According to the Centre for Social Justice (Fractured Families 2013 research) c1 million children a year lose contact with the parent they do not live with. This research was done before the reduction in legal aid for family proceedings so this number may well have increased. The loss of the other parent is damaging for children and it is well documented in research that it can lead to-:
-lower educational achievements,
-more behaviour concerns,
-poorer psychological adjustments,
-lower self esteem,
-poorer social competence
Some of these parents walk away for a variety of reasons, they may be unable to afford the fight in court, they may have no will to fight, they may have been fighting for a long time and not be able to cope with that anymore. For children they are experiencing a great loss, and not only the parent. There are grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, people they spent time with on holiday and at parties. They may have to change school, move from their home and have reduced finances.
So the argument for good contact that will minimise these losses is important providing it is safe.
As a practitioner in family proceedings, I met very few people who I call the “over my dead body will that person have contact”, although there were a few. Most of those I met were devastated by the experience, felt betrayed, lost self esteem, and were going through the loss cycle which is a process which starts with shock, on to denial, anger, depression and will finally become acceptance. Some people will yo yo back and forth between anger and depression and can sometimes take a long time to get to acceptance, and this may require some therauputic input. This takes time.
Delay in sorting this can be considerable, meanwhile the child is not having the contact with the non resident parent. If there was a way for the court upon application to have both parents in and direct them to a mediation session with the prime focus being getting contact started, this may solve one problem. If there are any concerns or the parents do not want to communicate with each other, contact could take place at a contact centre either supported (no risk) or a supervised centre (allegations of risk). The parent who feels aggrieved could then have an opportunity to get some help, and hopefully both parents would soon be able to go to mediation to consider long term arrangements.
Of course it is not necessary to go to the court to get contact. Parents can apply directly to both mediation and contact centres the latter through the NACCC website, and this way would certainly reduce delay.
Elizabeth Coe, CEO National Association of Child Contact Centres