493 Mid Ulster children caught up in family court disputes

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Court disputes involving bitter family break-ups have resulted in judges deciding the future of 493 children in the Mid Ulster area, it has been revealed.

In the past year, 313 family break-ups were resolved by judges at Dungannon’s Family Proceedings Court and Family Care Centre, with an average case lasting 14.5 weeks.

By comparison family break-ups decided by Omagh Court involved 13 children, and Armagh’s just 3 children.

The figures, released by online news website the Detail TV, throw a spotlight on how children are bearing the brunt of acrimonious legal fights between mothers and fathers.

Some 57 Childrens Orders were made in the past year at the Dungannon court, effectively setting out which parent a child lives with and when they have contact with their other parent.

Family courts deal with sensitive issues, normally held in private, such as children being removed from their parents’ care and separated couples fighting over custody of their children.

The new findings have sparked calls for more use of mediation as an alternative to court action, with charities raising concern over the detrimental effect of an adverserial court system upon vulnerable children.

Children from broken families have said the acrimonious process had left them feeling suicidal while others later sought solace in drink, drugs or crime.

Joan Davis of Family Mediation NI said: “The problem with the courts system is that it is being used to perpetuate family conflict inadvertently. It is an adverserial process by nature.

“The rest of Europe uses mediation as the default first option in family breakdown, and yet in Northern Ireland the default process is the courts system.

“In 2010 the Minister for Justice spoke about finding different ways of diverting parents away from the courts system.

“We are in 2016 and no additional money has come from any department.”