A review of existing studies on children’s thoughts on parental separation and/or their experience of court proceedings has been collected and distilled into six key messages by the Nuffield Family Justice Observatory (NFJO).

The NFJO examined UK and international research studies from the last 20 years (2000–2020).

While the research focuses on experiences within private family law proceedings which typically involve divorce and child custody (contact) issues, the messages will resonate with children and families who have experienced public family law proceedings, which usually feature child protection, foster care and adoption hearings.

The messages outlined in the paper themselves are not controversial or unknown to child welfare advocates or court-experienced parents but they serve as a good reminder about issues that affect children in family court proceedings and the current and significant gaps in addressing those issues.

The paper’s web page says:

“The family court has a role in resolving disputes between separating parents over child arrangements—known as private law. More than twice as many private law applications are started in England and Wales each year than public law applications. Yet little is known about the children and families involved in them.”

The six key messages the NFJO pulled out from the research were:

  1. Parental separation can be distressing, traumatic and confusing
  2. Good communication and access to information are important
  3. Being heard and understood in court can feel empowering
  4. Being properly involved and consulted in decision making is important
  5. Getting the right support makes a difference
  6. Thoughts and feelings on contact are complex and take time to process

The paper makes the following conclusions:

“Despite the limitations, the research clearly indicates that children are actively—not passively—involved in their parents’ separation and court proceedings. Decisions made by the court have a big impact on children’s lives, and children’s experiences of being left out of decision making can increase anxiety and upset.

Across the research, there was a clear need for children to be provided with greater support and guidance to adjust and cope in the context of these family changes, and for the court and other professionals to better involve children and communicate with them about the process.”

You can access the paper here.