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Beware! Avoid Family Court Applications Unless Absolutely Necessary

on Friday, 09 April 2021.

It is no surprise that the courts are finding the volumes of cases coming through their doors challenging to manage. There are only a limited number of courts and judges available to hear cases, yet the number of cases continues to rise.

The pressures upon the courts became even more apparent during the early stages of the pandemic. In one 24-hour period in March 2020, we received over 800 enquiries from concerned parents needing advice on child arrangements during the pandemic. Our experienced lawyers were able to advise on the issues promptly and hopefully avoid parents having to pursue matters further or through the courts. Unfortunately, in some cases, legal action was the only option.

Unnecessary Applications

The 2020 case of Re B (A Child) concerned a two-year-old child.

The father applied to the court for contact however the mother raised safeguarding issues. The court ordered the disclosure of local authority records and police disclosure. The mother also said she would disclose her medical records for a set period relevant to the case. Notwithstanding this, an Order was made for disclosure of five years' worth of medical records. This was successfully appealed as records for five years were deemed "unnecessary and disproportionate".

The judgment clearly sets out the judge's frustrations concerning unnecessary applications. He concluded that this type of litigation "should only come before a court where it is genuinely necessary". He encouraged family law practitioners to steer clients away from court except where necessity demands otherwise.

Courts should not be the forum for micro-managing cases. In his judgment, the judge provided examples of matters in which he was asked to provide unnecessary input:

  • at which junction of the M4 that a child should be handed over for contact;
  • which parent should hold the children's passport;
  • how contact should be arranged to take place on a Sunday afternoon.

He gave a very clear warning. If unnecessary cases are brought to court the parties and/or their advisors will be criticised and sanctions may be imposed. He further encouraged other methods of dispute resolution such as mediation.

How Can We Help?

What is clear from this judgment is that wasting court time will not be tolerated. It is important for the parties to carefully consider the matters in issue and how they can be addressed. Ideally, the parties should consider alternative dispute resolutions methods such as mediation and lawyer negotiations. In the event that matters cannot be agreed without involving the court, the parties should use court time sparingly by utilising court time of the material disputes. Other 'more trivial' matters should be agreed between the parties.

Our lawyers are experienced in dealing with matters concerning child arrangements. We are able to advise on the legal process and provide support and guidance to assist with negotiations.

If you need any advice on any disputes concerning child arrangements, please contact Sam Hickman in our Family Law & Divorce team on 0117 314 5435, or by completing the form below.

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