An “eye contact test” for divorcing parents before shared care
The Daily Mail reported yesterday that a judge led report has recommended that divorcing or separating parents should take a ‘eye contact test’.
The purpose of this apparently is to see if the parents can get on well enough to share the care of the children.
Put simply, only if they can look each other in the face when they exchange their children should they be considered responsible parents.
Behind this as well is a new re-education course that the report recommends should be compulsory next year for couples divorcing or separating with children.
What do you think about this?
My own view, and without sounding too cynical, is that I cannot help but feel this is a device to divert people away from the family courts and save the government money. We should all have access to justice.
That said, I recognise that it is reported that 40% of divorcing or separating parents bring their disputes to the family court rather than exercising their own parental responsibility and attempting to resolve their problems on their own.
There was one recent case where the couple asked the judge to decide at what motorway junction the children should be handed over. So, we go from quite trivial cases (in principle) to some that are quite serious, particularly those involving physical and emotional abuse. I am sure there will be exceptions to this ‘eye contact test’ in certain cases. There will have to be.
From the majority of separating or divorcing couples, there are no real risk or safety issues but a lot of blame instead. Yes, someone may have had an affair or will have done something. That will hurt. But it does not always mean that that one person is 100% to blame for the breakdown in the relationship. This is also not to forget that the children are innocent parties in all of this.
I would certainly support the thrust of what is being suggested: parents that can look each other in the eye are more likely (in theory) to be able to meet the needs of the children.
But whether this should be made into a compulsory law is another matter. No one size fits all and there is already a requirement that couples attend a “mediation information and assessment meeting”. In short, this is information about mediation as an alternative to going to court. This has been around for years and the courts regularly refer couples to parenting courses anyway; and to help resolve their disputes. Is it being suggested that this has been a failure? I think so.
Yes, it is worrying so many people refer their disputes to court, but we must step back and ask why? Over the last 5-10 years the Government has been keen to close local courts and have large regional hearing centres to deal with these cases and the administration of them. This is all in the name of cost cutting and it has meant the court system is at breaking point and it cannot cope with the volume of cases. This is not to forget that the Government took away legal aid for most people at the same time. Couples back then could obtain legal advice and receive help before going to court. A lot of cases were actually agreed without a court becoming involved. Instead we have more and more people unable to afford legal representation. They simply act by themselves and instinctively refer matters to court.
We have the worst of both worlds now: fewer courts (but more administration) and more people forced to represent themselves.
Whilst I subscribe to the idea that parents must accept responsibility and avoid blaming each other to promote the welfare of their children. I don’t think compulsory courses will provide the solution; nor is it particularly fair to blame the parents when the Government’s agenda has been to limit peoples access to justice. Cost saving is the root cause and it is of no surprise the court system is cracking. Until this is recognised, I cannot see a compulsory course working or providing a panacea.
Put simply, where there are people, there are disputes. These problems will not go away and if anything, they will get worse.
If, but only if, we are to have courses and (and recognising that sadly some 50% of couples separate) is this education better suited as part of the general schooling programme to reflect the reality of life? We can receive this knowledge and instruction before having children rather than when it is perhaps too late but only then to force it on parents, who will be perhaps emotionally charged, worried, nervous or frightened.
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