The myth of justice in Family Justice.
This is a pretty bold title. Am I, as a mere Family Mediation Council Accredited (FMCA) mediator really challenging the idea that the Family Justice system has anything at all to do with meting out justice? Yes, I am.
It is almost a daily occurrence as a FMCA mediator to hear about someone ‘s feelings of being unfairly treated by their ex-partner.
Sometimes, clients tell me of how hard they’ve worked, or how they’ve given their ex the best years of their life, only to now find themselves replaced by a wealthier or younger model.
Other times it describes the way a non-resident parent feels about how difficult it is to see their children and how they are being blocked by an obstructive ex-partner. In yet other instances it describes a deeply held belief in what they see as their moral right to a certain share of a family asset pot – either because they feel they were the one who worked so hard for it, or because they feel as it is their spouse who wants to end the marriage, why should they lose out?
In almost all cases, there is a belief that if a judge or other authority could only hear about these personal injustices that this court or authority will see the truth, make a judgement and put things right. Unfortunately, this is simply not the case.
The family court system does not in any way concern itself with personal, relational issues. It is only concerned with those elements of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1973 (and the few amendments since) that apply. In essence, these are to do with the assurance that children are kept safe, are housed and to the greatest degree possible continue to have two parents who can, and will support them.
The Court will also want to ensure that both parties have provided full and frank financial disclosure so that there is absolute clarity about the financial picture before making a decision. If couples go to final hearing and the Court is asked to make a judgment on their behalf, effectively telling them how things will be split, no amount of emotional appeal will have an impact.
Judges will not concern themselves with the fact that your – now ex – partner promised to love you until the day they died but then reneged on that promise and has fallen in love with someone else. They will not punish your ex for lying to you about all those times they said they were playing golf or visiting a sick friend but were really with their lover. The incredibly frustrating and rather sad fact for many is that no amount of proof gathering, or case building will change this.
The traditional adversarial type of litigation is basically what we see in the Family Court system.
This has led to a system of “family justice” that for the average family it results in little more than seeing the children of their solicitor and barrister go to a great university. Fighting it out in court, hoping for a judge to see how awful your ex is, such that you are then provided with an award of most of the assets in retribution doesn’t really work.
Even in those rare cases where a judge is swayed by an argument, or where the judge does provide a partner or spouse with the lion’s share of the assets because he feels sorry for a spouse, the legal costs averaging £23,000 per person to receive that award usually completely wipes out any benefit you may have though you were getting (this is the average cost per person for a low to middle income family).
To top that off, as if this financial cost isn’t enough, a battle such as this will almost certainly impact the children and the love/respect they feel for you as parents.
I want to be completely clear on this point: a drawn out legal battle will affect the children’s opinion of BOTH parents.
Children do not simply side with judges, and punish the parent who loses in such a battle. They also have their opinions about the parent who destroyed their other parent in court. Remember, that no matter how much you dislike your ex, or feel they’ve lied or been unfair to you, to your children that person is still their father (or mother as the case may be). Your children are made up from the DNA of both of you.
Two years of hearing about how awful their other parent is (the average length of a family court case), means to put your children through 24 months of hearing that half of their genetic make-up is in some way flawed. Few children will thank you for that.
So where do people who feel they’ve been treated unfairly go? What can they do with these feelings? How can things be put right? These are difficult questions to answer properly in an article such as this.
Certainly, in terms of putting things right and ensuring that someone who has betrayed you is brought to justice, this might not be possible. If you are on the receiving end of something like this, it may well be that for you the only real recourse is to find the right support to help you through it. Wider families, support professionals such as counsellors or therapists and the love of close friends may be the thing that helps you get out the other side.
In regards to reaching a fair financial settlement and ensuring that any injustices that have occurred in the past are not allowed to continue, working with an accredited family mediator will save you a significant amount of time and money over the route of court and litigation.
Attend an initial information meeting with your local FMCA mediator about the options you have, and how mediation might be the thing to ensure that going forward, you are able to keep your savings, the respect of your children, and your own personal dignity.
About the Author
Johnathan Pease, of New Landscape Mediation, is a highly experienced family mediator with over 20 years of experience working in family conflict resolution both as a mediator and Family Consultant.
A fully accredited BACP psychotherapist, Johnathan holds several qualifications with ADRg – including Direct Child Consultant (DCC). He is an accredited Civil/Commercial mediator, a member of the UK College of Mediators, and an affiliate member of Resolution.
Johnathan’s flexible and pragmatic approach to mediation makes the most of his understanding of interpersonal dynamics for the benefit of all concerned.
As a father of 2 children, and having experienced a family breakdown himself, Johnathan recognises that there are often many layers to the end of a marriage hindering a successful settlement than first meets the eye. Johnathan applies his varied training and life experience to the time sensitive and practical needs of family mediation with consistent success.