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Separated Parents Urged To Settle Disputes Over Christmas Contact

Court Deadlines Loom As Over 100,000 Children Involved In Divorce Each Year


Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397

Family law specialists are advising separated parents trying to arrange contact with their children over the festive season, to try and resolve their disputes amicably as quickly as possible as many courts will soon become fully booked over the festive period.

The latest figures show that over 100,000 children in the UK are involved in divorces each year and in the months leading up to Christmas, family courts get extremely busy trying to deal with disputes over contact issues.

Now specialist family and divorce lawyers at Irwin Mitchell are advising couples on the options and issues to consider for parents that are in danger of missing out on court deadlines.

Lawyers are warning that applications to the courts from parents trying to make arrangements for contact with their children now need the couple to show evidence that they have tried to resolve their issues themselves through mediation, except in very urgent cases or those involving harm.

Alison Hawes, an expert family lawyer at Irwin Mitchell, which has a network of specialists across the country, said: “Many people don’t know about mediation and how it helps in family disputes. The lack of legal aid funding for family disputes means fewer and fewer people are turning to lawyers for advice because they are worried about the costs.

“However, lawyers are the main referral route to specialist mediation services, and even a one off meeting with an expert family lawyer can give parents important legal and practical information to try to make the best arrangements for children at an emotive time of the year.

“The courts increasingly see joint parenting as the ideal way for parents to bring up their children so we urge people to talk about their issues and try to come to a sensible conclusion that suits the children rather than the adults.”

From April this year, legal aid is no longer available in most divorce cases except in extreme circumstances where there are allegations of domestic violence. As a result lawyers have reported receiving fewer initial consultations from couples who chose instead to represent themselves in court without legal advice.

However, family lawyers are required by law to advise them about the possibility of mediation which is a formal process where they could reach a legally binding settlement amicably without having to go before a judge .Good family lawyers have  in fact done this for years, since mediation  is often the best way to reach an agreement that suits the  whole family.

According to figures released from the Ministry of Justice, only 6,090 couples attended a formal meeting to explore mediation options between April and August of this year in England and Wales, which is a significant drop from 12,415 recorded the previous year.

Alison added: “We advise the parents we support to consider practical compromises, to make sure children aren’t caught in the cross fire. This could be as simple as helping children chose a present for the other parent or parents working together to get a joint present that the child has asked for.

"The ultimate goal is that the Christmas period can be spent as a relaxed time with both parents rather than overshadowed by disputes.”