Fast family courts?

Fast family courts: in the Dinant district of Belgium, family court cases don’t take three years – they take three weeks!

“The Consensus Model”

• Since April 2012, the Dinant region of Belgium has employed a family law model known as the “Consensus Model”, originally formulated in Cochem, Germany, around 1995, and promoted in Belgium by Two Wishes representative, and family court judge, Marie-France Carlier;

• No change to national legislation was required, merely a change in court procedures/practice and the attitudes of judges and lawyers involved;

• One or both parents, with or without lawyers, may apply to the Belgian family court for a decision regarding children’s and financial matters;

• The first hearing must take place within 15 days (though recently this timescale has become extended); verbal communication with the judge is generally preferred to formal, written documents;

• Many parents reach a parenting agreement at this very first hearing, with the court’s assistance; otherwise, the court encourages parents to participate in mediation and the judge can order mediation even when only one parent requests it;

• The judge may speak with children, if they are 12 or over, prior to this hearing. Importantly, all judges have considerable knowledge of the risks inherent in this (particularly that of children having been coerced or manipulated to make statements that don’t represent their real views);

• Allegations of a potentially criminal nature, including family violence, are heard in a criminal court and the family court is informed of any findings of fact;

• Most judges lay down the rules and boundaries clearly to both applicants and lawyers present, some stating, for instance, that there will be ‘zero tolerance’ for anyone attempting to fracture the relationship between a child and the other parent or loved relatives of the child;

• After this first hearing, the same judge will be attached to any future hearings for that family until all children reach the age of 18. However, parents are encouraged to see their mediator rather than return to court to resolve issues that may arise over time.