Communicating with family members
If you are interacting with people involved in family court proceedings, this page outlines issues to consider and practical suggestions.
Almost all family court cases involve parents and children who are vulnerable in some way. Many will have experienced domestic abuse, sexual violence, and other forms of violence and abuse. These experiences can be extremely traumatic, and the complex and confusing family court process can be difficult in itself.
In addition, some litigants in family court proceedings can have language, literacy, learning, cognitive, social or communication difficulties and/or mental health problems. Not all these difficulties will be immediately obvious and litigants may be more vulnerable than is superficially apparent.
A trauma-informed approach
It’s important to work with people experiencing trauma in ways that support their recovery and do not cause further harm.
A trauma-informed approach is built on trust, safety, empowerment, choice and informed consent. This means giving potential interviewees as much choice as possible, and respecting their boundaries and needs so that they feel empowered to make their own decisions, and understand and don’t feel pressured into agreements they feel uncomfortable about.
The day of a hearing is likely to be extremely stressful for family members. This is especially the case if a party is representing themselves. They will be trying to navigate their way through an intimidating and unfamiliar legal system while advocating for their own and their children’s rights. While encountering a party in the court building is often the only opportunity a reporter has to introduce themselves and ask for contact details, be aware that making an approach at court can cause people additional stress. Often, individuals involved in a family case will be unaware that journalists can attend private hearings.
To help make your presence in court less stressful or confusing, you could:
Introduce yourself briefly and give them your contact details in writing, explaining they can get in touch later if they wish to do so, but that this is entirely up to them.
If you would like to interview someone, unless they are keen to speak right away, offer them the opportunity to speak with you at a later date.
Signpost them to the information on this website for parties to family proceedings.
Recognise that the media has considerable power in the relationship and respect the boundaries a party wishes to put in place.
Trauma can affect memory. Feeling safe and supported may allow your interviewee to recall more information, including some of the most difficult times in their lives.
Ways to help your interviewee feel safe include:
Choosing a calm and private environment – not always easy on a busy court day, which is another reason to offer a chance to speak after the court hearing.
Arriving on time, and keeping to an agreed time for an interview to be concluded.
Explaining the interview process, and terms such as “on record”.
Sending interview questions or areas of interest ahead of time so they can prepare.
Respecting their boundaries, such as when they don’t want to answer a question.
Agreeing to a friend or relative attending an interview for support.
Suggesting breaks if someone seems distressed or uncomfortable.
It’s always appreciated when a journalist remains in contact after the interview to ensure the contributor can ask any questions, and give feedback. Informing someone of the next steps is important so that they don’t feel their story has disappeared into a “black hole”. Letting them know about the publication date, telling them about any delays, and getting in touch when the story is published to thank them again and sharing the published story will more likely make their experience positive.
Header image: A woman with a young baby. Credit AscentXmedia via Getty Images
This resource was funded by Bureau Local funders. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.
Coordinator: Louise Tickle
With thanks to: Rights of Women, Lucy Reed
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