How can the well-being of children and families be improved following parental separation?
Our aim is to understand which families are coming to court following separation, and why. We want to ensure children’s views and experiences are heard, and unpick what parents want and need from the system to support them in parenting apart.
Why we need research into private law
The family court has a role when families cannot agree arrangements for children, most usually following parental separation – known as private law cases. More than twice as many private law applications are started in England and Wales each year than public law applications. Yet little is known about the children and families appearing in the system, their background and particular issues, or the services available to them on their journey towards the courtroom.
Those within the family justice system express concerns about rising cases numbers, difficulties in parents accessing legal advice, the ability to respond to issues such as domestic abuse, the impact of protracted cases on children’s welfare, litigation over ‘trivial’ issues, and a lack of children’s voices throughout the process.
There is a lack of evidence about those involved in private law cases, and about how the welfare of children can be protected.
What we are doing
Our research is providing new empirical evidence on the profile of children and families entering private law proceedings in England and Wales. In the first independent analyses of population-level data, produced by the Family Justice Data Partnership in 2020 and early 2021, we uncovered links with deprivation and significant variations in the volumes of applications across the regions.
To add to our understanding of those making private law applications the Family Justice Data Partnership team linked population-level data with hospital and GP records in Wales revealing that adults involved in private law proceedings have a range of increased health vulnerabilities, including higher levels of healthcare use and rates of severe mental health diagnoses, than similar adults in the general population,
We reviewed UK and international research studies from the last 20 years (2000–2020) that directly obtained children’s and young people’s thoughts on parental separation and/or their experience of court proceedings and distilled the six key findings across the studies. We also looked at what the data tells us about the ways in which children participate and how often.
We are continuously engaging with those in the sector, bringing data to prompt debates about ways to manage private law cases both in and out of court.
After our earlier analysis found that 1 in 10 private law cases involves adults other than parents, we published analysis on this ‘other 10%’ by Lancaster University and Swansea University that helped us understand much more about those involved in these applications, and that revealed a potentially significant overlap with public law cases dealing with similar family circumstances.