One of the issues that most concerns parents and very much concerns solicitors like me, is the impact that court proceedings under the Childrens Act may have on the children themselves. In some respects this is even more the case with older children who have, perhaps, the intellectual capacity to understand the proceedings that are being undertaken around them but, generally speaking, not the emotional maturity or experience to deal with such proceedings.
As a general rule, the Court very much takes a hands off approach to children’s matters and will only ever intervene if there is a genuine dispute between two parents that cannot be resolved by them. The entire Court process has been structured to try and enable parents, even in the most difficult of circumstances, to try to come to a successful resolution of their issue, be it by mediation, Solicitor negotiation or in Court mediation with the help of a Judge or a Cafcass Officer.
However, on some occasions, a Judge simply has to make a decision.
Often the types of cases where Judges do need to get involved are where one parent decides they want to move far away from their current location, in which the parties have been living, be it inside England and Wales or overseas and want to take the children with them. The Courts have the tools by which to make a decision in these circumstances if parents cannot agree.
However, it is often the case that the older child, whilst involved in this process insofar as seeking their wishes and feelings, is not actively involved in a final hearing. There have been concerns that this can lead to dissatisfaction on behalf of that child – and sometimes this dissatisfaction is carried forward into adulthood.
The Court Proceedings under the Childrens Act are ever sensitive to this and in a recent decision Mr Justice Peter Jackson, a High Court Judge, released, on an anonymous basis, the letter he chose to write to the 14 year old child involved in that case explaining his decision and involving him in the outcome.
This is a clear sign of the Court’s child centric focus and efforts by the judiciary to minimise, where possible, the impact of the decisions that the Court will sometimes have to make on the older children involved.
You can find a copy of the Judge’s letter here: http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2017/48.html