Our Report is in four main sections:
Part 1: The problem
We identify the specific issues and statistics which need to be addressed:
- the harms done to the children and families who use the service
- high and rising costs both to the public purse and to the individual parent
Part 2: ‘Analysis’
We identify the three broad sets of reasons why these problems have developed:
- a vicious cycle of perverse incentives which drive the process in the opposite direction to the one intended.
- a lack of standardised practice, combined with an approach which is unnecessarily adversarial, creates delays, drives up costs and damages children
- a lack of systematic research into the effectiveness of outcomes so that the system cannot learn and improve
Part 3: Lessons from pilots, trials and other jurisdictions
We look at the lessons learnt from past attempts to improve the system and also more successful examples in other jurisdiction.
- Less adversarial approaches: successes and failures
- Presumption of shared care: outcomes for children
Part 4: Proposals:
These are built not only on the analysis in Pt 2, but also on the experience of other jurisdictions in Pt 3.
In Part 2 we saw that the current system includes a vicious cycle which rewards the person with majority or sole care for not making an agreement. We want a system with a virtuous cycle which rewards parents for reaching an agreement and sticking to it.
To achieve this we suggest:
- Significant reduction in perverse incentives to go to court
- Inclusion of incentives to form and stick to an agreement
- A less adversarial, rules-based process with a presumption of shared-care and the maintenance of contact (when safe)
- Improved enforcement of Orders
- Independent assessment and research to guide improvement
These changes could also a step towards a more gender-neutral approach. The existing perverse incentives act mostly against the non-resident parent. As this is most commonly the father, it creates the perception of bias reported in Part 1.