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The family law reports are again filled with well-heeled international former couples where the wife is alleging that the husband has hidden money from her and the court. Interesting though these cases often are, we have seen quite a few of them recently, and thought that instead we would turn our attention back to wider social and family justice policy for this week’s blog. What’s life like for separating couples at the other end of the financial spectrum at the moment?

While family lawyers in Cambridge and nationwide look forward to Resolution’s National Dispute Resolution Week next week, Jane Robey, chair of national not-for-profit mediation providers National Family Mediation, has written a short article in our professional journal focusing on what family justice can expect from the government’s upcoming spending review.

She laments the lack of additional funds from central government to publicise mediation and continue the good profile-raising work that was done at the beginning of the year, at a time when the courts are increasingly desperate for prospective litigants to find other ways of resolving their disputes. She also observes that family mediation does not appear to be high on the priority list of the new Minister for Family Justice, as it was for her predecessor. So far, so disappointing. However, Jane’s suggestion that the government look to the Sure Start model for inspiration on how to solve the crisis in family justice is an interesting one, and one that deserves closer inspection.

Sure Start centres are based in communities and offer families a one-stop-shop for support including advice on parenting, local childcare options, child and family health services, and links to the local Jobcentre and training. Jane suggests that these effectively be extended further to become ‘family hubs’ and include access to financial advice, relationship support and advice on separation among other things to ensure that those without knowledge of what to do when things go wrong, or the resources to find out, can get help. She argues that it would be essential to have patience with the results of such an initiative, and take a long-term view of return on investment, while observing that patience is a virtue currently in short supply.

This is a good idea. It would target support where it is needed most: to families with young children, and have a good chance at getting in early to help protect them from the worst of the effects of parental separation. Happily, members of our profession will have the opportunity to discuss this idea, and others, at a reception next week in Parliament hosted by Resolution and attended by the Minister for Family Justice, Caroline Dineage MP. New Chair of Cambridge & West Suffolk Resolution Adam Moghadas attended last year, and this year we are sending our Chair of Resolution’s Children Committee, Simon Bethel, to carry the CFLP flag and make our views known.

The contrast between reported divorce cases and the ordinary experience of family breakdown has arguably never been greater. This presents a significant challenge both to the courts and to the rest of us involved in family justice.

Spreading the word about alternatives to court is something we do willingly and often, but we do this in the face of a media where ‘divorce battles’ are expected and championed even where the heartbroken couple involved have small children caught in the crossfire. We all have a responsibility to demand more sensitive media coverage of family breakdown, better information for those involved, and access to methods of dispute resolution for all.

We will bring you a report on the parliamentary meeting next week, at a time when it is hoped you will also see members of Resolution from all over England and Wales taking to the airways, social media, and traditional media, to focus on a better future for children by keeping family disputes out of court. National DR week is a chance for us to tell the real story about the options for families in distress, and we will grab it with both hands.

In the meantime, if there’s any aspect of family law you would like to discuss, please do call Gail, Simon, Adam, Tricia or Sue on 01223 443333 to make an appointment.