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Conflicted parents: guidance for teachers assisting in private legal disputes about children

Parents can find themselves conflicted over a range of issues. Matters such as where a child should live, whether and to what extent he or she should spend time with other family members and where a child should go to a school can be hotly contested and ultimately form the basis of an acrimonious legal dispute. 

When considering private applications that concern a child’s upbringing, the Court is often heavily reliant on the views of professionals that have a good relationship with the child and an insight into his or her needs. As a result teachers and educational professionals are often called upon to provide their observations and their contribution can be instrumental to securing a positive outcome for the child.

Overview of private children disputes

When parents and guardians are unable to agree on an issue concerning the upbringing of a child they may issue a court application to obtain professional assistance with resolving it. Applications can relate to issues as varied as whether a parent should be able to move to another country with the child or whether or not a child should receive medical treatment.

When considering an application the Court’s paramount consideration is the child’s welfare. The Court’s determination of welfare is prescribed by a set list of factors known as the 'welfare checklist'. For example, one factor that the Court should have regard to is the child’s physical, emotional and educational needs. The child’s education and academic progress are therefore key considerations and the input of professionals from the field can be decisive to the outcome of an application.

Reforms introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014

The reforms introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014 on 22 April 2014 were described as the largest for a generation. The Act has brought in a series of measures to promote positive outcomes for children who are the subject of court proceedings. There have been changes to help reduce the length and complexity of court proceedings and to encourage parties to consider alternatives to court proceedings to resolve their disputes. 

Perhaps most significant is the introduction of ‘Child Arrangements Orders’ which have replaced Contact and Residence Orders. All references to Contact and Residence have now been replaced by the phrases “spend time with” and “live with”. A symbolic rather than substantive change, it is thought that it will encourage parents to focus on the child's needs rather than what they consider to be their own rights.

Tips for teachers 

  1. Teachers may be asked by the Court to prepare a report on the child’s progress at school or provide their views on a specific issue or concern. In addition Cafcass Officers, independent professionals instructed to provide the Court with advice, information and recommendations, often speak with teachers when gathering information as part of their reporting duties.
  2. It is essential that teachers remain wholly independent and focused on the needs of the child. Often one or both parents will seek the allegiance of their child’s teacher and it is imperative that teachers remain impartial. If necessary, it might be appropriate to consult with both parents about the information that has been provided to the Court to instil confidence in the parents that a balanced and objective approach has been taken. 
  3. Perhaps most importantly, teachers should not underestimate the weight that can be attached to their evidence. Indeed by working in partnership with the Court, teachers can play a vital role in securing a positive future for a child.
This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

Beverley Jones

Partner - Head of Family Department (Liverpool)

Heading the family team in Liverpool, I am a family and matrimonial expert who deals with all aspects of family law.