Family lawyers warn of contact "post-code lottery"

08 Dec 2008

New legal powers to help courts maintain contact between separated parents and their children are unlikely to help those going through family breakdown without a properly funded national network of contact support services, family law group Resolution warned today.

Implementation of section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act which comes into force on the 8th December, gives courts powers to order ‘contact activities’ where parents are repeatedly unable to agree contact arrangements themselves.

Fathers’ groups and Judges have often complained at the lack of effective powers available to the courts to deal with parents who block contact without good reason. The new Act will enable Judges to order that parents attend ‘contact activities’ such as a meeting to discuss the possible benefits of mediation, or a parenting information group workshop or a domestic abuse prevention programme.

Chris Goulden, Chair of Resolution’s Children Committee said: “The principles behind these new powers are laudable but they are unlikely to bring about any meaningful improvement unless the new services are up and running, properly funded and readily available for the Courts to refer families to.

“At the present moment there is a disturbing lack of clarity as to what activities will be available, where, when and who will pay for them.”

Whilst the cost of attending some contact activities looks set to be covered for those on legal aid, other families on low incomes will have to foot the bill themselves and pay fees which could range from ?200 - ?2500, unless they can prove that payment would cause them financial hardship. People on working tax credits or disability benefits are often not eligible for legal aid and these costs would come at a time when families are already having to make significant financial adjustments as a result of the family break-up.

“It is vital that issues around contact are resolved as speedily as possible. The introduction of ‘means testing’ adds a layer of bureaucracy and delay to a process which already takes too long,” said Chris Goulden.

“Access to help and advice for parents struggling to handle the impact of family breakdown must not become another post-code lottery.”

Notes to editors:

Resolution is a 5,000-strong group of family lawyers committed to promoting a non-confrontational atmosphere in which family law matters are dealt with in a sensitive, constructive and cost-effective way. It sets high standards of good practice in family law and runs an accreditation scheme for specialist family lawyers.

For further information or to arrange an interview please contact:

Teresa Richardson
Head of Communications
Tel: 020 7357 9215
Mob: 07894 981 020

Chris Goulden
Chair Resolution Children Committee
TLT solicitors
Tel: 0117 9177509