More child custody cases going to court than ever before

There has been an upsurge in the number of child custody cases that wind up in court rather than in mediation. The problem has been going on for years but last month Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) reported a 27% increase over the same month last year, a record 9,398 court cases. The vast majority of them concerned parental custody in divorce proceedings.

Cafcass was set up as a non-departmental body independent of the courts and all other agencies, with a basic remit of safeguarding the welfare of children. The organisation deals with cases of public law (in cases of applications for adoption and those for care or supervision of children by social services) and private law, dealing with cases where separating or divorcing parents can’t agree on what’s to be done about the kids.

Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas said that the record number of cases indicates more parents are leaving decisions up to the courts rather than making the effort to work out solutions that are best for their children. He said the organisation was working with solicitors and family services to determine the reasons behind this seeming trend, and that bitter court battles are not in the best interest of children in any case.

A spokesman for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said if the trend towards court battles continues it is cause for concern, but at this point “. . . only a minority of divorcing couples resort to the court to solve contact [custody] disputes, showing that most find better ways. . .” of resolving issues.

Cafcass, NSPCC and most other child protection professionals say that mediated negotiations between couples in circumstances of divorce or separation are almost always a better choice than the courts as far as the children are concerned. Kids subjected to hostile court proceedings are almost as much at risk as those in situations of parental abuse at home, and the courts should be involved only as a last resort.