Press Releases

Cafcass Reveal 38% Of Separating Parents Go To Court

2nd May 2019

For decades, policy makers and court support services argued that just one in ten separated families relied on the assistance of courts. It turns out that this figure was very wrong and has been clouding policy judgements. President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, said this is:

“a far cry from the previous comfortable urban myth based on a figure of 10%. It indicates a major societal problem…”.​

There are 50,000 Children Act applications a year in England and Wales. FNF calls for a complete review of family justice and related social policies that force people into seeking court-based decisions. Stowe Family Law have just published an article by Families Need Fathers highlighting some absurd assumptions that have been used for years to drive strategic policy decisions (or the lack of them) in the family courts. Jerry Karlin, Chair and Managing Trustee of Families Need Fathers says "Clearly good quality data on the performance of the family courts are difficult to obtain. However, when data is poor, it needs to be improved and checked. It is shocking that a mythical figure, that is three to four times lower than the real figure, has been relied upon since 2003. This implied that children in 90% of separated families are 'broadly fine' and hence 'let's not do anything'. That figure was wrong by a factor of 3 or 4. We are grateful to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) for responding to our requests for them to check their figures.”

The President of the Family Division has now shared the output of Cafcass' review of the data and it is stated that, in reality, some 38% of cases go through the long, costly, ponderous and often ineffective court process rather than the previously quoted figure of 10%. Cafcass, the Ministry of Justice and other departments now need to prioritise a review of family policies and family justice to strongly promote responsible shared parenting whether people are together or apart. They need to focus on – and evaluate – the outcomes for children, reducing reliance on the family courts as well as ensuring that when they are used, they are effective.

The article for Family Stowe Law can be found at: https://www.stowefamilylaw.co.uk/blog/2019/05/01/not-one-in-ten-why-family-dispute-numbers-matter-by-families-need-fathers/

Further Reading and Comments

The analysis shared by The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane is shown below.

"For very many years I have heard it said that “only 1 in 10 couples” apply to court to determine the welfare arrangements for their children and that only 1 in 10 of those (i.e. 1% of the whole population of separating parents) get as far as a fully contested hearing. I have never accepted either limbs of this assertion. During the Norgrove Family Justice Review I repeatedly asked for data on this topic, but none was forthcoming. Recently all this has changed, largely as a result of work done by Teresa Williams, the Director of Strategy at CAFCASS. Drawing on other available data, Teresa has identified the following broad cohorts:

  • There are around 8 million families with dependant children in England and Wales;
  • Some 130,000 couples with dependent children separate each year;
  • Of these, 50,000 end up in private law court proceedings.

These figures, which indicate that around 38% of couples need to go to court to resolve disagreements over how they should care for their child post-separation, are a far cry from the previous comfortable urban myth based on a figure of 10%. It indicates a major societal problem, with nearly 40% of parents unable to sort out the arrangements for their own child without the need apply for a court order."

The full text of Sir Andrew's speech to The Resolution Conference 2019 can be found here: https://www.judiciary.uk/announcements/speech-by-president-of-the-family-division-to-the-resolution-conference-2019/

It would be helpful if further studies and research were carried out to gain a fuller and more robust understanding of family separation and parental involvement e.g. some people may not be being picked up in data about separation as they had children without ever living together, others may have wished to seek redress through family courts but gave up for lack of funds and support resources.