Purpose of the Children Act 1989
The Children Act 1989 reinforced the principle that the welfare of the child must be paramount and the interests of the child should be considered separately from the parents. Children have rights of their own and they should be able to express these.
Aims of the Children Act 1989
- To give children the right, if of sufficient understanding, to take part in litigation concerning them.
- That ‘the wishes and feelings’ of a child were factors the court must take into account when considering that child’s welfare;
How do children’s voices get heard?
Parties should assure that a child who is capable of forming his or her own views has the right to express these views freely in all matters affecting the child. The views of the child will be given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
Where parents are unable to agree the arrangements concerning a child, the Court will instruct CAFCASS – the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
The CAFCASS officer may meet with the child and complete a “wishes and feelings” exercise with the child in order to ascertain how the child truly feels. This in turn impacts upon the CAFCASS officer’s recommendation to the Court.
The amount of weight given to the child’s opinion will depends on the child’s age and their understanding of the situation. The Court is more likely to listen to the wishes of a teenager, rather than a young child. However, the CAFCASS officer will assess the child’s ability to understand the proposed arrangements and the maturity of the child. Each child is unique and so it is dealt with on a case by case basis.
Listening to children
There is an obvious difference between doing what a child asks for and taking into consideration their view, as with asking a child what they want for dinner, a child is unlikely to take into consideration all the factors an adult would. However, it is important to consider a child’s wishes for circumstances that will be affecting them.
Just as adults may have to do what the court decides whether they like it or not, so may the child. But that is no more a reason for failing to hear what the child has to say, and the Court will always try to ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child before making an important decision.
At Hodge Jones and Allen, we are members of Resolution, an organisation for family lawyers committed to a non-adversarial approach to family law. If you’re seeking advice on your situation, talk to our experienced Family Law team on 0808 252 5231 or get in touch with us online.