaviour. Couples can in fact submit a joint application should they wish to do so, again another huge change from the previous archaic position and terms.

If asked however what I consider the biggest change over the last 30 years that I have been in practice, I would say that it would be the many and various dispute resolution process options that clients can now use to resolve outstanding issues after separation. Those options are specifically designed to keep people away from the court process.

Mediation is perhaps the most known alternative to court, but collaborative law, arbitration, private financial dispute resolution hearings and the recently developed resolution together, are all options separating couples can use to keep them outside of the court process.

What the law (and those of us who practice in it have had to) has had to deal with the ever-changing make-up of our families. Cohabiting couples are the fastest growing family type in the UK. Whilst of course separating cohabiting families can use any of the dispute resolution options above, the same as married couples can, the legislation protecting cohabiting couples is woeful, disjointed and is in need of major reform. Resolution, a community of family justice professionals who work with families and individuals to resolve issues in a constructive way are highlighting this in their awareness week , “vision for family justice”.

I have had the privilege of working collaboratively with Louise Masters and Elizabeth Gallagher, training with Resolution to qualify in practice as a mediator and recently trained and qualified through Resolution as a resolution together specialist.

As families and their make-up continue to evolve, as must the law and the way family law professionals continue to meet the needs of ever-changing family structures.

Here at Sintons, a team of Resolution trained and qualified family law professionals are able to talk you through options upon separation, with the team continuing to qualify and embrace new ways of working to meet the ever-changing needs of their clients.

Jo Scott is a Senior Associate in the Family team at Sintons, to speak to Jo, you can contact her on or 0191 226 7870.

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