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Date
19 June 2013

Mishcon Thinks: Conflict Clinics

In this film Sandra Davis, Partner and Head of Family, is in conversation with broadcaster Katie Derham on the impact of parental disputes on children.

Transcript

Mischon Thinks:  Conflict Clinics

Katie Derham

Sandra Davis, you’re a Partner at Mishcon de Reya and Head of the Family Department with more than 30 years’ experience in the field and I know you feel strongly that children are being failed by the system.  So, please tell me, how do you propose to improve it?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

I think that children’s voices are not appropriately heard in the current process and that what needs to happen is more therapeutic input at the outset before people’s views are polarised and before they get entrenched and unable to properly communicate let alone co-parent.

Katie Derham

So before divorce gets to court you would like there to be a first step if you like.

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

What I think is important is that before anyone thinks of litigating children issues, they are forced to go into Conflict Clinics, a therapeutic resolution of the issues.  Not necessarily before the divorce is issued, but before anything comes to court with regard to children.

Katie Derham

How do you envisage these working?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

What I see is that parents would go in to a therapeutic system whereby a trained Psychologist would actually get to grips with those issues so that children actually were able to be properly heard rather than just given lip service in terms of their best interests and these clinics would have ten sessions and people would either pay if they were above a means tested limit or they would essentially get these for a very small amount of money, government funded, and only if they failed through this therapeutic input would they then be allowed to go to court and the normal processes take place.  That would save the government a fortune on funding because £150 million is spent on privately funded work in the children arena.  It would also save time in court for cases that really need court intervention and it would hopefully ensure that parents could actually meaningfully engage with regard to their children’s future without punishing them as a result of everything else that was flowing through the separation itself.

Katie Derham

And is that what you see happening now?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

What I see is that parents use their children as tools.  There’s no other bloodletting arena and they focus all their negativity on children issues.  There’s no other mechanism for resolving it.  There’s no fault divorce.  Fault doesn’t have any part to play in the financial proceedings.  It’s not the Victorian age, so we don’t punish adultery or any kind of conduct unless it’s so extreme that it would be unfair to leave it out of account.  So people actually dump all their bitterness and their negativity on children issues and that’s just where they shouldn’t be doing it and the courts are a very blunt instrument to deal with children.  Judges can’t feel what’s in the children’s best interests by actually just reading papers or hearing about it.  Often they get very frustrated and aggravated with what they see as a petty dispute between the parents that’s got nothing to do with their children and so if you want Tuesday and I want Thursday, the Judge may order Wednesday.

Katie Derham

So let us assume that we all agree, as I’m sure we all do, this would be a fantastically beneficial new stage, how would it be resourced?  Who would these professionals be? Are they already in existence or would they have to be trained.

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

Clearly the cost of this has to be scoped out by a financial institution, but in my view existing resources, Child Psychotherapists, trained Social Workers could be re-trained with a different focus, charities who already have in-house Psychologists, all these could be brought together and housed so that this could kick off in the not too distant future.  I don’t want this to be something that’s kicked into the long grass.  I feel very strongly that something needs to happen soon in order to give children a voice.  The government are grotesquely underfunding the court system, there aren’t enough court appointed Social Workers and so the delays create inherent problems.  It needs to be resolved and I feel that with a serious push from people at the forefront of divorce who have been actually involved in seeing what happens on a day-to-day basis for years like I have, I think we are really positioned, centrally positioned, to actually make a change.  I would like personally to see that I had done something really constructive and socially important with my career and that I had facilitated change in an area that I see is really, really critical for society as a whole.

Katie Derham

To convince the government to make the necessary changes to legislation and the resource allocation for this to happen, could you point them in the direction of a system where this already works, a country, an area where this happens?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

In Texas for example, they are beginning to get it right or have already moved into this kind of transitional system where therapists, rather than mediators who are just facilitators, actually improve communication.  They have these kind of counselling therapeutic conflict resolution classes which are mandated by the court for parents.

Katie Derham

And do they work?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

They have seen an enormous rate of success in resolving what can be serious parental alienation problems that develop quite later down the line.

Katie Derham

And is there any way we can say, yes that does also save a lot of public money?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

When you look at the amount of money that the government spend on privately funded cases, you have to know that there is a cheaper way of resolving disputes.  If cases run for one to two years, involves several court hearings, Barristers get paid, Lawyers get paid x hundred pounds an hour to have what I am suggesting has to be a considerably cheaper option and has to be healthier.  It’s certainly worth a try because what we have simply doesn’t work at the moment in my view.

Katie Derham

What’s your dream for this?  What’s your best estimate of when this could become a reality?

Sandra Davis

Partner, Family

My hope is that we would be able to get this off the ground and that we could lobby for the change within a year.  That’s my hope.

Mishcon de Reya