Children’s experience of private law proceedings

The Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO) has recently published a report entitled Children’s experience of private law proceedings: Six key messages from research. The report highlights six distinct points derived from the experiences of children who have been involved in private law proceedings under the Children Act 1989. Such proceedings can be determining who a child is to live with and how much contact they should have with each parent. Private Law proceedings can also cover specific issues that parents cannot agree on such as which school a child should attend, should a child be vaccinated or undergo a medical procedure. Relocation cases are also covered under such proceedings.

The research and report was based on studies conducted between 2000 and 2020. The findings indicate that:

  • children are actively, not passively, involved in their parents’ separation and court proceedings;
  • Parental separation can be highly stressful for children. The court system should be set up to try to minimise stress and harm rather than add to it;
  • Children may not understand what is happening in the court process. Professionals should actively ensure children have access to adequate information about the process presented in a child-focused way. When interacting with children, professionals should ensure their approach is sensitive and supportive. Improving support in the community, including in schools may also assist;
  • Children feel unheard in court proceedings. Ensuring that children are aware proceedings have started and communicating the final decision in a child-focused way could help them feel more involved. Many children want a greater role in decision making, but without feeling responsible for the final outcome in proceedings. There are different ways children can be supported to share their views and these should be considered, especially where domestic abuse is a factor.

For any separated parent, it can be an emotional time for both them and their children if there is an ongoing dispute with the other parent. At Barker Gotelee our family department can discuss all the options available to try and resolve such disputes without the need for court intervention. We also have considerable experience in dealing with the court process should this be necessary. Contact us for more information on our consultation process.

Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.

Ipswich Family Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email