Family court “a harming process” says top judge

26 Jan 2023: Family court is “not a healing process. It’s likely to be a harming process for the parents and for the children who find themselves part of family proceedings,” said the UK’s top family court judge Sir Andrew MacFarlane at the Houses of Parliament in London.

Sir Andrew was speaking at the launch of a new workplace initiative for separating parents by an alliance of over 20 organisations, of which Two Wishes and For Kids Sake are founding partners, hosted by Siobhan Baillie MP with well-known TED-speaker and Behavioural Economist Rory Sutherland voicing his support.

The launch coincides with the release of a new survey commissioned by this alliance and showing that family breakdown had an impact on the ability to work for 9 out of 10 employees. It revealed the major impact that family breakdown can have on mental health and performance in the workplace with 95% of respondents reporting that their mental health at work suffered, 90% saying that their work performance was impacted, while 39% took time off work. Despite this, the respondents also reported that only 9% of their employers had HR policies that specifically related to divorce and separation.

“The problem we all have,” Sir Andrew MacFarlane said, “is elevating this issue onto the radar screen of the general public so that when a couple separate, they know what we’re talking about now. They understand where they can go to for information and support.”

Major UK employers, with a collective UK workforce of close to 600,000, have already agreed to implement the changes recommended, including recognising divorce or separation as a ‘major life event’ and providing and signposting details of available support. Already signed up to the initiative at launch were employers including AsdaMetro Bank (UK)NatWest GroupPwCTescoUnilever, and Vodafone, as well as leading law firms Payne Hicks Beach LLPBoyes TurnerMills & Reeve, and Laura Devine Immigration and marketing and communications companies that include The Marketing SocietyIPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising)McCann LondonAnalogFolkLeagas DelaneyOrganic and Goodstuff Communications.

“This initiative is a significant step in what’s needed to transform how we think about, and deal with, family separation,” Two Wishes CEO, Dr David Curl, said. “Divorce and family break-ups need to be treated as an urgent health issue with much earlier support and education for children and families instead of harmful, too-late, legal interventions.”

“Our survey findings are a wake-up call for UK businesses which is why the fact that some of the country’s biggest employers have agreed to make the positive commitment to improving their HR policies is such a major step in employee benefits and wellbeing” said James Hayhurst, founder of the Parents Promise.

Employers can download the support pack here.