The Times has published a piece by Valemus’ Joanna Abrahams about the problems parents are facing because of the length of time taken to conclude private law cases.

Joanna, who is a partner at Valemus, says that private law cases are taking longer and longer to complete, with more cases being brought each year than are coming to end.

In the article, Joanna argues that the private law system is in urgent need of reform. She says that delays can be harmful to parent-child relationships, making them harder to repair and often leaving the parent that the child does not live with emotionally and financially drained.

According to Joanna, additional hearings held to establish the facts can further lengthen a case, which can cause more damage to parent-child relationships that are already under strain.

There is a need to find a better way to balance protecting the child and preserving parent-child relationships during this process.

To read Joanna’s full article on The Times website click here (Subscription required), or see below.

Parent is often left feeling like a criminal
Private law system is urgently in need of reform, writes Joanna AbrahamsBetween January and March, it took on average 46 weeks for private law cases to reach a final order – seven weeks longer than for the same period in 2021, according to recent official court statistics.

This has been a worrying upward trend since 2016, attributed to the fact that more cases are commenced year on year than concluded, placing enormous pressure on the system.

For parents who are being wrongfully denied contact with their children or, even worse still, alienated from them – where a parent turns the children against the other parent – these delays can be fatal to parent-child relationships. The longer the delay the more difficult it becomes for relationships to be restored.

The sad reality is that, under the current system, after a final order being handed down and reunification beginning, it often fails because of a lack of targeted support, as well as deeply entrenched beliefs held by children by that time arising from the embittered resident parent. Tragically, this sometimes results in the non-resident parent walking away – emotionally, and often financially, drained.It is the court’s priority to protect children, and therefore in cases where allegations of harm are raised by a resident parent, it will consider how contact can take place safely while determining the veracity of these allegations through a “fact-finding process”. In these circumstances, the court may make an order for supervised contact at a contact centre between a non-resident parent and children. But that process can often leave a supervised parent feeling little short of a criminal.

However, the reality is that the additional hearings often engendered by the fact-finding process add a considerable number of months – sometimes as long as a year – to a case. Even after a fact-finding hearing, there can still be huge delays before proper contact commences, only having a negative effect on an already damaged parent-child relationship.

The question arises as to how a better balance can be struck between protecting the child and preserving the non-resident parent-child relationship during this process. Time is important – ideally in cases where a fact-finding hearing is required, the sooner, the better. In Canada, fact-find hearings are listed within six weeks.

In that way, contact can resume as soon as possible. However, as both court and social service systems are currently grossly overstretched and poorly resourced, it is difficult to see how the delays in the system can be mitigated without there being considerable reform.

Joanna Abrahams is a partner at the firm Valemus Law