How does the family court know its making the right decisions?

Data in the family court - unmined gold?Decisions in the family court?

The CAFCASS officer looked at me and  said `If I don’t see someone again I assume everything is fine’.

I’d just asked her how she knew her recommendations were in the best interests of the child.

When I responded `People give up too don’t they? How can you tell the difference?’ she didn’t answer.

Best interests of the child

What’s the definition of the above?

It’s a good and fair question to ask if you’re in the family court. What’s in the best interests of the child?

Uh uh uh….no clues.

My cynical and jaded definition of this is `Whatever you can convince the court that is’. Which means that if you ask that judge he or she may differ from the next one. It’s why you can be left feeling you’ve got a strong case one hearing and an awful one the next. It’s why you can go to one hearing and get a legal drubbing when you’ve got a strong case or feel it’s going your way when it’s perhaps more touch and go.

Despite the many jokes about legal professionals (`How can you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving’) they are only human. They have their own personal beliefs, biases, stories and their mood will be coloured by the car that cut them up on the way to work, the cat crapping on the carpet again and that nasty cold they’ve got. Despite the systems in place…they’re as fallible as you or me.

Gold - the data the family court could use would be invaluableBig decisions, little analysis

So how do legal professionals know they’re making a decision that is for the best?

In another life I worked as a performance analyst, business analyst and requirements engineer for big corporations that wanted to guarantee – as much as possible they’d make money, save money, not get sued, etc.

 

When I moved into family law I took a keen interest in stuff like the forms the courts used (badly designed, redundant questions), processes (antiquated – lots of time lost and work wasted because of poor design) and this – a  lack of analysis of results.

How can the court work out if they’re doing any good if they don’t collect the data much less analyse what happens as a result of their decisions?

How does it know if the order it makes works a year, 5 years, 10 years down the line? Are they safe? Aren’t dragged in front of CAFCASS officers, social workers, psychologists or anyone else repeatedly? If your order keeps getting broken? In short – they don’t.

Much.

I’ve a feeling the Ministry of Justice keep any of this sort of thing to themselves and if personal experience is anything to go by…I don’t blame them. I know they do some…but I’ve a feeling it isn’t enough.

But just imagine. The court knowing that if it orders X’ there is a 59% change of success, if it doesn’t order `Y’ 74% of kid will do `Z’. Now I get it…there are a lot of factors. And every course is different. But believe me…there are ways – if enough data is collected that patterns can be pieced together.

Imagine…an evidence based process to improve things.

How does this help you?

Well…it doesn’t. Much. But it teaches you a big fact here. If you go away, the court marks it as a success. Because if you weren’t happy with the outcome you’d be back in court wouldn’t you?

So if you’re tempted to walk away for any reason other than the best interests of your children…no one will notice, care and you may well be added to the `proof’ that the system works fine.

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