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Is the Family Court failing to scrutinise the risk of harm to children in child arrangement cases?

June 8, 2021 Speech Box

I remain concerned, despite the spotlight that has been shone on issues of domestic abuse recently, that our Family Courts are still not properly airing the issues between the parents, which impact on child arrangements cases. 

About 40% of cases involving children in family courts include allegations of domestic abuse. In 2019-2020 that amounted to 22,000 cases.

Charlotte Proudman a barrister at Goldsmith Chambers and a Research Fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge wrote here in the Guardian about two such hearings in which she felt her clients were let down by the Court. 

“One of the mothers in [an] appeal, whom I represented, was intimidated by the judge who initially heard her case. In a bid to have the mother agree to a Contact Order, the judge threatened to have her child taken into care and adopted if she pursued rape and domestic abuse allegations against the father. She cried in court.

“The judge told her “this is why fact findings are often a complete waste of time, because the end result will be that there’ll be, at some stage, contact outside with father”. The father had been dismissed from his place of work following serious concerns that he sexually harassed a 16-year-old inpatient and female work colleagues. The court granted the mother’s appeal with ‘reluctance’ and among other things noted that judges are ‘overworked.’

“Reading this judgment, anyone might think that the number of appeals is small – and these cases are just a few bad apples in an otherwise satisfactory system. Let’s be clear. It is near-impossible to mount an appeal. In three of these appeals, the mothers had been advised there was no merit in appealing. I disagreed. We appealed against the decisions. Two were granted, one was refused.”

I appreciate that the judges are overworked and Family Court time is very limited, but at the same time a lot of the cases that I deal with at Bishop & Sewell involve very high conflict children arrangement matters between two parents where there has been a form of non-physical abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour, which often continues after the separation of the parents.

As Charlotte Proudman says, “The system works against victims fighting to protect the safety of their children from perpetrators… Family Courts are systemically failing victims and children and causing them harm. Yet shockingly, some senior judges appear satisfied that the modern approach to domestic abuse is well understood by the vast majority of judges and magistrates. It is not. We need an urgent course correction. Judicial and professional training is critical to ensuring that abuse dynamics are properly identified and understood in these complex cases. It’s why the Lords recently voted to include an amendment I helped to draft for the Domestic Abuse Bill calling for regular, mandatory training for family judges.”

I think we all agree it’s got to change.

If you are affected by similar issues or would like to have a related discussion in confidence, please call me, Louise Barretto, on 020 7091 2869 or email,

The content of this note should not be considered legal advice and each matter should be considered on a case by case basis.

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