Effective co-parenting in the modern age is the key to keeping children out of the courts

It is predicted that 50% of children born today are likely to live to be over 100[1], and the result of toxic parenting during childhood could have a severe impact on the rest of their lives, causing up to 100 years of pain warns Cafcass Chief Executive, Anthony Douglas.

Traditionally, adults imagine themselves to remain in one relationship after having children, but with one in four children experiencing the breakdown of their parents’ relationship[2], this is no longer the case. Cafcass analysis suggests that a third of separating families use the courts to resolve disputes about what should happen with their children, and the Family Court is seeing the number of these ‘private law’ cases increase each year[3]. In this challenging environment, Cafcass says that effective co-parenting could be the answer.

Today (21 March), a co-parenting[4] conference is being held by Cafcass and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) in London. Over 100 professionals from family justice and health and social care backgrounds have come together, to discuss best practice in co-parenting and how it can be used to support children in the modern age. Now, more than ever, as traditional civic institutions are collapsing, there is an increasing reliance on the institution of the family. The state needs to re-examine its relationship with families in all shapes and forms, so that it’s fit for purpose in the uncertain times we live in.

It is well known that there is immense pressure on the Family Court, with more cases to process than there is resource. This is why Cafcass has today suggested that agencies from across the sector need to place a greater emphasis on co-parenting and find ways to effectively support parents so that they can prioritise the interests of their child, despite the stress they may be suffering during and after separation.

In addition, Cafcass has suggested that a public health approach to the problem[5] would help to prevent cases from reaching crisis point, with health and social care professionals working together in a more integrated way, to refer families to tailored evidence-based support in order to resolve difficulties at an earlier stage. To take this idea forward, the conference will consider how the current embryonic array of co-parenting services which tend to be ‘too little for too long, and then too much too late’ could be better coordinated and commissioned to ensure a more coherent early offer. One option is the development of a co-parenting alliance to encourage professionals to share their expertise and develop a co-parenting strategy to drive change. This idea is being taken forward by several organisations present at the conference, including Cafcass.

Cafcass Chief Executive, Anthony Douglas said: “Toxic parenting is as much a social problem as domestic abuse and knife crime.

Today’s conference will allow us to confront and examine this issue and discuss some of the best ways to support effective co-parenting, so that children have the best upbringing possible as well as being kept out of the court system.”

AFCC Executive Director, Peter Salem said: “AFCC is pleased to partner with Cafcass on this issue, which is of critical importance to children and families.”


[1] Professor Kaare Christensen, ‘More than half of babies born today in wealthy nations will live to 100 years if current life expectancy trends continue’, (October 2009), Lancet

[2] ‘The way we are now’ (2014), Relate

[3] Cafcass data available on request

[4] Co-parenting is defined by Cafcass as a situation where two or more adults who do not live together work cooperatively to raise a child

[5] Teresa Williams. ‘What could a public health approach to family justice look like?’ (January 2019), Nuffield Foundation


I agree with others. There needs to be a baseline of 50/50 split. Too often one parent abusively dominates over the care of the children – acting as though they hold superiority, as if owner and gatekeeper. There has to be a major shift away from this, and it be known and become culture that this is not acceptable practice. It should be treated for what it is – emotional abuse towards both the children and the other adult as a human being.

I also completely agree – the current CMS and divorce proceedings nurture and fuel children being used as pawns. I have received Solicitors letters stating that I am no longer entitled to my family home and have been offered a 10/90 split, because the other parent fully retained the children with a claim of myself abusing them. The children were retained with 2 weeks of the other party being court ordered to financially declare (after 4yrs of refusing). It has taken 18mths, and the kids dragged through hell, to clear my name and have the court reinstate them with me.

I respect CAFCASS work. But there has to be a wake up call and realization that, with all the will in the world, co-parenting can only be achieved if both parties are on the same page. Quite often the other parent is extremely controlling, dishonest, and emotionally abusive though. Social Services also need to upskill and truly see and recognize this – they need to intelligently get to know the family dynamic, rather than skimming the surface of cases just tick boxing. Writing black and write reports, based largely the viewpoint of the parent who has successfully managed to gaslight them with ‘positive’ charm. The parent who is being abused gets viewed negatively, as the narrative is not so pretty and clean. Cases are just quickly shut down without understanding the massive damage the shallow recommendations create. And ultimately land back in court again 1-2yrs later as a result.

The culture has to change – 50/50 from the outset of separation, by law, needs to be implemented. And CMS rewards only put in place if it moves away from this.

doesn’t matter if you do phone the local authorities they phone mum and she says everything is ok and it’s believed. the emotional abuse continues. early intervention, support and continuing child parent relations should be in the child’s best interest. A Scot schedule should be immediatly introduced on any allegations from either parent. finding of fact done and rebuild relations for the child’s future.

It seems an impossible task for Cafcass and I am not surprised that there are more children than ever being dragged through emotional abuse and psychological splitting due to the current laws which dictate proceedings in the family court. If I could change one element of procedure I would remove all accusations of abuse and violence out of the domain of the family court and into the domain of the criminal court.

The family court should be solely for determining practical arrangements such as time spent in each home and schooling, altogether the more mundane.

Given that the system still relies on the outdated “Duluth model” to determine how the male should be punished for all misdemeanours (whether instigated by himself his female partner or anyone else) the system will always be at war with fathers simply because of their gender, not their actions.

It would be helpful if CAFCASS and the Family Courts would start from a position of equal parenting in separation, and only deviate from this default based on the individual case circumstances, rather than treating every new case as a ‘blank sheet of paper’ with fully custody in scope for both parents, creating conflict and encouraging court action. People respond to incentives and currently there is both reward in terms of time with your child, and consequential financial reward where the courts make disproportionate financial rewards based on the split of parenting time at a specific ‘point in time’, plus the CMS effectively pays parents for reducing the other parent’s involvement. We shouldn’t therefore be surprised that private law cases are on the rise.

Much of the blame lies with the legal system which encourages each parent to adopt a more extreme position and then fight to get the best outcome for themselves. Children get caught in the cross fire and then CAFCASS, CMS and child services are left to pick up the pieces. There needs to be a legal presumption of co-parenting with 50:50 care and early therapeutic intervention to bring the sides closer together.

I’m going through the private family court now this is what I’m looking to get it’s better with 2 loving parents than a single parent .
Even though the relationship is over we are and will always be there parents .

It’s hopeful research is being done, but how does the average parent, who’s children are victims of toxic parenting and alienation, access help. It is not obvious.

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