Separated parents in the family courts in Wales are likely to live in deprived areas, according to landmark research on private law proceedings.
The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) says more than twice as many private applications are started in England and Wales each year than public law applications, yet little is known about the families who bring private cases to court.
The NFJO says its report, Uncovering private family law: Who’s coming to court in Wales?, is the first demographic and socio-economic profile of the families involved in private law cases in Wales. It looked at court applications made between 2007 and 2018.
The highest rates of court order applications were from people living in Swansea and South West Wales. In 2018, 29% of fathers and 33% of mothers making private law applications lived in the most deprived areas.
Child arrangement orders were the most common application. However, applications for enforcement, prohibited steps and specific issue orders has increased from 15% of all parental applications in 2011 to 30% in 2018.
Lisa Harker, director of the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory, said: ‘A significant proportion of children whose futures are being determined by the family courts are the subject of disputes between parents following family separation - yet we know even less about the children and families involved in these cases than we do about those involved in public law proceedings.
‘The decisions made within the family justice system can affect children for their whole lives. There is an urgent need to find out more about the vulnerabilities and circumstances of families involved in private law proceedings, so that we can ensure their disputes are resolved quickly and fairly, or to enable us to explore ways to reduce the chance of disputes starting or escalating in the first place.’
Lancaster University’s Dr Linda Cusworth, lead author, said the study indicates that the economic vulnerability of private law parents has previously been overlooked.
Cusworth said: ‘The impact of deprivation is well recognised in public law cases involving children - but the level of understanding in private law is very different, with little focus placed on socio-economic status as a relevant factor and possible trigger.
'It is therefore vital that policymakers begin to consider the role of deprivation – and its interaction with other factors, such as conflict, domestic abuse and child protection – as a factor in private law cases, and how it can be addressed. It is also important to further examine the impact of the 2013 legal aid reforms.’