Press release

More support for separating couples and parents

Separating couples will be helped by a new £2 million package of support aimed at avoiding expensive and confrontational courtroom battles.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Simon Hughes

After the major changes to the family court in April this year and the recent announcement in July of a free mediation session for separating couples, the government is announcing further initiatives to help people in the family and civil justice system. A new package of support has been developed aimed at keeping disputes away from court and providing better support for those who do end up in court.

The new support will include:

  • improving online information so that it is accurate, engaging and easy to find
  • a new strategy agreed between the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) and the legal and advice sectors which will increase legal and practical support for litigants in person in the civil and family courts
  • a new ‘supporting separating parents in dispute helpline’ pilot run by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) to test a more joined-up and tailored out-of-court service

Justice Minister Simon Hughes said:

I am committed to making sure that when people separate that they do it in the best possible way. Too many people end up fighting expensive and confrontational court battles and I am determined that more people resolve their problems outside of the courts.

However when people do end up in court it is imperative that they have the right advice and information. One of my priorities when I became a Minister was to improve the availability of legal advice, and these new measures will make sure that separating couples and parents are able to access the right advice, information and support at the right time.

The government will improve online information for separating couples including on the websites ‘Sorting Out Separation’ and GOV.UK to make sure these include all key information and guidance.

A court support service for litigants in person will be introduced in civil and family cases. The service will begin in selected court centres with the aim of rolling out across England and Wales. The service will help those who need to go to court to access practical support and information and provide them with a route to free or affordable legal advice.

The support service has been agreed between key organisations working in partnership with the MoJ and will begin to expand immediately. The Personal Support Unit (PSU), the RCJ Advice Bureau, LawWorks and Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education will work together to provide support through the civil and family courts for those who need it.

The funding will see:

  • more PSUs opened in more courts across England and Wales to provide practical information and support including emotional support
  • additional LawWorks Clinics established to increase the supply of initial legal advice, work with the local legal professions and advice agencies, and with law schools where possible
  • advice made available by phone and email to local and regional centres from RCJ Advice, together with information and materials produced through working with Law for Life and via Law for Life’s online Advicenow project
  • one named person in each court centre to manage the new service as well as an appointed judge in each court centre with particular responsibility for litigants in person

The Attorney General’s Pro Bono Envoy, Michael Napier CBE, QC (Hon) said:

This strategy will make an increasing difference over time for LIPs. It builds on existing models and experience in England and Wales and brings resources together in the way that enables them to be more effective for LIPs.

The strategy puts the LIP at the heart of things and exemplifies the coordination and collaboration that the Attorney General’s Pro Bono Coordinating Committees have always sought to facilitate. The result is to unlock more assistance to the public. I congratulate all who have been involved in bringing the strategy about. We must now be patient for it to build.

A free phone ‘supporting separating parents in dispute helpline’ pilot will start in November and run for 6 months, aimed at separating parents who have been unable to resolve disputes and want to avoid court battles over their children or who need help in doing so. The helpline, run by Cafcass, will put callers through to an experienced professional who will act as their single point of contact throughout the dispute.

They will talk through the difficulties being faced, assess what support the parent needs and will offer impartial information and guidance. This will include putting callers in touch with the relevant local professionals and support services, including mediation. Cafcass will follow-up with the parent to see how efforts to resolve the dispute are progressing and, if necessary, will provide further assistance.

Anthony Douglas CBE, Cafcass’ Chief Executive:

All of us in the family justice system are negotiators now. In this pilot, we’ll be using our in-court skills before court in the community, providing an out of court service to separated parents who are unable to resolve their disputes around the kitchen table, because of the powerful emotions involved – a sense of betrayal, hatred or being broken-hearted. We will be trying to re-focus parents on the needs of their children who are often lost in the storm, particularly where their parents are drifting into dispute addiction.

The pilot is an example of the family justice system adapting to litigants in person rather than them having to navigate a complex system unsupported. We will also be coordinating and building up community services in the pilot areas, aiming to have in place affordable community support services which remain viable even when budgets continue to be under extreme pressure.

Notes to editors

  1. The Cafcass pilot will last for 6 months and in addition to the service for separated parents will also provide an online and telephone based safeguarding advisory service to family mediators, booked with a Cafcass professional through the existing Cafcass National Business Centre telephone number. The aim will be to help family mediators identify and manage appropriate cases with risk through the mediation.

  2. The Court support was developed under the aegis of the Attorney General’s National Pro Bono Coordinating Committee, and in discussion with the MOJ. It has been informed by the work of the Civil Justice Council, in particular building on its report of November 2011 Access to Justice for Litigants in Person.

  3. The PSU offers people who are facing civil court proceedings without legal representation free and independent advice

  4. The RCJ Advice Bureau helps litigants in person within the Royal Courts of Justice. They help people navigate the court system and comply with civil procedure rules. They provide free legal advice and assistance if people cannot afford a solicitor and are defending an action, or taking a case on their own.

  5. LawWorks supports lawyers to volunteer their professional skills to assist individuals and community groups who cannot afford to pay for legal help and who are unable to access legal aid or other forms of financial assistance.

  6. Law for Life: the Foundation for Public Legal Education is an education and information charity that aims to provide everyone with an awareness of their legal rights together with the confidence and skills to assert them.

  7. Cafcass is a statutory organisation whose role is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when court proceedings have started or are about to be started. Its functions include providing information, advice and other support for these children and their families, and it is in that context that Cafcass is piloting the separating parents helpline

  8. For more information please contact the MoJ press office – 020 3334 3536

Published 23 October 2014