Non-standard private family applications: A review of Nuffield Family Justice Observatory’s research into private law court applications made by non-parents.

Private Law (Child Arrangements Programme (CAP))

07 August 2023

The Nuffield FJO paper, ‘Uncovering Private Family Law: Exploring applications that involve non-parents’ details their research regarding the involvement of non-parents in legal proceedings related to children – they term these applications ‘Non-standard cases’.

Traditionally, private family law has predominantly been focussed on disputes between parents, however as societal dynamics have changed the inclusion of non-parental figures has become increasingly common.  Non-standard cases represent 10% of private law family cases and typically represent an overlap between private and public law issues, where children become cared for by another family member.

The research conducted by Nuffield FJO involved an in-depth analysis of 90 private law cases from England and Wales, where non-parents were the applicant.  These cases encompassed a variety of scenarios, ranging from siblings caring for their younger siblings to grandchildren seeking custody of their grandchildren.  In their review of these cases, the researchers sought to understand the key motivations behind the involvement of non-parents and examine the unique challenges they face within the legal framework.

One of the significant findings was that non-parents often become involved due to concerns about the child’s well-being, with issues such as parental substance misuse, neglect or domestic abuse.  The research highlights that these concerns were often linked to the parents’ inability or unwillingness to provide a safe and nurturing environment for their children.  Consequently non parents step in and seek care of the child.

The study emphasised the importance of understanding the legal status of non-parents within family law proceedings.  In some instances, non-parents found it challenging to assert their rights and establish a positive relationship with the child due to legal complexities.  The researchers called for greater clarity and guidance surrounding the rights and responsibilities of non-parents to ensure that the decisions made by the court are in the best interests of the child.

Furthermore, the research highlighted the emotional toll that these cases can have on the non-parents.  Non-parental family members invest significant time, energy and emotional resources in caring for the children in their extended family, however they frequently face barriers when seeking recognition and support for their caregiving efforts.  The research emphasised the need for improved support systems, including accessible advice and emotional support, to address the specific needs of non-parents engaged in private law proceedings.

The research provided by Nuffield FJO provides valuable insights into the involvement of non-parents in private law family cases.  By recognising the growing significance of non-parents in children’s lives it underlines the need for a legal system that acknowledges their role and protects the best interests of the child.  The research advocates for greater clarity in family law, improved support mechanisms and a comprehensive understanding of the challenges faced by non-parents involved in legal proceedings.  The research calls for a fair and inclusive family justice system that effectively addresses the needs of all parties involved.


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