Legal aid cuts could result in unsafe child contact arrangements

By Lenore Rice

A new study looking at contact applications lodged by parents after a divorce or separation raises concerns that legal aid cuts have removed the option of going to court for most people, which it says could result in 'unsafe' contact arrangements.

The report by the Universities of Warwick and Reading looked at 200 case files in England from 2011. It concluded that divorced or separated couples were only turning to the courts for resolution of child residence and child contact issues as a last resort, with the vast majority of cases being resolved without a court hearing.

The report considers that access to the family courts is essential, but that legal aid cuts have now taken the option out of the "financial reach of most parents". Author Dr Maebh Harding expresses concerns that the lack of legal advice and court access means parents may "agree to unsafe arrangements where risk factors are not appropriately managed or will be unable to reach agreement about having contact with their children."

The report also suggests that efforts to ensure fairness between the two parents, in terms of equal or near equal care, sometimes took precedence over trying to reach the best arrangement for the children involved. In 4 of the cases looked at as part of the study the equal care approach was applied despite evidence of domestic violence or concerns raised about child welfare. It highlights the importance of evidence based assessment to reach the best outcome for the children involved.

If you require legal advice in respect of a child residence or child contact matter from a family law solicitor in Northern Ireland, contact Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast by calling 0800 840 9290.

To read more about family law issues involving child contact in Northern Ireland click here.