Resolving straightforward relationship difficulties between separated parents should not be a matter for judges, the president of the family division has said.
Delivering the keynote address at family law group Resolution's conference last week, Sir Andrew McFarlane said there had to be a better way to help couples needing help and support 'at what is plainly a difficult time for them and for their children'.
He said: 'The task of identifying, developing and then funding a better way to achieve good enough co-parenting between separated parents is a matter for society in general, policymakers, government and, ultimately parliament; it is not for judges. My purpose today is, therefore, simply to call out what is going on in society's name, and at the state's expense, and invite others to take up that call.'
The 'cavalry' is coming in the form of a 24-strong working group on private law children cases, chaired by Mr Justice Stephen Cobb.
The objectives of the group, which has been meeting regularly over the past three months, include diverting more cases away from court.
McFarlane said discussions 'have led them to the view that they would ideally like to start from scratch with dispute resolution for separating parents, with a much keener focus on a "solutions-based process" engaging a "dispute resolution alliance" of local services, with court reserved only for those cases which absolutely have a justiciable problem'.
The group will publish an interim report next month. Possibilities could include requiring both parties to attend mediation information and advice meetings, and to meet a CAFCASS officer during the new dispute resolution stage.
In his speech, the family law chief said he intends to encourage all judges to consider telephone hearings to conduct without-notice applications, and will issue practice guidance on drafting short court orders after a first hearing for children cases to help ease the burden on judges, court staff and lawyers.
Government efforts to digitise the divorce application process has significantly reduced error rates. McFarlane said the rest of the process, namely decree nisi and decree absolute, will move online in the next few months. A pilot scheme for solicitors using online divorce, which started recently, has received 436 applications from 20 solicitors in 17 locations.